THERE ARE PLAYERS AT COVE RANGERS WHO COULD GO VERY FAR IN THE GAME, SAYS FITNESS COACH TAM
MAN AT WORK: Tam Ritchie looks on as the Cove Rangers train.
FITNESS coach Tam Ritchie is the quieter, more low key, of the new management team who took over at Cove Rangers in the summer.
Manager Paul Hartley and his assistant Gordon Young were unveiled at a busy press conference at Balmoral Stadium.
But former Scottish and British champion runner Tam (which he prefers to Tommy or Thomas) chose to arrive virtually under the radar a few days later and get on with the job of preparing the players for the new campaign.
But, as much as he might dislike it, it’s only fair to highlight just how well Tam has done since hanging up his running shoes quarter of a century ago to concentrate on coaching footballers.
The teams he has worked with have been involved in two Champions League ties, 16 Europa League games, four promotions, two league title wins, two Championship play-off victories and a Scottish Cup win (with Hearts in 2006).
It’s a record of success most coaches would be happy to talk about but not Tam, whose response when asked about it was to reply: “I’ve done not too badly but all of the credit goes to the managers and players who made it happen.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, especially the cup win because I’m a Hearts fan.
“I’ve also known some exceptionally good, very talented, people who have experienced very little success in their careers.
“It’s why I count myself as being very, very, fortunate to have been given the chance to work alongside some top players and coaches and lucky to share in their success.”
Now aged 54, Tam’s sporting roots are in athletics, he was crowned Scotland’s junior champion over 800m in 1985.
He turned professional soon afterwards, earning a living by racing at the various Highland Games that are staged throughout the country.
Tam won the British title over 800m on more than one occasion but opted to turn towards coaching at the age of 29, after become disillusioned by the amount of opponents who were starting to turn to drugs to help enhance their performances.
“I tried a good few other things first,” said Tam, who already had connections to the north-east before joining Cove because his wife, Gill, studied at Aberdeen University.
Their daughter, Jennifer, also studied here - at RGU- and stayed in a flat in the city’s Holburn Street.
“I took up canoeing, learned to sail and did a lot of hill walking,” Tam continued.
“That didn’t stimulate my endorphins enough so my wife bought me a season ticket for Tynecastle because she knew I had been a big Hearts fan when I was a boy.
“When I went to my first game I was looking at the players and wondering if there was anything I could do to help make them fitter.
“I knew there and then that was what I was going to do.
“All I’ve really done is adapt the middle distance fitness training I did to suit footballers, but it seems to have worked well enough.”
Former Hibs goalkeeper Jim McArthur, who became a football agent after retiring, invited Tam to help out with the Under-15 side he was running in Kirkcaldy and that led to what has been a fruitful and enjoyable career in the professional game.
“If I’m being honest I took things far too seriously for an U15 side,” said Tam.
“My mates are always winding me up by saying it’s all or nothing with me but that’s just the way I am, I will never change.
“It was Jim who suggested to Craig Levein, who had just been appointed manager at Cowdenbeath, that he should take me on.
“Craig did that and I’ve been involved in the game every since.
“He also took me with him when he went to Hearts, I have a lot to be grateful to Craig for.”
Tynecastle is also where what has ended up being a close friendship with Cove manager Paul started - although Tam was quick to point out there was a time when that was under threat.
“Paul had been at Raith Rovers and Craig was delighted when he finally managed to sign him for Hearts,” said Tam.
“I was a bit wary because I had heard from friends in Kirkcaldy that Paul had a reputation for being a wee bit lazy.
“I was even more convinced of that when he didn’t do so well in the first day of pre-season training.
“Paul then played his first game and when Craig did the video analysis with the players on the Monday morning he absolutely slaughtered him.
“Craig spent the entire hour criticising Paul and nobody else.
“He used about 25 video clips showing things like Paul not making runs or tracking back or not putting pressure on the ball.
“Craig then told Paul he wouldn’t play for Hearts again unless he got himself fit.
“Paul came to me immediately after the meeting to ask if he could do extra sessions with me.
“That’s when we really got to know each other.
“We spent every afternoon, for God only knows how long, with Paul working as hard as I’ve every seen a player work.
“He got extremely fit and became one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game.”
GLORY DAY: Tam Ritchie and his wife, Gill, with Paul Hartley after Hearts won the Scottish Cup in 2006.
Tam and Paul have been pretty much a team ever since.
They worked together at Alloa Athletic, Dundee and Falkirk, although Tam also enjoyed spells at East Fife and with Belgian side RSC Charleroi.
It seemed only natural to ask Tam if he thinks there are any Cove players capable of making the same sort of impact in the game if they show the same work ethic as their manager.
“Most definitely,” he replied.
“I won’t name names, but it’s the same in life as it is in football, the harder you work the luckier you get.
“I’ve said many times there’s very little difference between part-time and full-time clubs.
“It all comes down to how hard the part-time players are willing to work when they are at training.
“The ones here certainly put in the effort and there are a few who I reckon could go very far.
“It would need them to put their football first, as Paul did, but if they did then clubs at higher levels would start to take notice.”
Tam was quick to give Cove’s previous management team of John Sheran, Graeme Mathieson and Roy McBain credit for ensuring the squad was already in excellent shape when he arrived in July.
“There is no doubt the previous incumbents at this club did an excellent job,” he said.
“I’ve come in at some clubs where the fitness levels weren’t so good, so it was a bonus to be starting from such a positive position.
“It has allowed us to decrease the volume of the training that we might have needed had the players not been in such good condition.
“It’s still intense but more about quality rather than quantity.
“Most sessions are boom, boom, boom, going from one exercise to the next, with very few rest periods.
“The players seem to be enjoying it and we are certainly happy with what they are giving us.”
Tam enjoys the fact Paul and Gordon give him a free reign to organise the Tuesday sessions in particular, when most of the fitness work is done.
“I appreciate them trusting me to get on with things because fitness coaches are only as good as managers will let them be,” said Tam, who fits his Cove commitments around his full-time job as a further education lecturer at Fife and Dundee & Angus Colleges.
“When I’m doing my stuff Paul and Gordon hardly say a word.
“I’m the same when they get on with what they are better at, which is coaching the actual football stuff.
“Being given free counsel to do my job means a lot.
“Paul, Gordon and Craig Levein are the only ones I’ve worked with to have done that.
“I’ve worked with something like 30 managers but they have definitely been the best.”