INTERVIEW: “We don’t get beat off them” – Dale Carrick

Jamie McIntosh chats with former Hearts, Kilmarnock and Airdrieonians striker Dale Carrick about his football career and coaching the next generation of stars.

When Terry Butcher’s Hibs came to Tynecastle knowing a win would see them relegate their rivals, their fans were relishing a celebratory atmosphere. Party poppers, sombreros and all kinds of inflatables were in the Roseburn Stand at Tynecastle that afternoon, but after just six minutes, Dale Carrick put Hearts in front.

“Dale Carrick, the 20-year-old, pouncing on it, hesitancy from Hibernian and Tynecastle turns maroon” – Commentator, Derek Rae

“I wasn’t sure if I was offside or not. It came from a corner, Jamie Hamill has played it wide and Callum [Paterson] has whipped it in. It went over my head and, as a striker, whenever the ball goes over your head, you’re thinking can you turn to see where the next ball is. Stevo’s [Ryan Stevenson] got up, knocked it down, it’s hit my midriff and I’ve managed to side foot it in.

I didn’t really know what to do, I saw some of my family that were there in the Hibs end. The emotions were so high I just didn’t know what to do. In the end I just ran along the touchline to the Hearts fans.”

Billy King wrapped it up in stoppage time, as Derek Rae once again called it perfectly.

“He can finish it, Billy King, 2-0 to Hearts. The message is clear at Tynecastle: Not on this patch of Edinburgh land. Not in a derby. No relegation today.”

Gary Locke erupted on the touchline, beating his chest to the fans in the old main stand at Tynecastle. A result that meant so much to the lifelong Jambo.

“He knew we weren’t going to get beat; We don’t get beat off them, that was the mentality that we had across the team. We had Robbo [John Robertson] in as well just to give us that extra experience.

“With Lockey, he’d always just say ‘this is what it means to us, you’ve got to go out and show that you won’t let the club down’. He just gave you that extra drive and showed the passion that he had for the club and that’s him down to a T. He’s Hearts through and through.”

As a striker, Carrick has scored his fair share of goals, but admits scoring in the relegation derby is his clear favourite.

“It’s got to be. That’s the goal that I get remembered for, the relegation party and then there was the face that I pulled after that’s became a gif!”

Carrick was born in Edinburgh, some of his family were Hearts fans, some were Hibs, and others stayed in Dumfries, so supported the Doonhamers.

“We used to visit them quite a bit and my Uncle was in the Queen of the South fans team, so we’d always go watch them and then the first team, so they always used to say I was a Queens fan.”

Having played primary school football for Morningside and joining his friends at Salvesen, Carrick then moved up to Boroughmuir High School, where his potential was recognised.

“I played for Salvesen Boys Club when I was about ten and then when I went to Boroughmuir High School, the football team coach was actually a coach at Cowdenbeath. He scouted me to go train with them and then a couple of weeks later I heard Hearts were looking at me.

“It was actually John Murray that scouted me from Salvesen. He was the main scout that got me into Hearts, he was the one that made the initial contact with me and my parents, after that you’d just see him in the corridors and say hi. Allan Carswell was my main contact in the youth academy.”

Having spent six years in the youth team, Carrick signed a pro contract under Paulo Sérgio. Six years sounds like a long time, but Carrick said in your early teens you’re just enjoying playing football and aren’t worried about your development.

“It’s a difficult one. Now I’ve gotten older you understand more about what was going on, but at the time all I wanted to do was play football, work my hardest and enjoy it. I didn’t know if I was getting any worse or any better, I just made sure that every time I turned up, I was giving 100%.

“I was in the youth academy with Darren Murray, I signed as a professional at 17, I stayed at school an extra year to make sure I had the fall-back option with my qualifications. Some of the other guys signed a year before at 16, but I came a year later.

Carrick made his Hearts debut off the bench in August 2012 against St Johnstone. He was only on the pitch for a few minutes, but explains he should’ve bagged a debut goal.

