This article was released on the 20th January 2018 against Greenock Morton in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Match-Day Programme. Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish my article on my website.
Canadian international Fraser Aird has played 8 times for his country. He has travelled the globe with his country, flying thousands of miles away to represent his homeland. However, it was in Scotland where the wingers most memorable experience has occurred, to date.
Aird was born in Canada to Scottish parents:
“Both my parents were born in Scotland; my mum moved over when she was younger while my dad moved over in his late 30’s. They met over there and then had myself and my brother – we were both born across there whereas everyone else in the family has been born in Scotland. My dad played football across here and has followed it his whole life, so, he got myself and my brother involved in the sport as soon as he could – probably as soon as we were able to run! We have always loved the sport since then.
I never moved over to Scotland until I was 16 as you can’t move over before then without your parents, so I had to wait. I played the equivalent of Boys Club football as well as playing for my school team as well as the Province before joining Rangers. One of my agents at the time knew the Reserve Team coach at that time, Tommy Wilson: he was over in Canada and had seen me play, so, decided to invite me across to Rangers for a trial. I was across for 2 weeks and then they invited me back for another 2 weeks in the December; I done well and they offered me a contract, but, I had to wait til the February to move over as I was only 15 at this point. It was a no-brainer for me – playing for Rangers is something I have always wanted to do. It was either trying to make it professionally across the water in Europe or going down the scholarship route, which a lot of my friends did, but, I think I made the right decision.”
Aird is someone known for his pace and his attacking threat, but, he has also adapted his game to play in a more defensive role at times, as well.
“When I was younger, I always played in an attacking position; up front, just off the striker or out wide. When I came to Rangers, they probably saw me more as an out-and-out winger either on the left or the right for the majority of my time at Ibrox before I ended up going back to right-back towards the end of my tenure there. I think as you get older, you are always able to play in different positions as you can read the game better: it is always better, in my opinion, if you can play in a few positions as it means you have more chance of playing if injuries or suspensions arise throughout the team as well as giving the manager different options during the season when things aren’t quite going to plan.
I probably preferred up front, to be honest, when I was younger as I loved scoring goals. But, as I have grown older I have started to drift back the way and before you know it, I’ll be in goals! I feel I am better in the attacking positions as that is where I think I am most affective – playing left and right has pros and cons: for example, if I am on the right, I can get the ball out of my feet to cross it whereas if I am on the left, I can cut inside and influence the game that way, or, go down the outside and use my pace to cross the ball in, so, it just depends how the manager wants you to play.”
Not long after Fraser had joined Rangers, financial difficulties hit the Glasgow club.
“The first year I moved over, Rangers won the league – which was the last time they ever won the SPL. Obviously that summer, the club went through a massive thunderstorm with everything going on with the administration and things like that. For a young boy like me, it was probably the best time to be at the club as guys who wouldn’t normally get their chance, had to step up. For me, being a young prospect, to go on and play as many games as I did for Rangers, it was brilliant and I loved every minute of it. Everyone at the end of the day wants to be playing and wants to break into the first-team as quick as possible; as a Rangers supporter, I was gutted with everything which occurred at the club, with all the players leaving on the terms they did, but, from a selfish point of view, I was delighted to get my chance to play in the first-team.”
Aird didn’t start the season off in the senior squad but was soon involved in the Gers’ successful SFL Division Three campaign:
“I wasn’t involved at all at the beginning of the season, I was just training with the Under-20’s. A few injuries meant I managed to creep my way into first-team training; I did well and got onto the bench. I came on as a substitute against Montrose with around 30 minutes to go and done really well before starting just a few days later against Motherwell in the League Cup. Everything happened so fast, but, that is what happens in football and it was up to me to take my chance which I felt I did. It was a really tough time at Rangers, as, the manager had brought in a few players, ones with experience. We were expected to not just win every game, but win by a big margin, so there was a lot of pressure on us all to perform every week. These guys had gone from playing in cup finals to playing at small grounds which was difficult to get used to – these experiences make you grow up quick and it made me realise what senior football is all about.
I remember warming-up at the Montrose game alongside 2 other players and the manager shouted me back to get my stuff on and I was just looking at him and saying “me? Is this a joke?”; it was an amazing day and an amazing achievement personally for myself and my whole family, to make my debut for Rangers, at Ibrox, in front of 50,000…it was a dream come true.”
Having lost 1-0 away to Stirling Albion in his third match as a professional footballer, the Canadian international was quick to learn Scottish football wasn’t as easy as some may have imagined.
