VIRTUS TENTAMINE GAUDET
With Queen’s Park promoted to the Second Division, there was a concern that the team would be picked apart. Billy Stark himself suggested as much immediately following the play-off triumph against East Fife, such are the vagaries of managing a successful club with amateur status.
However, with the exception of David Weatherston who joined St Johnstone, the squad were not immediately tempted to go elsewhere. “After we were promoted, there were a lot of clubs sniffing about a lot of players,” Kettlewell claims. “I think we all stayed together because we felt as if we had achieved something really good with Queen’s Park and we wanted to have another stab at playing in a higher division.
“Billy was tremendous at keeping the boys together. I always remember the speech to you at the end of each season. He would tell you if there were clubs interested, but he would go on to give you his pitch for trying to keep you.”
Stark’s openness proved to be popular. “To be honest, when he spoke to you, all you wanted to do is play for him. He made it clear that we were all still young guys and if we went to a bigger club we could find ourselves sitting in the stands or on the bench every week, when he was able to guarantee football every week – that was the appealing side to it.
“From that perspective, it was an easy decision for me to stay going into the Second Division season, but a lot of that came down to the manager. Playing under him was a bit special. You felt that every time you went into training, you learned something and felt as if you were always learning. I think a lot of that was down to him.”
“You felt that every time you went into training, you learned something and felt as if you were always learning. I think a lot of that was down to him.”
Queen’s Park won their first three league matches in 2007-08, including a win against Ross County, one of the division’s two full-time clubs that season. Kettlewell mastered a 3-2 victory at a rain-soaked Hampden, where he, Trouten, Cairney and Quinn all stood out in a midfield behind Stevie Canning as QP dominated possession of the ball and shots on goal. Kettlewell’s own performance would have stuck in the mind of future manager Derek Adams.
“He had an excellent career so that was a major scalp at the time,” the player states. “Other guys like Stuart Petrie also had really good careers. That was us testing ourselves against higher opposition. It was a great result.”
Against a higher calibre of player, Queen’s Park’s form was naturally more inconsistent than in the immediately preceding years. Having collected a red card in each of his first three seasons then avoiding any for nearly two years, Kettlewell received two in succession in league defeats to Raith Rovers and Alloa Athletic. Although team discipline was generally not an issue, the Spiders struggled to score enough goals to remain in the top half of the division.
“We didn’t really have a central striker,” admits Kettlewell. “If you asked anyone who played against us at the time, our possession stats would have been something like 70-30. We kept the ball from every team we played against, so we were very good in that way, but having a clinical striker was the thing we were missing.”
OMNIA BONA CAPIENT FINEM
Billy Stark left the club for a job offer he could not refuse at the SFA at the turn of the New Year in 2008. Queen’s Park were suffering from an extremely lean spell in the league, only collecting nine from 39 points from December through to Gardner Speirs’s appointment in February. Speirs’s arrival coincided with an upturn of form and the team enjoyed five wins between 15 March and 15 April, pulling them away from the immediate threat of relegation.
Kettlewell played under Speirs for less than half a season but speaks well of his erstwhile manager in comparison to Stark. “He was very similar,” states the player. “The transition between Billy going out and Gardner coming in was quite smooth. He had a lot of the same beliefs, he believed in passing the ball. The style of football didn’t really change, it was still really good.
“He had slightly different ideas and different players, so he obviously had a different view on how things would go, but Gardner was really good in a sense. I always got on well with him and we had a decent wee run to the end of the season.”
One of the matches in that run was an unforgettable 4-2 win away to Cowdenbeath, whom Queen’s Park were battling with to avoid the prospect of the relegation play-off attached to ninth place. QP would ultimately finish in eighth, with the win all but guaranteeing their safety at the expense of Cowden. The match was memorable not merely for its context in the season, but also for Kettlewell’s audacious goal struck from his own half, followed by his third red card of the season.
“Nobody believes me that I could hit the ball that far.”
“If you ask any of the boys at Ross County they could tell you the story, because I’m forever talking about it!” he laughs. “Nobody believes me that I could hit the ball that far.
“Cowdenbeath got a penalty which we felt was a bit unjust. As Paul Cairney and Robert Dunn were taking centre, I said to them: ‘Just roll that back, I’m going to hit it!’. The boy Robert Dunn said: ‘Shut up, there’s not way you’re hitting that’. Paul, who is a big friend, he was well up for it. The ‘keeper was off his line a bit – I don’t know what he was doing, I think he was shouting at the linesman or something!
“The time between them scoring and us scoring was a matter of seconds,” he boasts. “It was rolled back to me – I think it was at the edge of the centre-circle – and I hit it. Again, people don’t believe me, but I don’t think the ball went much higher than the height of the bar, it was drilled in. When it went in, I couldn’t really believe it myself.”
Even within the consequential circumstances of the match, the goal brought much hilarity from the players on the park. “When it went in, I couldn’t really believe it myself. I remember turning around and Robert, who was telling me not to do it, he actually just sat down in the centre circle holding his belly, he couldn’t stop laughing!
