Chaplains Corner - Scott Mercer

In the latest edition of our Chaplain’s Corner feature, Grant Hamilton sits down with defender Scott Mercer.


Thanks a lot for agreeing to do this interview Scott. I usually start with a bit of an icebreaker and this week’s one is a new one. So here goes - You are organising a music festival and you can book any three acts you like. Which three singers or bands do you pick and why?

“First of all I’d pick Lewis Capaldi. He’s from Bathgate, where I live now. I’d also pick Michael Jackson”. Any particular reason? “For his show. I would love to have seen him on stage. The last one I would pick is someone that not many people would know. He appears at The Fringe every year and he specialises in making up songs about everyday things without any planning. So he might ask people to show him what they’ve got in their pockets and then he’ll write a song about what he sees. He’s called Abandoman. He’s brilliant and I would love to give him a chance to make it big”.


Most Queens fans would know you were with East Fife and that you have a fairly long-term connection with our old gaffer, Gary Naysmith. Can you tell me a bit more about your career progression so far?

“I was with Dunfermline from the age of 9 until I was 19.  A new manager came in and released me, along with 17 other players because he planned to build his own team. That was hard to take to start with because I had been there for such a long time.

After being released I was on holiday and got a call from Gary Naysmith who asked me if I would come and train with East Fife. I did what he asked but at training I was rubbish for the first two weeks; probably the worst I have ever trained. I still managed to get picked for a pre-season friendly against Dunfermline though and I played well enough for the manager to phone me that night and offer me a contract. At the same time he made it clear that I wasn’t going to be his first choice right back as a boy from Bolton was also going to be joining up.

Gary basically said to me, if you get a chance to wear the jersey you have to do everything you can to keep it. We went on to win the league and I played every minute of every game that season. Only two of us managed that, me and Jonathon Page, a centre half”.


What happened to the boy from Bolton?

“He played around half the games. A combination of me playing well and the gaffer (I still call him the gaffer) doing brilliant at left back and getting in the team of the year, meant that he understood he wouldn’t get a chance unless one of us started playing badly. For me though it was brilliant that I got game time and experience. It was just what I needed after Dunfermline and it carried on the following season.

I was travelling down to Newcastle for my girlfriend’s 21st and I got a phone call telling me Queens were interested. At that time there were a couple of other clubs also interested but for me it was a straightforward decision. I knew Gary and what he was about, I knew how to play for him and what he was looking for and I really enjoyed his training and man management”.  


Just backing up a bit and thinking about your childhood spent in a youth academy I wondered what it is like to grow up in an academy. Does that restrict what you might do as a regular teenager?

“It certainly does, especially when you are a schoolboy, because Dunfermline wouldn’t let me play for my school team in case I got injured. Obviously growing up in a fairly small town like Dunfermline you can’t do what other older teenagers are doing. I couldn’t just go to a pub or a nightclub because someone would know me and I always had a sense of being watched. You definitely couldn’t fall out a taxi late at night but you didn’t care about things like that because at the same time you’re thinking ‘I’m a football player. This is what I dream of being.’ It means you aren’t bothered about restrictions. It’s just part and parcel of trying to achieve your dream”.


Backing up again to that moment when you are told, as a Dunfermline fan and youth player, that you no longer have a future at the club. Was there any support system in place for you at that time?

“I had an agent at the time that turned his phone off or blocked my number for about four weeks. I knew my name was on a list of available players somewhere but I was totally relying on someone reading that list. There was no plan of what to do next. As soon as you are released that’s you. You’re on your own – I was very lucky that Gary Naysmith had seen me play before and he saw my name on that list”.


It’s probably hard to imagine this because it didn’t happen but in the worst case scenario, where no-one called you, what would you have done after a whole life in a youth academy?

“I would have needed to phone clubs myself. That was something I didn’t want to do; phone and beg to be allowed to go in. I felt that because I’d been trained in a really good, strict academy that produced some good players, that surely someone will take a chance. If it didn’t happen though I realised I’d have to do what I could to make it happen myself. Luckily enough the worst case scenario didn’t happen”.


Sometime you get the impression, especially with the richest footballers that they are very powerful but it isn’t really like that at our level is it?

“It is difficult for footballers to have their wages compared to surgeons or soldiers but I imagine that the people at the top of each of those professions get well rewarded for what they do. A lot of footballers just earn what ordinary people earn but the big difference for us is that we get to live our dream. You wouldn’t trade this job for anything else as we are very lucky to be able to fulfil what we wanted to do when we were boys”.


I like what you’re saying. It sounds like you really appreciate what you’ve got.

