This week, jordanburtfootball.com caught up with former Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Dunfermline defender Kevin Rutkiewicz and asked the question… Where Are They Now?
Rutkiewicz was born in Royston in Glasgow and always dreamed about becoming a professional footballer.
“From a very young age it was always football that I was into. As I have got older, I have began to enjoy other sports, but, football was always the primary go-to. Every Christmas, Birthday, even in the Easter Holidays, I would get a new football or a new strip from my parents; that was my dream, to get as far as I could, with the football and thankfully I managed to fulfil some of my dreams – not all of the, but some.”
Rutkiewicz began his career at his local side, Royston.
“In terms of exposure, I was quite sheltered. I played with a number of boys clubs, then I was at Celtic briefly, but, mainly I was just playing with my local team here in Glasgow, which is Royston. From there, I was playing with the Scottish Schools Select side, when I was 17 – so up until then – apart from a short spell at Celtic – I mainly grew up playing boys club football with my friends. I just kept plugging away and a lot of guys I played with were picked up by various scouts but it never happened to me. Luckily, however, for me, an Aberdeen scout saw me playing at Hampden for Glasgow Schools against a Bradford Select and the rest, as they say, is history.”
The centre-back began his senior career with the Dons, making his debut in November 1999 against Hibernian.
“At that time, I had been moved to centre-forward by Ebbe Skovdahl. I remember I shared a room with one of our Moroccan signings, Rachid Belabed and that was all a new experience for me, as a kid. We stayed overnight as we were playing Hibs the next day at Easter Road. It was intriguing getting a taste for the preparation side of things, such as going away and staying in a hotel before a match, having a pre-match meal and things like that. Then I remember coming on and I was up against John Hughes – Big Yogi. I can’t remember exactly what he said to me but it was a couple of friendly threats! That was just part and parcel of the game back then, though. I think we got beat 2-0 that day, however, I seem to remember I done quite well and made a positive impact. It was a great experience and one I still have fond memories of. The German lad we had, Andreas Mayer, got injured early on in the game and that opened up the space for me, I think, to come on later on that game up front.”
Despite only being 19, Rutkiewicz played 15 times for Aberdeen that season before only making a further 4 appearances in the 2000/2001.
“I picked up a few injuries, one of which was a bad concussion. From that, I lost all momentum – by the time I came back, Ebbe Skovdahl had put me back to centre-half and there was a period where I questioned “where am I actually playing?”. I was a wee bit disillusioned with my direction in the game and to be honest, I didn’t have a mentor, as such, to lead me. The coaches had enough on their plate with the first team squad and I had just left the youth team, so, it was a bit of a grey area. This is when the immature side in my kicked in – I wasn’t living my life properly off the park and this hindered my recovery from injury as well as my progress on the park.”
Kevin’s only goal for the Dons was against Hearts in 2002.
“I think at that time, a lot of people were making a big deal about our corner kicks. We used to create a “crane” formation as we piled 4, 5, 6 bodies in to the box. I can’t remember who took the corner, I just remember it coming in and volleying it – Antti Niemi couldn’t get to it and I think the game finished 2-2. I felt I played pretty well but I remember being gutted as I think we should have won that match against a really good Hearts side.”
Similarly to previous seasons, Rutkiewicz struggled for game-time at Pittodrie. However, the Glaswegian had a strong mindset and never let this affect him.
“I think the term disillusioned is too easy a “go-to” for young players. I was 20 or 21 years old back then, how could I be disillusioned with the game I loved and have loved since I was able to walk? I think it is a very easy excuse. Lack of direction, yes, I can buy into that…not mature enough to recognise my position and the chance that I had, I accept that – disillusioned, definitely not. I loved every minute of my career as it was great getting up every morning knowing you are going to be playing football and training with a great group of boys. While I will continue to harp on about my immaturity and how that hindered my progress, there was not one time that I ever questioned playing football and if this was the right career path for me. The moment you do that, this sport isn’t for you. It is far too easy for young boys these days to say these things – you are 19 and you are saying you’re disillusioned with football…for me, that is a nonsense; it is an easy ‘out’ and a lot of boys use that as an excuse to walk away from the game because they aren’t prepared for the challenges.”
After making 44 appearances in his final two seasons with Aberdeen, Rutkiewicz left Pittodrie and joined St Johnstone in the summer of 2004.