“As a striker you do a variety of different finishes. This was one I’ve always worked on, you cut in off the side and whip it towards the far corner, but I’ve hit it as clean as you like. If I mishit it, it’s going in the top corner, but I hit it too well and it’s hit the stanchion behind the goal. I’ve scored it loads of times on the training ground, but with the adrenaline pumping and the added pressure it’s hard to recreate it, but yeah I should’ve scored that.”

(Photo Credit – SNS Group)

Then came the biggest stage for the 18-year-old forward, Liverpool away in a Europa League second leg. Hearts had lost the first leg 0-1 at Tynecastle through an Andy Webster own goal, but Carrick admits it was such a brilliant occasion to be involved in.

“When the draw was made, I still thought I would be in the 19’s. I didn’t think I’d be anywhere near the first team. These are the games everyone wants to play in and looking back on it, these are the games you’ll put on the mantelpiece and can say that you were involved in.”

Carrick was full of praise for boss John McGlynn, who kept a lid on everything and just told the players to enjoy the occasion.

“Go out and enjoy it, show them what this club is all about, try keep the ball, if you’ve got the ball then they’ll need to work harder.

John’s detail is the best that I’ve seen, he gives you absolutely everything from goal-kicks to throw-ins. He gives you everything on the opposition, so that you can then hurt them with just one attack. We had a game-plan which worked well for us and when a chance comes along you need to take it and we did.”

Carrick got the call from John McGlynn with 15 minutes to go with the score-line at 0-0.

“I remember my mum had taken a picture of me on the TV screen and my face was just white, and my heart was beating so fast.

“John just said ‘Relax, go get your first touch, your first pass and build up from there, just go and enjoy it,’ that was the biggest thing he said.”

David Templeton equalised for Hearts, producing a “massive maroon moment at Anfield” (Derek Rae, again). Carrick recalls the bedlam that followed Pepe Reina’s shocking mistake.

“I think I was in the box somewhere. The ball went past me.  I’m one of the first players that’s ran over to him beside the Hearts fans, who are just going proper limbs, guys falling down five rows. It erupted! Hearts fans in the Liverpool end and everything. Quality, absolute quality.”

Carrick played alongside Hearts legend Marius Zaliukas in the 2012-13 campaign. Zaliukas captained Hearts to a Scottish Cup success in 2012, but sadly lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease in October last year, aged just 36.

(Photo Credit – SNS Group)

Smiling, Carrick says: “Big Zal, what a guy. He looked after everybody. I was his boot-boy. I remember cleaning his boots. He’d always have a laugh with me, saying I’d missed a wee bit. He’d give you cuddles and looked after all the young guys so well. That’s why everybody loved him, he was such a great captain. Such a great guy.”

Carrick’s first goal for the club came in January 2014, but it was completely overshadowed in a game which had six goals, three red cards and St Johnstone midfielder Paddy Cregg finishing the match in goals.

Carrick found the target with a header, before Sam Nicholson brought Hearts to within one of levelling the scores. Carrick recalls the goalmouth melee that followed Nicholson’s goal between Ryan Stevenson and Saints keeper Alan Mannus.

(Photo Credit – SNS Group)

“Sam’s absolutely shanked one in. I just remember seeing them [Stevenson and Mannus] going flying into the goal together, they both got sent off and they were still at it all the way down the tunnel, shouting I’ll do you, but you never want to mess with a goalie, because they’re mental.

I was delighted to get my first goal. I got a burst nose from Fraser Wright earlier in the game too, so I was quite impressed that I managed to head the ball with two big chunks of tissue up my nose”.

The Hearts side that season was incredibly young, but the Jambos had the experience of Jamie Hamill, Ryan Stevenson and Jamie MacDonald. Carrick remembers feeling that he had to earn the respect of these guys, first and foremost.

