HE has been pitted against soccer superstars Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben on pristine pitches at the World Cup.
But now one former Hearts favourite is suffering the embarrassment of being nutmegged by a player from a church team.
Ryan McGowan, who scored in Hearts’ famous 5-1 Scottish Cup final win against Hibs in 2012, has spent the past few weeks training with Loanhead Parish Church FC, testing his skills against a rag-tag group of plumbers, electricians, bankers and binmen.
The Australian defender, who left the Capital in 2013 to join Chinese side Shandong Luneng Taishan, even forked out to buy the Saturday league team a new set of strips, which were sent from China.
McGowan, who is friends with many of the team’s players, has joined training sessions three times since he returned to the UK after the end of the Chinese season a few weeks ago.
And former Hearts team-mate Jonny Stewart, who coaches the side, said McGowan, who played for his country in last year’s World Cup, had given the flagging club a much-needed boost.
The 24-year-old said: “It really is fantastic of not only Ryan but the local businesses to support us.
“The club was struggling when we took over in the summer but as a result of the support we’ve been able to keep a steady amount of guys involved every week and enjoy it.
“Ryan is my good mate and I think the guys enjoy him coming down to train, to be honest. I don’t think Ryan goes out at his full 100 per cent – he keeps it easy in case he gets injured. We’re all just your average guys – typical guys who like playing football.”
He added: “The first time he came along, I think it was the most numbers we have ever had at training, because everyone knew he was coming.”
McGowan isn’t the only talent in the team – with binmen duo Christopher Fortune and Scott Finlayson packing a punch in central midfield and Bank of Scotland worker Graham McDonald securing a glut of goals last season.
Youth worker and Loanhead Parish Church minister’s son Alan Duffin, who currently plays as a full-back, said it had been “pretty cool” to have a professional join their ranks.
The 27-year-old said: “Ryan has been training with us the last couple of weeks. He’s friendly with a few of the boys in the club. The other guys try to keep up with him but he does stand out completely compared to everyone else.”
McGowan joked: “After being nutmegged by one of the guys at training last week I was considering taking the tops back, but seriously, it is great to help keep the club going and keep the lads fit and winning.”
STILL HAVING A BALL
Ryan McGowan isn’t the first professional football player to leave the comforts of grand stadiums behind for the world of the lower leagues.
Manchester United superstar Paul Scholes, cited by many as one of the best midfielders of his generation, now regularly turns out for seven-a-side games with Chadderton Park Legends.
And, closer to home, Hibs once sold Scotland international Garry O’Connor for £1.6 million. Now just 31 years old, he plays for Lowland League side Selkirk.