“At that point, I was reaching the age of 23 or 24 and it was St Johnstone who came in with an early offer at the end of my contract. John Connolly made it clear to me that I was going to be a first-team player, in my preferred position of centre-half. I was going in as a starter but it was up to me to keep that jersey, whereas, at Aberdeen, I was never going to be more than a squad player – and truth be told, I was never good enough for Aberdeen at that particular point. That is just the harsh reality of football. You find your level; I had lost a couple of seasons with injuries and various other reasons. I felt as if I needed to get my name out there and show people how good I am at centre-half rather than being a utility player. The bulk of my 44 appearances in my final two years with Aberdeen were at right-back, and holding midfield, so, even by the time I was 23 or 24 I hadn’t defined a particular position for myself. I would say my first two years of my St Johnstone career was quite turbulent, to be honest. On the face of it, it probably looks like I went in and settled into a pattern of play, but, I was still trying to find my feet at that point, in terms of a person as well as a footballer. Added into that was the fact that John Connolly’s time there wasn’t great so there was a bit of upheaval on the management side of things as well. I would say going into my second season, once Owen Coyle had came in, t was the beginning of the maturity and stability – as well as progressing – within my own career. For me, I had progressed up until I was 19 but stagnated for a 4 or 5 year period and I lost a lot of time but that is just football – life doesn’t stand still in football, not for any one person. You have got to progress, you have to change and improve your game all your time. I had grown stale, in my opinion. Owen Coyle spoke to me, he challenged me and he was the one who got the ball rolling for the remainder of my career.”
Kevin suffered a serious injury which stopped him playing once more. After a year out, he finally made his return, scoring on his first game back, against Stirling Albion.
“I was basically retiring – the papers had been sent from Harley Street in London to St Johnstone – I was advised to retire. The injury was severe, the operation was extensive and the knock-on effect of all that could see me have greater problems in later life if I continued playing. It was certainly a year where I gained a different perspective – it was a really tough year mentally for me as I thought I was going to have to give up the game. I think it was around 14 months I was out for but I had decided early on I wasn’t going to retire, I was going to give it a go and I think that was the making of me. The St Johnstone physio was fantastic with me; the boys rallied round me and Owen Coyle stood by me. He gave me a platform that St Johnstone as a football club would stand by me and see me through the injury and at least give me a chance and I will forever be grateful for that. It worked out for the best but it certainly re-focused me on what I wanted to get out of the rest of my football career.”
In the summer of 2008, Rutkiewicz became captain of the Perth Saints.
“It was a natural step for me; I had captained Aberdeen for the last 3 months I was at the club after Russell Anderson got injured. I was always a leader in terms of my organisation and general talking on the park, as I was never the best of players so I relied upon my communication skills at times to protect myself and others from getting exposed. I could feel within the club I was growing in stature and presence within the changing room. Derek McInnes took me aside and told me he wanted to make that move and I was fairly comfortable with it. I didn’t feel there was much of a transition needed – I was who I was and I did what I did, I just went about my business. It wasn’t a bolt from the blue, as there were boys at the club at that time already saying I was basically doing that job anyway. What it done, however, was gave me a bit of responsibility away from the playing side of things. I knew I had to be in and around the boys and help them with certain situations – guys with personal problems, you had to try guage the dressing room and question everything; “why is he down today?”, “why is he looking so lethargic?” and I basically became the medium between the players in the dressing room and the management staff. I would go to the manager with certain things, while at times I would deal with other issues myself. It just gave me that extra focus off the park but on the park, I don’t think it changed who I was or how I played.”
St Johnstone also won promotion back to the Premiership, that same season.
“For the club, it was a big thing – for the previous two or three seasons they had been tipped to win the league, or at least be up there challenging, but it hadn’t really happened. As a player, having came through my injury, it certainly gave me great pride: it was a fantastic feeling of achievement, having overcame everything. I was just delighted for everyone at the club; from the people who work in the ticket office to the lads on the park, it was a terrific environment to work in; it is a family club – there i a real togetherness between everyone that season, we were all on first-name terms, and when we won the league, it felt like a full team effort by everybody at the club.”
After a couple of seasons in the Premiership, Rutkiewicz decided to leave McDiarmid Park for pastures new, after joining Dunfermline on loan with just a few months left of the 2010//11 season.
