Recently I sat down with relatively inexperienced coach Ross Millar, who has been at Spartans FC Reds 2002 since 2015. He has 2 sons in the side, Jack and Shawn. He has overseen a promotion in his time at the team.
When and why did you first get into coaching?
“I actually got involved because the previous team coach announced he was leaving at the end of the 14-15 season. Myself and another of the dads decided to get involved because our sons both played for the team, we wanted it to keep going and thought it could be a fun & interesting thing to do.”
“Neither of us had any coaching experience at that time but have since done the required coaching badges.”
Did you take any inspiration from the way you choose to play/manage your team?
“Just before I started coaching I had listened to a podcast which had Gordon Strachan as a guest. When asked about emerging talent and grass roots football, he made a point which I found to be very interesting – he reckoned kids are over coached these days. His philosophy was the best way for kids to learn is to give them the ball and let them play. I thought that made a lot of sense so have always tried to keep my sessions simple & have as much game time in them as possible.”
That fact is evident in his sessions (which I take part in). The usual structure follows a quick drill, normally possession or something similar, followed by 4 a side football, with no instruction, just play. Finally a match is played across a 7-a-side pitch. Ross has obviously taken the advice and employed it in his bi-weekly sessions.
“From a playing point of view one of the earliest inspirations was in my first season when having seen Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool in a match at Anfield vs Manchester United. I was in the Kopp End which gives a great view of the team setup & shape. They played a 3-5-2 that day & although they lost, when we had a bad start to the following season I put in the same formation to close a gap we had in the middle of our back 4. It made a real difference mostly because the player I put in as sweeper was tailor-made for that position, so there was an element of luck about it too.”
The formation change saw a very big shift in results instantly, beating Seton 5-2 away from home. This was Marc Lynn’s debut for Spartans and Ross described him as “tailor-made” for the position, he would later win the Player’s Player of the season award. The Reds would later lose Marc to Spartans Colts at the end of the season.
Last season your team was promoted from the Third Division achieving third place, how do you feel the season went as a whole?
“Honestly I am extremely disappointed with how the season went. We were good enough to win that league & should have done. It really came down to a handful of games where we just didn’t perform that cost us not just 1st place but also 2nd which we lost on the head to head with Leith Athletic.”
Spartans started the 2016/17 season very brightly, beating Oxgangs 5-4 away from home amongst other results, which saw them on top for most of the opening months. Although after a dismal league cup performance, seeing them knocked out in the group stages with 2 points, Spartans never seemed to recover, losing 5-0 against Leith and 3-2 against Oxgangs saw them finish third.
Ross in the end claimed “third wasn’t an achievement and we should have done better”
How has your season been so far?
“A real mixed bag. We had a couple of excellent results in the first few weeks but since then have not really performed. Quite why that is the case I am still trying to figure out & it’s probably the toughest challenge of my coaching career thus far.”
Although Spartans opened their season with a disappointing away loss to Leith Athletic, ending their away unbeaten run stretching back to April 2016, the bounced back with two 1-0 defeats of Hutchie vale and a Dramatic 1-1 draw with Spartans Colts. After that results seemed to go downhill, with a 4-1 home defeat to Longniddry Villa starting the downward spiral.
Ross finished with “However we do have a great bunch of boys in the squad & I am sure we will bounce back.”
So far this season who has been the stand out player?
“A few of the boys have really made the step up but the probable stand out is our vice-captain Lee Russell. He’s progressed particularly well this season, moving from centre half to centre midfield. It’s especially pleasing to see as Lee has been playing in the same team as my son Jack since 2012.”
Lee and I both started our careers at Redpath Albion in 2012, alongside current players Matthew McDonald and Shawn Millar. Lee was snapped up by Spartans in the summer of 2014 alongside Shawn Millar, he was later joined by me, three months later.
Lee has contributed 4 league goals and 5 assists this season including a fantastic performance against Gala Fairydean which saw him score 2 goals, including the winner, in a 3-1 win.
Having 2 of your sons in the squad must be a challenge, do you feel pressure to select them every week?
“This might sound like the politically correct answer but I feel absolutely no pressure to select them at all. They are treated the same as any other member of the squad although my fellow coach Iain does often say I am too harsh on Jack our goalkeeper so maybe I’m too tough!”
I agree with him being harsh, as I am the keeper, but it’s warranted most of the time. Shawn has joined from a second division team and he has done anything but walk into the team. Ross has been harsh on us at times, but I believe it’s in our best interest. I’d rather he was harsh than never give us criticism, it’d be ridiculous.
Ross also stated “I told them both once I started coaching that on the pitch I’m their coach, not their dad.”
What has been your favourite game/moment while in charge?
“This is actually very tough to answer but I probably have 3 that I can’t choose. In my first season while in the 3rd division we played a 2nd division team (Edinburgh City) away in a cup tie. We drew the game 0-0 and took it to penalties, I was actually a little disappointed that it went that far as felt we had enough chances to win it before then. Despite missing the first penalty we went on to win it 4-3. The reaction from the boys & parents when the winning penalty went in was a really special moment…”
Despite not having a keeper fit, Matthew McDonald signed the week before and played the match in goals and kept a clean sheet and played a massive role in the penalty shootout.
“Earlier this season in the 2nd league game, after having lost the opener 4-2 to fellow promoted team Leith Athletic we were away to relegated from the 1st division Hutchison Vale. We didn’t really expect to get anything from the game but on a windswept Jack Kane pitch we gave a real cup tie type performance, scored a late winner & came away with a 1-0 win. Again, the reaction of everyone when Bayley Drew scored was another special moment.”
Spartans would play Hutchison Vale again that same weekend, again, a 1-0 Victory with Bayley Drew scoring the winner.
“Back again to our first season in the 3rd division, in the April we were away to Edina who had won all of their games in the league (& most cups too). Again, at the Jack Kane and after a battling display we came away with a 3-2 victory, the only league game they lost that season. It was a real turning point for our squad as they really started to believe in themselves after that, a real watershed moment I think.”
After what was a fantastic overall performance soaking up a second half of pressure Spartans won the game, all thanks to Ross’s 3-5-2 formation which was recently adopted.
Finally, if you were to do it all again what would you change?
“There’s always a few specific games that with the benefit of hindsight you’d do something different whether it was tactically, team selection or whatever. There are 3 games in particular from last season that I think cost us the league. In the 2nd game of the season we lost 2-1 at home to Blackhall, we were 1-0 up they were down to 10 men but I tinkered too much with the line-up and that cost us 3 points.”
Spartans would again meet Blackhall at the end of the season, only to win 4-1. Seeing Bayley Drew hit his 50th goal of the season was a highlight.
“In an away game we drew 2-2 with Earslton Rhymers (who we later beat 8-1) and I got the starting XI wrong, we got off to a bad start, lost an early goal and it was uphill from there. We lost 3-2 at home to Oxgangs (the eventual winners of our league) in a pivotal match. Again I got the starting line-up wrong and we paid for it, quickly going 3-0 down. Once I made changes we got back to 3-2 but couldn’t convert any of the many chances we made to equalise and snatch a point.”
Ross marred team selection as the causes for these results, although they were all uncharacteristically poor performances for his side, you could also blame a very poor pitch at Earlston costing us the 3 points but when it’s all said and done they should have performed and they didn’t.
In conclusion, Ross had said he and his fellow coaches found it to be a very rewarding decision to become a coach, and he has loved every minute of it (just about).
“It’s been an enjoyable and rewarding experience which I would encourage any football lover to take on, given the opportunity.”