“It was a bit of mixed emotions for me; I had played well against Motherwell in the midweek prior so I felt I had a good chance of keeping my place in the team. That was our first defeat in the league that season, but, it was like someone had died in the family…the press was all over it due to it being such a shock result; it was always going to happen, but, I can assure you it wasn’t a nice place to come in and train on the Monday. Like I said, it has made me tougher – this was only my third appearance and only my second start: it is games like this that you will remember to make you stronger as you get older. On the contrary, scoring my first goal for the club in the December was unbelievable. Playing at Hampden in front of 30 odd thousand Ranger supporters against Queens Park is great but to score the winner in the 91st minute, it was a surreal feeling. I felt as if I was on cloud nine as I was only 17 at the time. It was my first Christmas away from my family so it was the best festive gift I could have asked for! I will remember that moment til the day I die and it is probably the one moment the Rangers fans will remember of me from my time at the club!”
Come the end of his first season with the club, Fraser had won a league winners medal as well as making 21 appearances, scoring 3 goals.
“It was my first trophy and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what league you are playing in, it is still silverware you are lifting. That season will always go down as one of the biggest achievements in my career. I honestly didn’t expect to make one appearance that season, so, to feature 21 times and score three times for the club I have always grew up supporting was a dream come true; I have standards and if I am being critical, I feel I probably should’ve scored a few more goals, but, considering I was only 17, all I was thinking about was doing well and keeping my place in the team. I was just enjoying playing every week and heading into the next season, that was my goal, to keep on playing. That was the first year I was properly part of the first-team; I had been away with them for pre-season, I had moved into the senior changing room, so, my next target was to win the league with them again.
I was injured for a good bit of the opening period in Rangers’ League One campaign. It was tough to find my way back into the team because they were doing so well, but, as I have said, these things happen; little injuries creep up on you and then you lose your place in the team. If other boys come in and do well, then you just need to be patient and wait for your next chance and hopefully impress again. I remember that season I scored here, at East End Park, as well as getting Man of the Match. I came in from the right-hand side onto my left foot and scored before I celebrated in-front of the home fans at the Norrie McCathie end! The first year I came to Scotland, I remember I watched a match between Dunfermline and Rangers, so, I was always aware of the club and stadium; the one thing that sticks out in my head was I looked at the pitch that day and I thought it looked brilliant and I have to give credit to the ground staff here as they are doing an amazing job with it this term once again. I have had good memories here in the past and hopefully I can continue that on this season.
It was games against Dunfermline that season that was really going to define Rangers’ season that year as both clubs were doing well in the league. We knew coming here in the December was going to be a six-pointer; we knew if we won that match, then, the gap would increase and make it more difficult – that is what we did so I can’t complain, especially as I got a goal and the award at the end of the match.
Despite scoring three goals during March of that season, I wouldn’t say it necessarily meant I was playing well. My confidence was high at the time and I kept myself in the team, which was good, but, at the end of the day as long as the team is winning, that is all that matters: if you put in a good performance to coincide that, it is just a bonus.”
At the end of that season, Rangers would lose out to Dundee United at the Semi-Final stage of the Scottish Cup, which Fraser describes as one of the lowest points in his career to date.
“It was a really tough game to take: my dad was over from Canada to watch and I started the match. I thought I done really well, but, it was the atmosphere that I remember the most. At that time, the rivalry between the two clubs was rife and Dundee United had brought thousands upon thousands of supporters to Ibrox that day. It was a good game but it was mistakes that cost us the game; they were clinical whereas we just couldn’t finish. It was gutting at the end of the game and definitely one of the lowest points I had in my spell with the club. Looking back at that term overall, I would say it was probably my best and most consistent run in the team; the manager believed in me and it just shows you that, if the manager does believe in you and gives you a run of games that you are able to repay him for that faith with good performances and hopefully the right set of results.”
Heading into the Championship alongside relegated Premiership sides Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian, the winger knew it wasn’t going to be an easy campaign for the Gers.
“In the two lower leagues, everybody thought we were going to be winning 7,8,9-0 every week but it was never going to happen. It made us all more intelligent heading into our toughest test yet and I felt we had learnt enough to deal with that pressure. It was a season in which most neutrals looked at the Championship and said “this is a much more exciting league compared to the Premiership” that year, considering the teams coming down. It didn’t disappoint and lived up to its expectations; Hearts had an unbelievable season that year, but, I was disappointed for not being able to make it three titles back-to-back and getting Rangers promoted to the top-tier of Scottish football. We went on a really bad run of form, while Hearts just kept on winning. The gap just kept on getting bigger and bigger so we were almost always playing catch-up. All credit goes to them and we just had to make sure we bounced back the following year. There was so much going on in the background that season, that the players didn’t even know about. There was so much speculation: you’d come into training in the morning and didn’t know what was happening…I was gutted when the manager [Ally McCoist] left as he gave me my chance and when a manager does that, the only thing I can do to repay him is to give him that respect back – that is why I done my hardest to put in good performances for him, because he had so much faith in me.