“You needed to earn their respect, before you were on a level playing field. That pushed everyone on to work hard and win, because if you didn’t, you’d get a rollocking from them, but that’s what you wanted. You wanted to be pushed, you wanted to show them you were in the first team, because you had the quality.”

Capped for his country at youth level, like every other Scot, Carrick was watching Scotland at their first major tournament in 23 years and admits, despite the poor results, we can take positives from the campaign.

“There’s players in that team we can build things around, things we can tweak. I thought we started really well, and we created opportunities. You’d rather create all these chances than have none whatsoever, so now we need to look at the next stage of seeing how we can execute these chances.”

Carrick departed Hearts at the end of the 2014/15 campaign, but injuries were starting to push him back. A loan spell at Raith was cut short after just two games and he struggled with hamstring issues.

“Through the Championship year at Hearts, I got an injury to my hamstring and I just couldn’t get it right. It was just setback after setback. I went on loan to Raith, and I done my hamstring in the second game and that set me back until the summer.

“By that point, Hearts were promoted, new players were coming in and I was 21 by this point, I wanted to play as much as possible as it’s a short career, so I looked about. I knew Lockie from before and Scott Robinson and Jamie MacDonald were there [Kilmarnock], so I thought it was the right opportunity to go there.”

Carrick isn’t the only 21-year-old to have left Hearts to pursue different footballing opportunities. Andy Irving has just moved to the German third tier and while many fans are bemused by the transfer, Carrick sees it as a great opportunity for the midfielder.

(Photo Credit – Munchen Turkgucu)

“I think it’s a great opportunity for him to be fair. Within the world you can go play anywhere, different cultures, different styles of play. I think it’ll be great for Andy’s development and his experience. Yes, he’s going to tier three, but he’ll excel, and he’ll move up the divisions. It’ll enhance his background and his exposure

The media in Germany are massive too. They’re always looking for wee gems, for players that can step up and I see no reason why Andy is any different.”

Carrick had a tough time at Kilmarnock, due to travel requirements and having strikers Kris Boyd and Josh Magennis ahead of him in the pecking order, he departed the following season to return closer to home, where he began undertaking his coaching badges.

Livingston was his next destination, currently the only club in the top-flight with an artificial pitch. An 11-1 vote would likely pass a motion to ban them from the top-flight, but Carrick believes the financial implications are too much for some clubs.

“It can cost you about £50,000 a year to look after the pitch. That’s a fair chunk of money coming out of the budget for teams, that can be spent on a player in the top league. In the lower leagues though, when the team isn’t using it, the Astroturf pitches can be used to bring in added income. They can get coaching on it, five aside on it. I would always like to play on grass, but if we have to play on astro, so be it. It’s a field with lines on it that you can play football on.”

Whilst at Livingston, injuries were still hampering Carrick’s form. He got a call from his good friend Liam Fox, who was then manager at Cowdenbeath (current assistant manager at Dundee United and former Hearts coach).

“I knew Foxy from Hearts; he was coaching there too. He asked if I wanted to join them [Cowdenbeath] on loan from January and I wanted game time, so I thought ‘yeah.’ We got the deal done and I got a lot of minutes, so I was delighted with that move.

(Photo Credit – SNS Group)

“I liked Foxy’s training, it was really detailed. You knew your jobs for the weekend, I knew how he wanted me to play. He kept talking to me, which was great, you don’t always get that from your manager, but that was one thing Foxy was really good at. I hope he really excels at Dundee United.”

Carrick was still enjoying playing, but he was relishing his coaching duties and jumped at the chance to complete more of his badges, which eventually led to a job at Oriam.

“I was just told in to come in and see, it might be for me it might not be, but I went in and just really enjoyed it. it wasn’t something I’d really planned before that, because I was still doing my university courses at the time. I was really just making sure if football didn’t work I had a fall-back option. Ever since, I’ve really come out my shell, I understand the game a lot better now and now I’m trying to pass my experience on to these guys, because I’ve been there and come through it.

