(Photo courtesy of Kilmarnock FC)
Jack Paterson raised a few eyebrows when he left Kilmarnock in September 2017. The young midfielder had already been drafted into the first team squad by Lee Clark, even making the bench twice. But, with one post on Instagram, the midfielder announced he was leaving his boyhood club of nine years.
His destination? Doha, Qatar. His dad had been offered a job in the Arab Gulf, and Jack moved with the family.
“I went over to Qatar and spoke to a few clubs and then I went to train with Al-Gharafa.”
Al-Gharafa are a relatively successful club in Qatar, playing in nearby Al Rayyan. They’ve won the league seven times, with the last win coming in 2010, and they also won the Qatari Stars Cup (Qatar’s version of the League Cup) this year. Notable former players include Marcel Desailly, Ze Roberto, and Juninho Pernambucano, and there’s one current star plying his trade for The Cheetahs, but more on him later.
Moving to Qatar was always going to present some challenges, but the former Grange Performance Academy pupil wasn’t too fazed by his new surroundings.
“At first it was quite hard,” Jack admitted. “It was near the summertime when I went, so it was 35-40 degrees. We had to train in the mornings, at about eight o’clock so that it wasn’t too sunny. I found it okay, but at first it was difficult.”
“The Qatari teams were quite good. The team I was training with had Wesley Sneijder, so I was training with him some days, and that was crazy. Vladimir Weiss was there as well.”
“Basically all the Qataris speak English. I didn’t think that would be the case, but it was. Every team was an English-speaking club, so it wasn’t too bad.”
In total, he spent five months in Qatar. Signing for a club would prove difficult given the Qatari leagues foreign player rules, not allowing Jack to sign for a team until he was 23. Instead, he trained with Al-Gharafas under-23s, managing a handful of appearances as a trialist.
He returned to less sunny shores in January 2018, when Kilmarnock’s fortunes had begun to drastically change.
“I just wanted to come back to Scotland basically,” Jack said. “Steve Clarke had just come back to Killie, so I thought it was a good opportunity for me.”
“There were a couple of other teams as well. Kilmarnock had the compensation rule with me. So, if a team from Scotland or England wanted to sign me they had to pay £200,000, so nobody was going to do that,” he laughed modestly.
It’s not too surprising to hear that he was attracting interest, even if his profile had gone somewhat off the radar. His inclusion on the bench against Aberdeen and Inverness had turned heads, but he was also in the first team squad for an October 2016 trip to Celtic Park – an experience he describes as “mental”.
“I think we’d played on the Thursday night, and it was at hom,” Jack explained. “Lee Clark [then Kilmarnock manager] came into the dressing room after the game and he was like that: ‘You’re coming in to train tomorrow with the first team, you’re missing school, and you’re going up on Saturday with the first team.’
“It was amazing. It’s a huge stadium. [Souleymane] Coulibaly scored that goal that day, and I was just freaking out.”
Jack’s journey has taken him from SFA Performance School, to Celtic Park, to Qatar, and back to playing reserve football for Kilmarnock – but he wouldn’t change any of it.
On his time at the Grange, he said: “You can see the boys like Harry Cochrane and all that coming through just now. You get over two hours football training a day, so it’s only going to benefit you and some of the stuff Andy Goldie does really helps. It improves you technically every day.”
Even though his time with Al-Gharafa was short-lived, he doesn’t regret it and even encouraged other youngsters to take the chance to go abroad.
“Playing with players like Sneijder every day, you don’t really get that here. I was meeting new people as well. It was just great, I loved it.
“Obviously, I tried, and it didn’t really work out for me,” he continued, “but I wouldn’t say it’s made me any worse a player. I definitely think it’s a good idea and if an opportunity like that comes up, you should definitely try it.”
So, what now for the one time Football Manager wonderkid? Back at Killie, he wants to force his way into Steve Clarke’s plans, but knows he has to impress reserve boss Andy Millen first.
“We’ve played three games in the reserve league so far - won two and drew one - so hopefully we’ll try and stay up the top of the table and try and win a few more games.
“Personally, I’d like to be challenging to get up with the first team, but you need to be starting every game for the reserve team if you want to be up there. So, playing for the reserves every week is probably my main aim.”