There wasn’t much change when Kenny [McDowell] stepped up from Assistant Manager; he kept the same regime as that is what he knew, although, he did make minor changes to the starting team due to him possibly feeling different players or tactics would work best for us to get the right results. It is crazy for me to think that my last start for Rangers came against Celtic [in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final at Hampden] but, it is what is it is. To get the chance to play in a game like that, it was another dream come true for me, to play in a match of that calibre against Celtic. It was the wrong result and that was the main thing on the day; the end to that season for me was tough, but, you will get that in your career – it builds up your character and makes you more determined to put that right somewhere else to the betterment of your own career.”
The following season, Aird played only 4 times under new manager Mark Warburton before making the switch back to his homeland.
“I wasn’t happy I wasn’t playing: I needed to be playing matches at the age I was to continue developing, hence the reason I asked for a loan. The manager brought in a lot of players that summer and those boys were going to play as everything was changed right up – I was out of the team and you are going to get that in your career, so, for myself, it was all about getting back out on the pitch and enjoying my football again. The move to the MLS came through Kenny Miller; he was playing at Vancouver Whitecaps at the time and had a word with their manager Carl Robinson as he was made aware I wasn’t playing. Kenny brought up the conversation with me, just to find out if I would be interested in going there and I ended up getting the deal done eventually. It was an interesting move for me but it is one I will look back on with great fondness and memories in the years to come.
It wasn’t easy for me to transition back into life in my homeland though as, I am from Toronto whereas Vancouver is on the west coast; there are probably 2,500 miles between the two places…you can probably get the Scotland quicker!! It was great to see another part of Canada, though, that I hadn’t really been to before: I enjoyed my time out there and it was a great learning curve for me. It was pre-season across there when I went in and I started really well as I was a bit ahead in fitness due to being midway through my season here in Scotland. I started the first game of the season and I felt I was doing really well – I had a few matches where I was in and out of the side, but, I felt, overall, I done really well. The MLS and the Scottish divisions across here are really hard to compare – the MLS is getting better each week, there are a lot of good players across there. If the Vancouver Whitecaps were to come across and compete in Scotland, I think they would do really well in the Premiership; they may not win the league, but, they would be up there in my opinion. There was an option to stay across there but I wanted to come back as I still had time on my contract left at Rangers – I wanted to try force my way back into the team but it wasn’t really happening for me once I had returned, so, that is when I knew my time was up and I had to get out.”
In the January of 2017, Aird signed for Falkirk on a 6-month deal.
“It was difficult as I had been at Rangers for 6 years, but, in reality, there was no point in me staying there any longer if I wanted to progress in my own career. I have to look after myself as I wasn’t playing which meant I couldn’t be happy. We done well; I played 11 more games last season while I was there than I would have if I had stayed with Rangers. We made the play-offs, but, didn’t really finish the season off the way we wanted it to. That happens in football, but, I felt we could have done a lot more; we should have beaten Dundee United and then it would have been a lottery when we came up against Hamilton in the final – anything could have happened.”
Fraser is a current Canadian international, who scored his first goal for his country against Scotland at Easter Road last year.
“I was playing over here and I wasn’t really getting a call from Canada at that time, so, playing for Scotland at youth level was probably the easiest thing for me to do, at that time, to be honest. When Scotland came calling, I thought, “why not?” and I gave it a shot and I really enjoyed the experience. However, I came to the conclusion that I had more chance of earning caps with the Canadian full national men’s side and being Canadian, I felt that is where my loyalties lay. I felt that was the best decision for me and I am happy with it; don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with the Scotland youth boys when I was younger but, for the best outcome from my career, I felt I had to pull on the Canadian jersey.
We play in the CONCACAF section so we have ourselves, America, Jamaica, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti and Costa Rica (just to name a few!). We play in Central America so it is a bit different to what I am used to! It was a really weird day when I came up against Scotland, to be honest. It was probably one of the biggest games I have participated in during my career, I would say, due to the fact that I have played the majority of my footballing matches in Scotland, the match was in Edinburgh and I have mates across here. It was quite a surreal moment too because my dad had passed away a few months earlier, but, if he was still alive, he would have been there supporting Scotland most likely but still wishing I was doing well. It was one of the best games I have played in my career – I knew the day before I was playing, so, between all my pals and my family back home with all my Scottish roots, the news was going around that “Fraser is set to play against Scotland for Canada”: it was an unbelievable night, it is a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life. Playing for your country is massive as not many players in the world can say they’ve represented their country at international level, so, I have been very lucky. I knew in the summer I had to try get my next move right as, if you aren’t playing, it is difficult for the manager to give you a call. I want to get called-up, get as many caps as I can and represent my country to the best of my abilities.”
