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The Boyd’s done good

By, Ryan Rowe

“To this day I still haven’t met the man who signed me…it was a disaster from start to finish.” That’s how Kris Boyd describes his turbulent tenure in Turkey. Boyd had signed a three-year contract with Eskisehirspor, a club from a city nearly 3,000 miles away from home, hoping that regular game time in a high-profile league would end his exile from the Scotland national team. He played 76 minutes of football in six months, before terminating his contract.

That was on December 19, 2011. Almost five years to the day later, Boyd is sitting across from me in the cafe area of the stylish Park Hotel in Kilmarnock, relaxed. He’s much more content with his football life now and is a wiser head after his Turkish nightmare. Everything from his childhood to his career he speaks openly and eloquently about, which belies his guarded appearance: a black rain-jacket, zipped up to just below his chin where his dark, thick beard resides. He offers detailed opinions on the state of youth football and society in general. They aren’t for the faint-hearted.

We’re in the shadow of Rugby Park, home of Kilmarnock FC. It represents a second home for the man from Tarbolton, who’s spent half of his professional career with the Ayrshire club and has iconic status here. But Boyd had to work hard to merit his place on the pitch in the first place and his outlook hasn’t changed to this day. Though his standing allows him to order his coffee and glass of blackcurrant juice on the house, it’s a rank he’s had to earn.

Growing up in Ayrshire in the eighties was a wholly different ball game to what it’s like today. “There were so many of us at roughly the same age who got together and played up the park. It’s something that’s sadly missing nowadays.”

 

“We used to get home from school, change & head straight back out till ten o’clock. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

 

“I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything.” Boyd attended Mainholm Academy and laments that some of the more trivial pursuits of the typical male youth, including jumping off of school sheds or climbing up trees to retrieve footballs, are waning. Boyd’s adolescent environment valued hard graft. “You had to fight for everything. You had to fight for superiority in your group, which I think led to you becoming who you were.”

Boyd signed professionally with Kilmarnock as an ambitious 17-year-old, eager for the chance to showcase his talent. The big break came in 2001 and was unique in more ways than one. Boyd didn’t come on for just any old seasoned pro. He replaced Alistair Murdoch McCoist, known to many as ‘Super Ally’. It was his last ever game, and the opponent was no ordinary foe. It was Celtic.

“To be given the opportunity was unbelievable, especially against Celtic. To replace Ally McCoist as well, in his last game, means I’ve got great memories from that day.”

From that day onwards, Boyd’s career skyrocketed. He soared to stardom, firing in goals left, right, and centre (67 of them, to be precise). His penalty-box prowess made him a renowned local face and he was first man up for events, press conferences and photocalls.

“You start to think that there’s something special in this place for myself, and they can see something in me. It’s not until you’re older you recognise wee silly things like that were putting you on a learning curve to realise there’s more to football than just playing on the field. And I think that’s why I can sit here today and say I’ve still got such a good relationship with the people around Kilmarnock.”

That relationship would come to an end in January 2006, when Boyd fulfilled a childhood dream.

Boyd grew up supporting Rangers and despite interest from English Premiership teams like Fulham, playing for the Ibrox club was always in the back of his mind. So too was the question of whether he’d be able to perform at that high level for his boyhood club when he signed. He needn’t have worried. ‘Boydy’ scored 20 goals for Rangers to finish the season. He finished as the top scorer for Rangers and Kilmarnock, scooping the league’s golden boot award.

“It was just fairytale stuff from beginning to end that season,” he gleams.

The local hero left a parting gift for his old club. He forfeited his transfer bonus upon signing for the Old Firm giants, sending the money back to the team that helped him blossom.

I hand over a printout showing perhaps Boyd’s biggest achievement at Ibrox. It’s a photograph of him holding a framed jersey with the words ‘BOYD – 100 GOALS’ emblazoned. Posing with the centurion is then first-team coach (and boyhood hero), Mr McCoist. The face across the table lights up.

“I think when you grow up as a Rangers fan McCoist was always someone you looked up to. But when you’re running about the park as a kid in the new top your parents got you screaming ‘And McCoist scores!’ you never think those dreams will become reality.” When Boyd scored his first career goal against Celtic in 2007, he ecstatically raced towards his idol on the sidelines. Ian Crocker, the Sky Sports commentator, exclaimed: “It means so much to Kris Boyd!” Understatement of the century.

