There was a distinct feel of 2008 in the air in Glasgow’s south-side this summer as Queen’s Park lost almost an entire squad of players. Their home grown youngsters and players given a chance in the senior game at Hampden fled the nest for football elsewhere and Head Coach Gardner Speirs had to piece together a new first team squad in the same manner that he was required to 5 years ago when the side that had won promotion to the Second Division in 2007 under Billy Stark moved on.
Just as Stuart Kettlewell and Paul Paton left 5 years ago, and are now playing in the top flight of Scottish football, the amateur Spiders lost 11 first team players after losing in the Play-Offs to Peterhead.
Andrew Robertson and Aidan Connolly moved to Dundee United and Lawrence Shankland went to Aberdeen and coupled with the loss of 8 other players the club started rebuilding from within.
In 2008 Barry Douglas replaced the likes of Kettlewell and Paton, and Darryl Meggat replaced Douglas when he went to Dundee United and Robertson replaced Meggat when he signed for Alloa, and now Queen’s will look to 17-year-old Blair Spittal to become the next Kettlewell/ Paton/ Douglas/ Meggat/Robertson/ Connolly or Shankland on their production line of talent or even the next Alan Trouten, David Weatherston or Paul Cairney.
To put it simply bringing through a new player is never a hardship at Hampden, it is just that this summer like the one 5 years ago they need to bring through more and Spittal is leading the way.
Spittal caught the eye in the final 3 months of last season as he earned himself a place in the Queen’s Park first team and Speirs is under no illusions that he will fill the boots of the players that have gone before.
Speirs said: “Blair has done really well since coming into a first team environment earlier this year. He is now considered a first team regular which is remarkable when you consider what little time he spent on the edge of the squad.”
“If he continues to develop at the rate that he is developing at and gains the experience of playing in lots of games in a first team environment for us over the next few years then I am sure he will become another high profile graduate of the youth programme here.”
Spittal’s impact and youth were evident at the National Stadium last Saturday as he left clutching a bottle of champagne for a Man of the Match performance in the 3-1 defeat from East Stirling, however Man of the Match is perhaps the wrong term as he cannot open the champers until he turns 18 in December.
Spittal scored a fine solo goal as his side went down and a sense of disappointment hung over him as he said; “I thought I started well but it really was a hard game after we went down to ten men when Ricky Lamie was sent off. I had to change positions and drop back a bit further but I did still get on the ball and drove forward when I could.”
“I scored, which was good, however the overall result was disappointing. It was my first goal at Hampden which is a nice feeling. I was a bit fortunate in the way I got past their goalkeeper as he collided with their defender and I then had two attempts at getting it over the goalline.”
Spittal added: “I thought about squaring it to big Michael Keenan but decided that I would just go for it and thankfully it went in. It was a good feeling on a bad day. I thought we could get back into the game after that but the third goal just after half time took it away from us.”
It was Spittal’s second career goal and he said: “I scored my first ever senior goal at Elgin last season and that felt a lot better as we won that one 5-3.”
And as for the champagne he said: “I will give that to my dad.”
Speirs reckons that Spittal is so versatile that he could play in any jersey numbered 2-11 for his side and the youngster agreed saying: “When I played for the under-19’s here I was usually in the hole behind the strikers. That is my preferred position but I like to think I can play anywhere and still play well.”
As if to test the versatility that the player has Queen’s gave him his debut in a defensive role and just to add a bit more depth to the challenge his first outing was in front of over 40,00 fans.
Aged just 16 Spittal was thrown in at the deep end as he explained; “I made my debut at right back against Rangers at Ibrox back in February. I did not know I was starting until the day of the game. I had been switched to right back in a game for the 19’s in the week before but did not think too much about it. I had been told that I would be in the first team squad but I had not realised I would be starting or at right back.”
“I could hardly hear anything but it was a brilliant way to get started. There was a great atmosphere and we played well before losing 4-0.”
Spittal’s rise since then has been quick as he pointed out: “I have been here since the under-17’s so I had one year with them and then was set for a couple of years in the 19’s. I had started playing football with Erskine Boys Club and then spent 2 years with Rangers before heading to Queen’s.”
Nine of his team-mates from his Ibrox debut day have now left Hampden and Spittal is delighted for the boys that have earned a chance at playing football full time as he explained: “It is brilliant seeing them move on after playing with them at a youth level and then watching them graduate to playing in the first team here. Becoming a full time footballer is my ambition and I know that I am in at the right place to give me a platform for that to happen.”
Spittal added: “Guys like Andrew, Aidan and Lawrence who moved on in the summer are just carrying on in a great tradition at Queen’s Park. It is great that the work put in by the Head of Youth David McCallum is rewarded by producing players that can progress their careers in the top flight.”
As for his own career Spittal said: “I suppose I am now established in the first team. I enjoy that and I am planning on making the most of it. I will not get carried away by things and if I do our skipper Tony Quinn will pull me back in line. He has been at the club for over 10 years and knows it inside out.”
“He has seen a lot of players come and go and he makes sure that we all pull together when we are playing here.”
After a disappointing start with two Cup exits and a home defeat in League 2 there is plenty of fight in the new look Queen’s Park side with Spittal adding: “I still think that we can challenge for the Play-Offs as we have done in recent years. I am happy playing my part in doing that but I will be happier if I am chipping in with a few goals in games that we win.”