Followers of Scottish football will have seen the name of Greg Stewart feature prominently throughout March as a goalscorer for First Division Cowdenbeath, as the 21-year-old went on a hot streak of five goals in five games to fully announce his arrival in the senior game.
Stewart’s story will give hope to all the players across the country that still wish to make it in the senior game despite playing in an amateur league. Prospective players may have seen their twentieth birthday pass and not had an offer from a senior team since they were still at school but Stewart has proven that it can still happen.
The striker’s first ever senior goal for Jimmy Nicholl’s side back in November went largely unannounced as he netted in a 5-1 Blue Brazil triumph over a Stirling Albion side that had two men sent off. In the past few weeks, Stewart made sure people sat up and took notice as he scored and scored and scored.
He started the month off by netting a late equaliser against Queen of the South, the winner in Cowdenbeath’s pulsating 4-3 win over Stirling Albion, a goal that made a Dundee side very nervous before they ran out 3-1 winners, a diving header against League leaders Raith Rovers and then the only goal of the game against Partick Thistle last Saturday.
His hot streak ended against Morton in midweek as Cowdenbeath went down 2-0 however, Stewart was delighted to talk about his fledgling career.
He said: “I was with Rangers until I was 13 and then Hearts after that but they let me go as they felt I was too small. That happened just before I was 16 and could be offered a full-time deal.”
I lost interest in football for a while after that, in fact I never played for well over a year. I then trained with Falkirk and Stirling Albion for periods but I was still not enjoying it so I went back to playing amateur with a team called Syngenta.
“They are based in Falkirk but play in an Edinburgh Under-21 league and I scored a few goals for them. Cowdenbeath heard about me and last summer, Bobby Paterson asked me to go there for pre-season.”
Stewart added: “I got myself fitter and the Manager Jimmy Nicholl took me on a pre-season trip to Northern Ireland. I must have done well over there as I was given a year’s contract after that and I was delighted to sign for Cowdenbeath. Syngenta were a good side but it was a big jump to the First Division.
“I thought I had started the season well but I was not getting a start and I found that frustrating. When I eventually got my first start, I got my first goal against Stirling Albion in that 5-1 game. That was a really good feeling as I was glad to show I could do more than just come off the bench.”
Stewart kept his place for the following week’s trip to Queen of the South and that was to prove a disappointing 3-0 defeat and then of course, the winter started early.
The striker said: “Our games became pretty spaced out then and I was back to being a sub against Dundee and Dunfermline in the only games we played in a two month spell, before coming back as a starter against Morton.
“I was in and out of the starting eleven for the next few weeks and then came the Queen of the South and Stirling games where I came off the bench to score really late goals. I felt I had done enough to start games and I have been doing that ever since but I know it is tough to keep your place at this level. Thankfully, I kept on scoring against Dundee, Raith and then Partick.”
The turnaround in Stewart’s football career is remarkable as he said: “To score five goals in five games in the First Division is not bad going in your first season and to score against full-time sides like Dundee, Raith Rovers and Partick Thistle is a great feeling.
“If you said 12 months ago, I would have done that I do not think too many people would have believed you. It is a great feeling to score, I was down when I was not playing that much but I was really excited during that run of goals.”
Central Park boss Jimmy Nicholl has helped develop Stewart with the striker saying: “Jimmy Nicholl is a fantastic Manager to work with. He has helped me no end by working on different bits and pieces of my game. He is a great character to have coming in and out of your dressing room however, he has a serious side to him, make no mistake about that.
“Managers need to have that and he can be very serious when he wants to be.”
As well as Nicholl, Stewart has plenty of older heads to turn to in Blue Brazil colours as he explained: “There is lots of experience in our dressing room which is great for guys like me. You have Colin Cameron in there, Stevie Crawford and Lee Makel.”
Former Rangers, Motherwell and Derby County midfielder Bob Malcolm has also just joined with Stewart saying: “He has only played the two games so I do not know Bob as well as the other guys. I am sure he will help me along as well.”
Another of Malcolm’s former clubs, Dundee, lie in wait for the Blue Brazil this weekend with Stewart saying: “They are flying just now and will be a real test for us. I would have laughed if anyone had said a year ago that I would be playing in a First Division game at Dens Park but now it cannot come quick enough. We have to look for a win as keeping Cowdenbeath in this division would be brilliant.
“We are at a disadvantage as we are only part-time and from what I have seen, the full-time sides are fitter but we will give it our all. It will be our eighth game in four weeks and at the moment, all I have is my work as a jet-sprayer with Central Industrial Services and football.”
That busy schedule also saw Stewart have muted celebrations for his 21st birthday, just two days before he scored the winner at Firhill.
He explained: “There was no party which is probably different to how things would have been if I had still been playing amateur. I had to settle for getting a ticket for The Co-operative Insurance Cup Final between Rangers and Celtic and going to Hampden to watch that.”
Stewart has a positive message for other players hoping to still make it in the senior game as he said: “It took me a while to get established at Cowdenbeath but I am in the first team now. I would encourage senior clubs all over Scotland to look at the amateur leagues for players. Too often at youth level, they focus on strength and power which means that skilful players can be lost to the game at a senior level. They will find them all over Scotland if they look.
“With a wee bit of luck, players can get spotted in the amateur ranks but I have learnt that you need to stick at it when you are not getting a game or just getting the odd 10 minutes here and there. That spell at the start of the season taught me to be patient and I cannot complain about doing it now.”