Robert Prytz: From Malmo to Maybole

Scottish junior football has always existed in a footballing micro-climate all of its own and for those that know it there is an affection felt that is perhaps far greater than in any other grade in football. It’s a common, but understandable misconception, that this is a level reserved solely for the youths. Whilst the path from the juniors to future football fortunes is considerably harder than it once was the likes of Brig O’Lea, Showpark and Dunterlie are just a few of the places that have acted as starting points for a professional football career. Of course, you may still be lucky enough to see a future star of tomorrow but part of the joy of football at this level is the melting pot of talents that grace pitches up and down the country every weekend. From your stereotypical shouty hard man defender who can only kick in one direction to the midfield maestro who’s all touch and no fitness, to the winger who can run fast but can’t cross a ball or to the prospect who’s been spat out from the senior set up having not quite made the grade. Perhaps though, above all of these, it is the re-emergence of faces from Scottish football’s past and the quest to be the first one to uncover their identity that are some of the most favoured characters in the junior game.

One of these knowledge quests was required at the turn of the millennium with the arrival of Robert Prytz to the junior scene. The 1986 Swedish Footballer of the Year and a European Cup runner up with Malmo was familiar with the nuances of Scottish football after a two and half year spell in the early 80’s with Glasgow giants Rangers. As well as having spells in his homeland with IFK Gothenburg and the aforementioned Malmo he also spent time playing in Germany, Italy and Switzerland before returning to Scotland to seemingly wind down his career. He made no more than fleeting appearances for Kilmarnock, Dumbarton, Cowdenbeath and East Fife before he turned up in Glasgow’s south side at Newlandsfield Park home to junior heavyweights Pollok in late 1998. He was 38 by this point and at 13 I was developing a burgeoning curiosity about all things relating to football. The news that a former Rangers player and Sweden international had signed for my local non-league side had certainly got my intention and I was excited to see exactly what wonders and trickery he would bring. My excitement soon turned to slight befuddlement as on Saturday 3rd October 1998 I watched a small, podgy man with a curly mullet enter the field of play at Benburb’s now demolished Tinto Park, situated just a few hundred metres from Ibrox where he had made his debut for Rangers sixteen years earlier.

My befuddlement was not shared with the elders around me as they pointed out with no little enthusiasm, “That’s him, that’s Robert Prytz.” Now strength and conditioning in the late nineties was lightyears away from what it has come to be today but this little red faced man currently walking his away across the pitch surely couldn’t be the same player that people had spent the days leading up to the game feeling all nostalgic about, could he? The game, a 0-0 draw went by with little incident and the Swede would make his home debut in a first round Scottish Junior Cup tie against local rivals Arthurlie in front of a crowd of 2,173 the following week but, as the 98/99 season continued, it seemed likely that Pollok would be just another brief stop on his farewell tour. His season ended having made a respectable 22 appearances, starting 17 times and coming off the bench on a further five occasions scoring only once at home to Kirkintilloch Rob Roy in a December league encounter.

When researching this piece I reached out to the messageboards, always an interesting insight to fan opinion of a player or specific era at a club, and the feeling was one of surprise when Prytz signed on again for the following campaign. It would turn out to be a shrewd decision to re-sign the now 39 year old as with a full pre-season under his belt the Swede would become a key player as Pollok claimed double cup success under the guidance of goalkeeper turned manager Ronnie Lowrie.

In the Sectional League Cup Final that season Prytz played as he and his teammates went on to defeat Shotts Bon Accord 4-1 in the final at Firhill. He didn’t get on the scoresheet that night but his touch and vision appeared to be sharper than it had ever been in a Pollok jersey and he would go on to play 38 times that season scoring 16 goals, 8 of which came from the penalty spot with fans joking that he would always send the goalkeeper the wrong way. Another notable performance came against Renfrew in the league where a free kick double sent the ‘Lok on their way to a victory as they finished 2nd in the table, jus missing out on the title to Glasgow rivals Benburb. One of his final appearances in a Pollok shirt came in the West of Scotland Cup Final, one of junior football’s showpiece occasions, where he was part of a side who came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1. His deep corner finding the head of Alex Eadie allowing the tall striker to knock home the winner. His goals and creativity had helped bring renewed success to one of junior football’s leading lights and at the age of 40 his former Rangers teammate Ally Dawson signed him for Hamilton Academical where he played nine time and scored twice as The Accies went on to win the Scottish Third Division title.

Hamilton would prove to be his last stop before he ultimately reached the decision to retire having participated in everything from European Cup finals at the Olympiastadion in Berlin to suffering Scottish Cup upsets at The Ladywell Stadium in Maybole. He continues to be a familiar face in his native Sweden having been a contestant on the Swedish version of sports-themed gameshow Superstars and has often been quoted as still having a fondness for Scotland and even in his retirement he would continue to play football in the Glasgow area.