“Once again, I had picked up a couple of bad injuries and it was just bad luck. It wasn’t about not living right or doing the correct things away from the training ground, it was just a couple of bad injuries which set me back. As I touched on earlier, no football club stands still, even for their captain, but I felt once I had came back, the squad and the manager had moved on from the one in which had won the league a few season prior, so, for me, I had to try re-establish myself there, as the captain, try and re-gain that respect and authority. I just felt everything had moved on, which is just bad luck on my behalf. At that stage in my career, I just felt a new challenge was important. I couldn’t afford to become stagnant again – nor going in and out of the side. After 6 weeks of being back fit, I approached Del [Derek McInnes] and suggested that it’d be the best move for both club and myself if we could find a suitable arrangement. To be fair to St Johnstone again, they were fantastic with me, so were Del and Tony [Docherty – Assistant Manager]. We all worked together to get the best solution and eventually I joined Dunfermline on loan.”
With the Pars fighting with arch rivals Raith Rovers for the SFL Division One trophy that season, Rutkiewicz and fellow former Saints player Martin Hardie were drafter in by Jim McIntyre to try help get his side across the finishing line.
“The fans are always massive and always huge at any club and I hit it off with them straight away. I think there was something missing from that side that season – nothing technically, more so in leadership and having a belief within each other. There is no doubt in my mind, that squad was good enough to win that league with myself and Martin Hardie. However, I feel what they lacked was that nous and experience to get them over the line in certain games. At that time, both of us were at an age and a stage of our career where we could go in there and do that. In my opinion, all we did was steadied the ship once we had came in. The boys then started to believe in themselves – by the end of the season you had Joe Cardle and David Graham flying on the wings, Gary Mason was absolutely outstanding; Callum Woods, outstanding; Austin McCann, outstanding…these are all the players who were already there. I know on the face of it, with Martin scoring a few goals for example, I understand why people would view it as we won them the league but when you look at guys like Kirky [Andy Kirk], he was scoring every week – those were the guys that won that division, they had been there from the start. It just took me and Martin to go in there and arguably re-focus them on everything. I felt I played a minor role in that achievement – but a very proud achievement too. I had that affinity with the club and the fans though straight from that first game at Cowdenbeath. We got off on the right foot, I think that is always important for players and fans to do. I bouthgt into it all – I bought into being a part of the ‘Pars Family’ and it is an affinity I have kept to this day and I will continue to have that affinity for a very, very, long time too.”
After being sent-off the week prior, Rutkiewicz missed the bigged game at East End Park in many a year, when Raith Rovers visited in a title showdown, in front of a packed crowd.
“I was really frustrated, to be honest. I wanted to play. I wasn’t enjoying missing out on such a big game. I felt incredibly pumped up for all the boys; I headed every ball, kicked every ball… even Martin’s free-kick so I am taking half of the credit for that goal too! At the start it was an overwhelming feeling of frustration, leading into a overwhelming feeling of relief, that we had won. I was so focused on the result, for everyone at the club, but I don’t get that tense feeling while watching the match. Perhaps it is due to the fact that when you are out there you learn to cope and channel that energy into a positive performance and that is basically how I was in the stand, I was up and down! I was incredibly passionate that day!”
Two other vital games, which Kevin played in, in the title-run-in were wins against Ross County and Morton.
“Yes, that was huge,” agrees Rutkiewicz, after I asked him if the Ross County win was the bigger result than the Raith Rovers victory. “It was vital for many different reasons; probably due to the way we had won it. We got a free-kick out wide, Martin wanted to take it and I was screaming at him to get into the box…we ended up falling out! Lo and behold, he goes into the box and heads the winner, so once again, I was right! In all seriousness though, that evening, there was a particular feeling about the place: I think that is when everybody in that changing room knew we had it in the palm of our hands. It was then just about closing it up and nailing it down. In the Morton game, wee [Steven] McDougall stole my goal, on the line – a header! I remember we were missing Martin and a few others that day but wee Davie Graham on the wing was unplayable that day – he was absolutely outstanding. It was a beautiful day and the stand was full and I just knew we weren’t going to get beat. There are certain games as a player you just know you aren’t going to get beat in and this was one of them. It was absolutely phenomenal. I was so happy for Macca [Jim McIntyre – manager]; Cabey [Gerry McCabe – Assistant Manager] and even Mojo [Mo Hutton – Kitman] for me epitomises the whole club. He is what the club is all about and it was just fantastic to reward him and all the other fans – similar to what it was like with St Johnstone – after years of hardship. Unfortunately for Pars fans, there was more years of hardship to follow but at that particular time, I felt as if we had taken Dunfermline out of a deep, dark, hole and re-introduced them to Scottish Football again.”