Fife was the next move for Fraser.
“I was away with Canada for 5 weeks over the summer at the Gold Cup. The manager here had been in contact before I even went as he wanted his team sorted out as soon as he could during the break here in Scotland. When I came back, I got a few days off as I hadn’t had a break over the summer before I came in for 3 days so he could assess where my fitness was at. I played 1 bounce match before I ended up signing. It was tough as the Gold Cup is all over America so you are playing in lots of different States and, for me, it is basically a whole day of travelling to get there and then a whole day of travelling to get back, but, you get used to flying and being jet-lagged; this is part and parcel of being a footballer and it is something you get used to.
The manager had high expectations for me when I signed and he had big plans for the seasons. He has built a very good squad here who totally believe we can go out there and win it [the Scottish Championship]: that is still our goal, despite being a few points off the top of the table right now. We are into the second part of the season, so, it is up to us to kick on now and see where it takes us. I am very frustrated, personally, with the amount of game-time I have had, but, the manager decides who and what he needs on Saturday for each game to get a result. We started the season off really well before we hit a bad patch of form; he didn’t make too many changes in that period, he stuck to his guns and it has come off, as, now the boys are back on track again with three wins and a draw in our last four matches. I just need to wait my time, but, at the end of the day, from my point of view, I also need to playing and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me being unhappy when I’m not.”
Aird has played 16 times for the Pars this term, scoring 1 goal.
“I’d say my goal against Livingston is the best goal of the season so far!! In all seriousness, I feel personally that when I have got a chance, I have taken it and I have been slightly unlucky not to get more matches for the club. That is football, I will keep training hard and trying to impress as I know what I can do – I have proven that on the pitch, that, once I get the chance, I can do well. If I can get a run of games, I feel I can really show everyone what I am able to do.
The club have given us the best tools to equip us well for this season; we have a great group of players, plus the new gym which was built and opened. These things allow us to go out on to the pitch and perform to the best of our abilities – we were 5 points clear at one point this year and we still feel we are good enough to win this division. The season is still young, a lot can change between now and the end of the campaign. We will definitely make the play-offs, in my opinion – the squad assembled by the manager is more than good enough for that and I believe we are good enough to be challenging for promotion. When we get to the play-offs, it is all about having the bottle to be able to stand up and win those highly pressurised games.”
Looking at today’s match against Greenock Morton in the William Hill Scottish Cup, Aird knows how important this competition is for the club to progress in.
“Every team wants to go on a cup-run. It allows the managers a chance to freshen things up from the league campaign while remaining competitive. When you are a full-time team, especially when you play for a club like Dunfermline, I feel it is imperative that you are always in the hat for the next round at this stage of the competition. Hopefully we can then get a big game to show what we can really do, however, myself or the boys won’t get ahead of ourselves. We know how tough a game it is going to be and our focus is solely on this match to make sure we get the result required.
Morton will have ambitions to get through and go on a cup-run too so it won’t be easy, we aren’t underestimating our opponents this afternoon. It is to our advantage that we are at home and now it is down to us to put a show on for our fans. If you are still in the cup, it means you have been winning games. Winning games gives you so much confidence and if we can continue on our good recent run of results, we will breed even more positivity heading into another big match next against St Mirren.”
Fraser concludes, by saying:
“I have done things in my career I probably thought I would never have had the chance of doing; I have played 80 odd games for Rangers, I have 8 caps for my country, as well as playing in an international tournament with my country, which, by the age I am at is quite a remarkable achievement. I am pretty happy with what I have done so far in my career, but, I am not satisfied. I want to kick on, achieve more and play more regularly – that is the next steps for me.
I just want to thank the Dunfermline fans – I want to encourage you to keep coming along to the games and supporting us, as, there is no better thing than to run out at our own home to a big support, which always turns up. We are doing well at the moment, we are winning matches and scoring goals; you guys are fantastic in your support of us and without you, this club would be nothing. Hopefully we can go on and have a good season.”
This article was released on the 20th January 2018 against Greenock Morton in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Match-Day Programme. Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish my article on my website.