Ask any Pollok fan about Robert Prytz, and in particular about his performances during that double cup winning 99/00 season and they will tell tales of a player who never had to leave the centre circle to dictate the play and of unerring accuracy from set pieces the likes of which had never been seen at the club before or since. A man viewed as a consummate professional on the pitch and a nice one off of it. By the end of that 99/00 season even I, a teenager at the height of his cynicism could appreciate how blessed we all were to see this curly haired Swedish man don the black and white stripes and stroll his way across the pitches of Scottish junior football.

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Forza Sampdoria: From Scotland with Amore

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From the age of six I have had an irrational dislike for Ronald Koeman. I have never met him, I have rarely read any of his interviews and on the face of things he seems no better or worse than your average late 80’s/early 90’s football legend. In fact his place in history as a left sided set piece master should really mean that he is one of my all time favourite players. However it’s those skills at the set-piece that will mean that I will forever secretly hope he fails at whatever he does.

It’s the 20th of May 1992 I’m six years old and starting to become engulfed in the wonder that is professional football. I know by this time that I will have seen my local sides Queen’s Park and Pollok a couple of times as my old man slowly integrates his boy into the Saturday routine but my memories of these trips remain hazy at best. In a somewhat depressingly modern twist of fate my first clear football memory actually comes via the medium of television broadcast, sitting in my parent’s bedroom along with my dad as Ronald Koeman’s 112th minute rocket sent Barcelona on their way to their first ever European Cup.

I’ve watched that goal back a few times before sitting down to write this and whilst I don’t remember it in every detail there are bits that resonate nearly 27 years later. The colours of my memories were purely in black and white so it was strange to see that Barcelona played in orange and Sampdoria in white, although that instantly recognisable chest design was still as clear in my head as it is today. I remember the unmistakable head of Atillo Lombardo shaking in protest and I remembering thinking that the space behind the Wembley goals where the final was being played was massive. I remember the ferocity of Koeman’s strike but I don’t remember how close the Sampdoria players come to charging it down. I don’t remember the tears from nearly every player on the pitch both in joy and despair as the Dutchman ran around in celebration and I didn’t really understand how significant a result it was for that Barcelona side. What I do remember though is that having stayed up later than I ever knowingly had before I was gutted, and so with that an unexpected love affair with Sampdoria had begun.

The following season Football Italia made it’s debut on Channel 4 and whilst a fondness for James Richardson’s morning paper reviews wouldn’t come until I was much older the iconic Sunday lunchtime roar of Golaco is one that, when the males in the household could wrestle control of the only television in the house (remember this was the early 90’s), would fill my ears with joy. Whilst the likes of Gabriel Batistuta at Fiorentina, George Weah at AC Milan and much later Giuseppe Signori during his spell at Bologna would often pique my interest it was the sight of the blue of Sampdoria that would really focus my enthusiasm. Gianluca Vialli may have deserted I Bluccerchiati for The Old Lady of Turin after that final defeat but Roberto Mancini was still there and over those formative years the likes of Atillo Lombardo, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Valdimir Jugovic, Alberigo Evani and Vincenzo Montella earned my support as players came and went. Each one donning that beautiful blue, white, red and black kit.

Oh my, what a kit it is. Whilst I will always remember the letters ERG emblazoned across the player’s chests the top that takes pride of my place amongst my collection is sponsor free. The club crest featuring a sailor on the sleeve and the Genovese shield sitting pride of place in the centre of those red, white and black hoops. The blue body a perfect back drop to it all. My Subbuteo set (again, early nineties folks) had felt incomplete until the day I was bought squad number 398, that of Sampdoria and, rather annoyingly, Dundee who had understandably ripped off Samp’s shirt design for their own such was it’s majesty. I can say with some confidence that the Tayside version was nothing but a pale imitation.

Life and television deals meant that I stopped seeing as much of Sampdoria as I would want to. I still kept my eye in though and my betting account was often boosted in the late 2000’s by the exploits of Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini as they made it to the Champions League play off round in the 2008/09 season. They failed to make the group stages and a couple of seasons later in 2011 they were relegated. I started having fears that this great club would go the way of so many others in Italy have and continue to do but thankfully their stay in Serie B was short lived and the following season they were back regularly on my screen. Led by Mauro Icardi, the latest in a long line of Argentine mavericks including Ariel Ortega and Juan Sebastian Veron to wear the famous blue shirt, they survived relegation beating champions Juventus on the final day of the season along the way.

Since then sustainability has been the watch word aided by a revamped and very successful scouting system. In 2015 Samp qualified for the Europa League after city rivals Genoa couldn’t meet UEFA licensing criteria a sweet moment after their city rivals funeral procession mockery following the 2011 relegation. Mid table is currently the staple though for Marco Giampolo’s side but that doesn’t mean the romance is dead, far from it, and the goalscoring exploits of Italian football’s latest renaissance man 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella are just one of a number of reasons that will ensure this side will always have a place in my heart.

I sign this ode off with an admission. I’ve never made it to the Stadio Luigi Ferrari. I know one day I will, quite frankly I have to and I hope that when that day comes it’s everything that the six year old boy sitting on his parent’s bed all those years ago in Glasgow hoped it would be.

Forza Sampdoria per sempre!