Big-money calls came from down south but it was silver – not gold – that motivated the Ayrshire man. “I don’t think I’d have been able to live with myself had I left not having won anything. It’s easy to say ‘I’ve played with Rangers’ but as soon as you say that, people ask ‘What did you win?’ That was always in the back of my mind.” Boyd won no less than six trophies with Rangers in four-and-a-half goal-laden years. The success in Glasgow thrust him in the spotlight like never before, and Boyd admits it was strange for a boy from Tarbolton to make it like he had. But in hindsight, it isn’t so surprising.

“Ayrshire as a whole is a big place. Lots of little villages produced good footballers – Kirk Broadfoot & Stewart Kean, both from Drongan, Steven Naismith in Stewarton. Going back to our youth game, the competitiveness was always there. You always wanted to be better than the guy next to you, & I think that helped everyone achieve their goal.”

Such is the candid way Boyd talks about anything that I’ve allowed myself to indulge in a few questions that would bear no relevance to this piece (nightclub preferences, for example). So, who is the best player Boyd ever shared a dressing room with? He puts up three fingers: “Barry Ferguson, Pedro Mendes and Steve Davis,” he says, touching each digit. If he had to pick one it’d be Ferguson, who was so good Boyd sometimes wondered: “How am I on the same pitch as him?” He’s adamant his former teammate could’ve played for one of the top four Premiership teams.

Boyd’s own spell in England was “difficult”. He admits it’s the one thing he would change in his career. He never truly settled on the pitch at Middlesbrough and Billy Davies’ sacking at Nottingham Forest burst that ball just as it got rolling.

The Turkish turmoil needs no more column inches. The positives Boyd took from that challenging period do. “Before I would just do what I needed to do on a football pitch but then you go to places like that and see people in poverty, properly struggling. In the long run it changed me into the person I am today.” Boyd made good friends out there, like his translator, who bunked with him after being fired from the club. Boyd felt for him, and in return he helped with the basics like ordering food. They still keep in touch. (Eskisehirspor have since been relegated, and their fans set fire to their stadium).

Going from one extreme to another Boyd flew to America, signing for Portland Timbers. He has fond memories of MLS. His family were able to join him for the whole summer. “It was a fantastic year for me. I loved it.”

Boyd highlights the difficulties the MLS has in expanding, chiefly the system of no relegation and the fact that teams regularly endure six or seven hour flights and play in heat they’re not used to. Boyd laughs, recalling visiting Houston Dynamo’s facilities when they hoped to sign him. When he left, the grey t-shirt he wore had a massive line of sweat down the middle. It was mid-January.

After his American adventure Boyd returned to Scotland, finding his goalscoring touch again at Kilmarnock before moving to Rangers for a second time in 2014. Times were dark at Ibrox and Boyd was not the only one who left at the end of that season, in a clearout he believes needed to happen. Now back at Kilmarnock for a third time, he helped the club avoid relegation once again last season.

On that first return to Kilmarnock, the striker’s form was so outstanding it earned him a recall to the Scotland squad. That, he says, is one of the proudest moments in his career. He never thought he’d receive that type of call again.

“When I look back on my international career there’s been a lot of good times. But other times, like the George Burley incident, I’m not proud of,” (Boyd quit the international scene under Burley after the new manager put Chris Iwelumo on before him against Norway, and watched helplessly as he committed that miss).

If Boyd’s international career is tinged with sadness, it doesn’t come close to the tragedy his family endured this year when his brother, Scott, a dad-to-be, took his own life. It shocked his kin to the core. They had no idea of his inner agony, and Boyd wants to do something in his brother’s name to help others who find themselves suffering similar issues. He plans on setting up a foundation in the New Year to do so.

“It wasn’t easy for us to deal with but going forward it’s about raising awareness so no one else has to go through what we went through.

“I hope in ten years time it’s a success and something Scott can look down on.”

The day after we spoke, Kilmarnock had an important match at Rugby Park against St Johnstone. Boyd had struggled with injury in previous weeks, but made it onto the bench for this tie. It was a bitterly cold night and the mood amongst the home fans even frostier. When it was announced Boyd would be substituted on, the sense of expectation palpably increased around the stadium. The fact that his mere presence had the Killie faithful rubbing their hands together for a reason other than keeping warm is a measure of Boyd’s legendary status at the club.

The sun is setting on Boyd’s career. During our conversation he said that “As a footballer, you never know where you’re going to end up,” something he knows better than anyone. One place his name will end up is in Scottish football’s history books. On the horizon for Boyd are opportunities in coaching, the media and beyond. It looks like ‘The Killie’ will bookmark his football story, but no-one – not even Boyd himself – knows exactly what will come in the next chapter.