“I remember we played them a couple of weeks later and we were taking centre,” Kettlewell details, for what would have been the final game of the season after Cowdenbeath’s relegation play-off place was confirmed. “The ‘keeper was giving me a wave as if to say: ‘Going to try that again?’ – it was quite good from him to have a laugh about it.”
However, with the comedy came the farce. “Twenty minutes later, I was red carded” he rues. “Gardner wasn’t best pleased with me. You think to yourself: ‘I’ve arguably scored the best goal I’ll ever score in my life’ and the next moment you’re seeing a red card.
“I think it was a bit of a stupid one. In passing, I said something – it didn’t take much for the ref at the time, so he went straight into his pocket for the second yellow. From such a high, it was a bit of a low, but we managed to win the game.”
Stuart Kettlewell left Queen’s Park that summer after being approached by John “Bomber” Brown to join him at Clyde. For Kettlewell, it was an offer he found difficult to decline.
“I always had the desire to play full-time football,” he observes. “John Brown made it clear that he was desperate to get me and he continually phoned me. It’s all very well clubs saying that they’re interested in you, but he was never off the phone. I was over the moon. I had other options, but I just thought I was from Cumbernauld, they were my home town team…
“With hindsight, it didn’t really work out. I didn’t really enjoy my spell there at all, but when the manager shows he’s that keen to get you, it’s pretty hard to turn down.”
Kettlewell ended up becoming team captain that season alongside club captain Marvyn Wilson in a fashion similar to Queen’s Park under Stark. The player made 31 appearances as Clyde were relegated, with a 1-7 defeat to Queen of the South at Palmerston an infamous result towards the end of the season.
“Confidence and morale were low at that time,” he states. “There were a lot of good players in that team, but for some reason or another it just didn’t seem to gel. We took a lot of players from amateur football and from junior football when we were competing against some seriously strong sides in the First Division. There was a good St Johnstone side who went up that season, and Dunfermline too. It was quite a tough ask.”
When asked to compare John Brown’s man management to Billy Stark’s, Kettlewell is diplomatic and indeed favourable towards the now-Dundee manager. “I really liked him in a sense that he was such an honest man. He would tell me straight if something wasn’t right. I’ve got a lot of respect for that – that’s fine by me, rather than having to guess things.
“Every manager’s different,” Kettlewell contemplates. “I think I remember one time of Billy Stark losing his head – you really sat up and took note of it because you weren’t used to seeing it. He was one for looking at your reaction, to see how you took it, he got his message across a different way.
“Whereas John Brown was at times… If things weren’t going well he’d let you know. He could be quite scary, but for the likes of me, that can work as well as just talking to you. The kick up the backside can be a good thing as well, it’s just a different approach. You’ve only got to see how good job a job he’s done at Dundee to see he’s certainly got something as a manager.”
Kettlewell’s time at Clyde only lasted a season, as relegation was married to serious financial trouble. He had joined Clyde on a two year full-time deal and his own future was in doubt. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was maybe worried that I was going to have to go back to part-time football.”
However, a link to his impressive Queen’s Park performances worked out for him.
BEATI IN PERPETUUM
“It was actually John Brown who had phoned me and said: ‘Look, I think Ross County are interested in you’.” Kettlewell was released from his contract and the rest of his career fell into place. “I just jumped at the chance, I thought it was a great opportunity for me. I moved up here with my family and committed to it fully – it was a great decision, really.
“I’ve never really looked back on it to be honest. It’s been a really successful four seasons that I’ve been here.”
In the most recent season, Kettlewell found himself out of the starting XI after a hamstring injury at Christmas, and as the team embarked on an unbeaten streak that propelled them to top-six status, the same team begun every week. His next start would only come at the last match of the season, after this interview, where he was asked to perform a man-marking role on Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Andrew Shinnie.
Kettlewell’s professionalism shone through, as despite not having played a full 90 minutes in five months, he had the mental and physical sharpness to contain Shinnie – one of the country’s better number 10s and a recent Scotland international – for the duration of the match. The patience, modest determination and awareness of the bigger picture has epitomised Kettlewell’s career to date and those qualities undoubtedly arrived from his upbringing at Queen’s Park as much as it does from his later experiences.
Billy Stark’s side were a wonderful team to watch and deserve their place in the pantheon of the SFL’s most attractive teams. The number of players who have turned professional – and those who have made it to the country’s top flight and beyond – speaks greatly of the level of coaching and management in place at the club, from Billy Stark’s arrival through to Gardner Speirs’s tenure, which will approach six years this season.
Recent players like Andy Robertson, Aidan Connolly and Lawrence Shankland have excited in the same way that Paul Cairney and David Weatherston did when they broke through long before. Kettlewell’s own previous involvement with Queen’s Park is very obviously a source of pride to him, but there is no doubt that the club benefited from the committed, impassioned player as much as he had from playing under Billy Stark.