After another 12 months with the Pars, Rutkiewicz moved back down the Division One to sign for Greenock Morton, before Kevin took up a player/coach role in the United States of America.
“My first step into coaching was with Dunfermline, I was helping Hamish French out with the Under-19’s, on a part-time basis – I would help out in the afternoon’s and at training, however, the American moved came about when I was with Morton. They tried to get me earlier that season but we were in the midst of a title-challenge with Partick, so I couldn’t go – I didn’t pursure it. They came back, looking for me once Partick had clinched the league title and at that point in my life, I felt it was a perfect opportunity. It gave me a chance to go and experience a different lifestyle and culture. With me coaching across there, I was just beginning to scratch the surface and gain a slight insight into that role; it was a great experience overall. It was a good choice for me at that time. The team I was with at that time, Carolina Railhawks, I would say we could have played easily in the bottom six of the Premiership and definitely top end of the Championship – 100%, we would have been going for the title. To be fair though, it is so difficult to judge because the game is so different: due to the heat, the tempo is a lot slower, you get a lot more of the ball…but the flip side of that is, when it does gets going it explodes into life. It is unfair to try and judge but what I would say is they have a lot of very technically good players.”
After returning to his homeland, Rutkiewicz had spells with East Fife, Blantyre Victoria and Irvine Meadow, before finishing last season in the SPFL with Clyde.
“I came back to East Fife and picked up an injury. I had another year in Methil but I walked away from that. As part of that package, they paid for me to go get medical treatment down which they did and I thank them for, but I was out of football for a very long time. I was only in the juniors for 12 weeks. I also went to Ayr United where I helped out Mark Roberts, their manager at the time, for a little bit. Then I had 6 months where I was out of the game completely – my partner was moving across from America, I was still trying to resolve my injury issues that I gained while with East Fife; it took about 18 months to fully clear up. When I moved on to Blantyre Victoria and then Irvine Meadow, it was with a manager I have known for a very long time, David Greig. He just asked me to help out, do a little bit of coaching with the lads, which I done. I enjoyed doing that and it re-invigorated me to try and get back into the senior game because, in all honesty, I felt as if I had lost out and my chance of being involved at that level ever again were gone but David said a few things which hit home – that I should be at a higher level and I should be pushing myself and I thought “yep, I can do that” and that is what I did. For the past 12 months, I had been a scout with St Mirren while I was topping up my coaching licences and applying for jobs. While I was unsuccessful, I never gave up – I kept on banging on doors with the mentality to never give up. The dream is for me to be a manager and I feel I am on that right path now. Fingers crossed I will one day get that opportunity.”
While Rutkiewicz hasn’t yet became his own man, he has been appointed as Assistant Manager to Peter Murphy at SPFL League Two club, Annan Athletic.
“When I joined Ayr United, Peter was there. I met him for a short period of time – 6 weeks or so. We hadn’t contacted each other thereafter however we were on our ‘A’ Licence together. I wouldn’t say we were super friendly or really close – but I got the phone call. I was expecting to continue my scouting this year with St Mirren but after I had spoken with Peter and he told me what he was looking for – someone with a good knowledge of Scottish football as well as someone that could bring something different from him as he is going to be playing. It meant my role would be more than an Assistant on match days as I will be making a lot of the decisions from the sidelines. It appealed: for me, it is the closest I am going to get to management without actually doing it, so for me, I felt it fulfilled my own ambitions looking at the future, but right now, I am looking to be the best Assistant I can and make Annan the best they can – that is my sole focus. It is fair to say, however, that this experience will be invaluable for me; it gets me back into the senior game and hopefully starts a journey for me that was similar to a player, that lasted for nearly 20 years and that is my dream. After all the hard work of the last few years, to get this opportunity allows me to think that in the years to come, I will get that opportunity to be my own man and do that position justice.”
The big question is though – from Monday to Friday, where is Kevin Rutkiewicz now?
“I work as a Museum Technician in Glasgow – it covers a lot of areas of work. You can be working with paintings and objects worth millions of pounds, to historical artefacts from Scotland, worldwide.”
It was an absolute pleasure to speak to Kevin and conduct this interview. I would just like to say thank you very much for the generous amount of time he gave us to speak to me. All the best to Kevin in his future endeavours.