Dunfermline Athletic

Whitts time to step up

Friday, 4th Jun 2021

“Where it will take me I am not sure, I am just going to enjoy the opportunity that I have been given at the minute.”

Having announced this week his retirement from playing Steven Whittaker will now turn all his attention to coaching at Dunfermline and suggests that the best bits of the likes of Tony Mowbray and Walter Smith might come through in his coaching style:-

“I wouldn’t say that there was any particular one, different managers have had different impacts on me throughout my career. I could go through every one but there are people like Tony Mowbray who took over a Hibs team and had us play a style of football that was exciting and fun to play in.

“Walter Smith with the mentality side of winning games and being at Rangers had a massive impact on how you see the game and how you have to demand standards to win games.

“You go down south and you play a more tactical game down there. You come up against these Premier League managers whose tactics are everything in this day and age - the formations, the details and positions that they go into now. I learned a lot of that kind of stuff in England as well.

“Just trying to gather all that together and make the most of the information that I might be passing on or helping the staff, Peter or Greg or the players in any way. Hopefully with the experience that I have gained I can be a big help.”

Coach: Steven Whittaker
Fri, 28th May 2021

It was the taste for the coaching that he experienced last season while in the dual role as player/coach that gave him a feel for what the next chapter in his footballing career could be:-

“Having that opportunity to join the backroom staff with Peter and Greg is one that I am excited about. I really want to get stuck in to something different, other than playing.

“It is an ongoing progression. Once you hit 30, you get to a stage when you start to think about what comes next and I have continually strived to do that. You start to understand the game the more you play and the older you get.

“Playing under different managers and gaining different experiences, you gather that formation and continue to learn. I love the game and want to stay part of it and I feel that the coaching side is a natural progression.

“I’ve done all my badges and enjoyed being on the training ground last season with the boys. The players’ attitudes towards my sessions were great and that really helps. So, I’m really looking forward to getting to work with them again and getting to learn from Peter [Grant] given what he did as a player and his style of management. Where it will take me I am not sure, I am just going to enjoy the opportunity that I have been given at the minute.”

The new coach’s first season in the Championship is going to be even more competitive predicted Steven:-

“With the likes of Hearts and Dundee United in it we all probably expected them to go up but this year I’m not sure who will be favourites. I’d like to think we are in that conversation and can be competitive and consistent to finish higher than last season. It’s about progression and development for us.”

Steven’s career saw him play in just four short of 500 competitive matches, the last 24 being while at Dunfermline last season. He recalled that there had been quite a few highlights along the way in his 40,000 plus minutes on the park:-

“Playing for Scotland is the pinnacle — that is what every boy dreams of — but the memory of winning my first trophy at Hibs, winning titles at Rangers, the UEFA Cup final, playing in the Premier League and winning the playoff final. All these games will stick out in my memory and games that I can speak about for a long time.”

That said Steven who is only 11 days away from his 37th birthday feels that it was the right time to make the tough decision to hang up his boots:-

“Towards the end of the season, this was in my thoughts. I was only willing to go year by year. I didn’t want to commit to anything that I didn’t know I could fulfil, I’m not that type of person. So I said to Stevie [Crawford] last year, ‘let’s do one season, I’ll give you my all then we’ll reassess’.

“Last season was a hard campaign for everyone and I got a real feel for the coaching side of it. I spoke to Peter Grant and he wanted me to transition onto the staff and we managed to put the pieces in place for that. I’m thrilled with how it has unfolded.

“The club was always in constant dialogue with me, they were great. Ross, the chairman, was on the ball always speaking to me and Stevie before he made his choice which was right for him. Then as soon as Peter got announced he was straight on the phone.”

In taking the step towards full time coaching Steven felt there was a mixture of influences between body and mind but he is looking forward to a fresh challenge:-

“You know what it is like as you get older you get aches and pains. I had some niggly injuries which you are constantly trying to sort so to not have that burden was something I was looking forward to!

“I don’t have to worry about what shape the body is in or decision away from the field to keep yourself in shape that people probably don’t realise. It was partly to give myself a bit of relaxation away from that intensity the game brings. I have done it for 21 years from 16 up to 37 so I was looking forward to switching off.

“It’ll be nice to watch the boys do the running instead of being in next to them! It certainly doesn’t get any easier at my age.”

Almost everyone who has been involved in football looks back to advise playing as long as you can and Steven revealed that the decision wasn’t easy:-

“It was hard - all I’ve known is to play. I took a lot of advice and prepared for the moment the decision was made. If you don’t prepare then you can be left a bit lonely or in the unknown as to where you go now.

“But I have been constantly preparing for this day. Having something to step straight into and focus on has made it easier. I’m still preparing for matches just in a different way. It’s still football, it’s just that I will be at the side helping rather than on the pitch beside the players.”

To take on his first coaching job Steven looked no further than Dunfermline:-

“I enjoyed my time here last season. Even though I decided to stop playing I still get excited by the buzz around the club with the new investors and the journey they hope to go on to try to get to the Premiership. I got that feeling from Stevie and the chairman when I signed as well - their real love for the club comes across. I hoped there would be opportunities to stay and try to help progress the club.”

Steven will always be grateful for the coaching opportunity that Stevie Crawford afforded him:-

“The player-coach role was new to me. I think Stevie had done it himself as a player-manager. Greg (Shields), Jason (Dair) and the rest of the staff were always welcoming. I never felt like I couldn’t walk in and be part of it or if I wanted to step back and prepare as a player - there was no animosity. They just said ‘see what feels right for you at the time. If you want to concentrate on playing then fine but if you want to get involved then get in here and learn’. That’s what I did. It was fantastic on the coaching side of it to learn and develop.”

Just as Dunfermline has been the breeding ground for players who have gone on to be famous and successful managers, Steven has emerged from a set up at Hibs that now sees Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, Dean Shiels, Gary Caldwell and Ian Murray in the management game. Steven is unsure as to how that has come about with no one particular person appearing to be the instigator:-

“I think it was probably just enthusiasm for the game, maybe that showed in that Hibs team on the park. We all just liked getting out there and playing football. I think we had just all been in the game and liked being involved in it. It is great to see Kevin who has been in the youth development side of it at Rangers but he has taken a step to be a manager.”

Steven has spoken to the new Kelty Hearts gaffer over the past few weeks and he is delighted to see him making that jump. It is never easy to gauge when you play alongside players and Steven agreed to was hard to identify that managerial potential at that age.

“When you are a young lad in your mid twenties, enjoying life playing for the Old Firm, and at the time being successful you don’t really think about these things. But as you start getting older and you start gathering all the experiences that you have had, you then start going down that route.

“Kevin was unlucky with his injuries and probably had to start thinking about life after football a tad more than the likes of myself or Scott. He has made that transition and built himself up to be a good coach. Obviously Kelty see progression in him as a manager, it is great to see.

“Whether you can see that even in myself when you are a young boy, I am not sure. I think it is something that you progress more into than you see in your early twenties.”

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