“I’ve been coaching for four years now and I’ve just loved it. I’m just going through all my badges, which I’ve successfully got now. I’ve got my Elite Youth A and my UEFA A licence, and I’m delighted to have them with just four years of experience, so it’s just about me continuing to grow and experience all the different styles now.”

Carrick finally settled at Airdrieonians in 2018 and loved his three years there, before departing in May 2021.

“I really enjoyed my time there. It’s been the most successful period in my career. I had over 100 games, scored lots of goals and when I did leave, I got lots of nice messages from the fans and they’ll always be with me.”

Hearts and Airdrie were both harshly treated by the premature ending of the 2019/20 season. Airdrie were just five points off leaders Raith when the season was called in March, and Carrick believes reconstruction should’ve been the path chosen.

“I think within the Scottish leagues we need to change it up, I think reconstruction is a great opportunity. If you look at the lower leagues, Kelty Hearts and Cove Rangers have come up, there’s other teams in that league with the financial investment to challenge in League Two, so I think we need a different structure to open things up to these clubs.”

Following playoff heartache to Morton at the end of a brutal schedule, Carrick departed the Diamonds to join Stirling Albion after chatting with their manager Kevin Rutkiewicz.

“Kevin phoned me, and I liked what I heard. He’s very passionate about the game, he just loves football. It just sounds like something I’m going to enjoy. I wanted to go somewhere with ambition and it’s just a different style of coaching and I’m now looking at the coaching side a lot more and Kevin got me drawn in and I signed up.

(Photo Credit – Stirling Albion)

Carrick is relishing the challenge of a competitive League Two with Kelty Hearts now in the SPFL, Stenhousemuir having recruited strongly, while Edinburgh City also know how to win games in the division.

“I think if you look across the board it’s going to be really competitive. In the Championship, League One and League Two, anyone can beat anyone and I’m really looking forward to an uninterrupted season. Hopefully, we get the fans back, because they give you that wee spring in your step.”

Stirling Albion have just lost striker Andy Ryan, who is returning to former club Hamilton Accies having been joint top scorer in League Two last season. Carrick was unsurprisingly looking forward to playing with him, but insists Stirling are still not short of quality in attack.

“It’s a great move for him, I wish him all the best and he can go and show what he can do, but we’ve still got quality. We’ve got Dylan Bikey (formerly of Hearts), he’s someone that is so strong, ridiculously strong, he’s quick, he’s agile and he’s a good finisher. He’s the sort of player who you don’t really know what he’s going to do next.

“We’ve got Dylan Mackin, who I knew from my time at Livi. Nathan Flanagan, who I knew from Hearts, he’s a tricky winger. It’s a strong squad. If you look at the players that were already there, plus the one’s that’ve come in, I think we’ve got a great chance to do something this season.”

Carrick will face off against his former club Hearts in the Premier Sports Cup in just over two weeks’ time and he is hoping for a better outcome than the 5-0 drubbing he was on the wrong end of when Airdrie visited Tynecastle in January 2020.

“I’m looking forward to it. We’re at home, it’s a good chance for us to test ourselves against a Premiership side and I can catch up with a few regular faces from Oriam.”

Carrick is keeping his options open for the future, but he has come a long way in the game since making his debut at Tynecastle nine years ago, both as a player and a coach.

“At the moment I’m the manager of the Hearts Soccer Academy. I look at the logistics of putting on sessions and I love the coaching side of things too. I don’t think I’ll ever shut the door on ideas. I want to play till I’m 35, but in football you never know what opportunities will arise.

I wouldn’t say I’m ready now, but in a few years’ time, I’ll maybe want to have a shot at managing, but I’m loving working with the Hearts Soccer Academy and Box Soccer which I do with John Colquhoun. All the different abilities I see, I get to teach kids from the age of three and four, all the way up to 13, then I get to teach the under 14’s too, so I’m seeing so many different players working with so many different techniques and understanding this is helping to improve me as a coach.”

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