“I feel really grateful for what I’ve got because growing up; this was all I ever wanted to be”.


You mentioned that you are living your dream but how far do you think the dream can take you?

“There’s no limit. You obviously want to play at the highest level you can. If that’s in Scotland or England or abroad or even the national team you just want to one day look back on your career and say, I went as far as I could go”.


Well you’re doing well so far (both laugh).

“Yes. I’m getting there”.


It did take you a while to establish yourself at Queens but you really have managed it over the last year and a half or so.

“It was a very hard start coming from League one. I did an interview with the Record recently and spoke about this. The difference between League one and the Championship is massive. When I arrived at Queens there were some massive clubs like Hibs in the league. We never had big clubs in the league when I was at East Fife so I did find it hard to adapt and it took a good six months to make the transition from part-time to full-time”.


So what advice would you give to a younger Scott Mercer, someone on the fringes of the Queens team who is wondering if they’ll make it or not?

“Don’t let everything get to you. Don’t let small things that happen in games ruin your whole game. When I first signed for East Fife I took a lot of pride from stopping anyone go by me and creating something at the other end. At this level though, you’ll not always be able to do that. There are good players who will get by you at least once a game. In fact you’re doing well if it’s only once a game.  

I went through a phase where if it was happening or I wasn’t able to create something it was getting too much for me and I’d end up boiling over and not having a good game. I realised at one point that I needed to put negative thoughts behind me, stop thinking about the mistakes and have a more positive mindset.

That was a hard process because I actually had to go and speak to someone about it. During my 2nd season the gaffer spoke to me and said he thought I should go and speak to someone as from his point of view it looked my game was ruined once I made a mistake. I decided to do something about it and went to speak to a professional”.


Are you ok to keep talking about this on the record?

“Aye, of course”.


Well in that case I’ll ask you a question I already had in mind. One of the core values in Sports Chaplaincy is confidentiality. How important do you think it is to either have a chaplain or someone else available that you can use as a confidential sounding board?

“Very important. When I first had this problem I didn’t realise it was anything serious but the more I looked into it the more I realised that there was something in my thinking that I just couldn’t get out of my mind. I was trying to brush it off and say -‘it’s fine, it’s fine but after I’d spoken to the guy just twice I had a completely different outlook on football and my role in the game. The advice he gave was vitally important to me and it has helped change my game in the last year and a half as opposed to the first year and a half”.


Lewis Kidd told me last week that he appreciates there being more openness to talk about personal issues in football but he isn’t sure if the right practical support is in place yet. What do you feel about that?

“I think if you have a good group around you that really helps. I had Callum Fordyce and Kyle Jacobs and they were brilliant. I’m still really close to the two of them. I get what Kiddo means though. If I didn’t have a helpful agent to organise my support I might not have known what to do or where to go. Of course I know I can come and speak to you. I never doubted that but I felt I needed to talk to someone fresh who was completely outside the club”.


To be honest Scott, part of my role just involves pointing people towards the right kind of help. No-one can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker and spiritual advisor all rolled into one.  Let’s finish on a high note. What are your best memories of playing for Queens?

“There are so many really, really good moments. I’ve had such a good time since I’ve been here. I’ve really enjoyed it at Queens. It’s been brilliant. I’ve been very, very lucky with the boys who’ve been signed at this club.

Personally my best moment has been scoring a left foot screamer in the Scottish Cup against Formartine United. Everybody wants to score in the Scottish Cup and that was a great moment. Collectively, I would say my favourite performance was away to Dunfermline when we won 5-2. Obviously having been at Dunfermline and being told there’s nothing here for you made it nice to go back and give them a doing. Sir Stephen and Chris Kane just helped us put on a memorable performance.

To be honest, the very best thing about it all is the people I’ve met. I’ve been lucky to share a dressing room with some great people”.


I think the fans would be really happy to hear how much you enjoy playing for Queens. Sometimes there’s a school of thought that maybe some players are just playing for a wage. I think they’ll be very glad to hear you being so enthusiastic.

“You know yourself Grant what a good bunch of boys we have. I’ve been in dressing rooms and I’ve been like whoa! (sharp intake of breath) but I’ve never, never felt like that at Queens. Every time I’ve come back for a new season and there’s been new boys coming in, they’ve all been the exact same, really good guys”.


I think it helps when you have some good, experienced people around.

“Aye, like Dobbs (Stephen Dobbie) and others. Yes, it is good. I’d better mention Holty here as he might start crying if I don’t (laughs)”.


Thanks so much for your time. I’d best let you get off to training. Let me shake your hand.

“No worries at all mate. No worries at all”.