David McCallan is one of the most prolific goal scorers in Irish League history, he is also my cousin.
During a career spanning the 1980’s and 90’s, David’s goals clinched several important trophies for the many teams he has served with great distinction. He also has a special place in the history of Bangor FC where, in several spells as a player, he is the club’s all-time record goal scorer.
I can remember many Saturday afternoons watching the local sports news and hearing that David’s team had snatched a late victory with a dramatic last gasp winner, scored by..guess who? It didn’t take too much effort to work out that the scorer of that winning goal was David with one of his trademark killer late strikes.
What I hadn’t realised until relatively recently was that David McCallan had also spent 18 months as an apprentice at my beloved QPR FC. In this article I’ll take a brief look at David’s football career and his short time at Loftus Road as an apprentice.
(David McCallan rifles home another goal for Bangor FC)
David’s footballing talent was evident from an early age and by the time he was 14 he was featuring regularly in Northern Ireland age group teams. In the early part of his career he played in midfield, but on one occasion returning to the team from a lay-off due to injury (a frequent occurrence throughout his career), he found his regular midfield slot had been taken, but was offered a chance to play in the vacant striker’s role. On his striking debut he scored 3 goals and his career as a prolific goal scorer had commenced.
David quickly progressed through the ranks of the Northern Ireland age group teams, and the under-17 team that he played in included some interesting QPR connections. Stephen Lynch and John Murray (both at QPR), Steve Morrow (later of Arsenal and QPR) and David McCallan (then at Carrick Rangers) were all part of that squad.
David’s goal scoring feats soon attracted interest from England including trials at Port Vale and Middlesbrough. In 1985 QPR scout Bill Smith (who had spotted N.I. and QPR star Ian Stewart) made contact after watching David in a youth international against Scotland and asked David if he would be interested in coming over to QPR.
The R’s were well regarded in Ireland at that time and of course there was the lure of living in London, so David decided he would give it a go. During the first couple of months of his time at the club, David travelled from Belfast to London at weekends, staying from Friday to Monday, usually at the home of Chris Gieler the QPR youth development manager.
Over the course of the weekend he would train with the QPR youth team with a friendly match usually taking place on the Saturday. This routine was maintained for the next 12 months. After he had completed his first year David received a letter from the club offering him a two-year apprenticeship.
During the summer of 1986 David moved over to London, staying a 15-minute train ride from Loftus Road in the same digs as Ian Stewart, his fellow N.I. footballer from Belfast, and was taken under the motherly wing of his landlady. Interestingly, Ian was also a product of the same Belvoir Estate Primary School in Belfast attended by David.
David’s move to London coincided with pre-season training and involved him training every day with a mix of lads from both the youth and reserve teams. There were many friendly matches during that period, but the thing that sticks in David’s mind most was the amount of running – every day for two whole weeks in the heat of a London summer!
The senior team trained at Loftus Road from 1.00 to 3.00 with the reserves and youth squads coming in from 3.00 to 5.00. That meant that there was very little contact with the senior players. David does, however, single out N.I. legend Alan McDonald and Irish international Gary Waddock for special mention as they regularly went out of their way to spend time with the youths, in particular the large Irish contingent who were there at that time, offering them lots of encouragement and basically making them feel welcome and at home.
Of course that particular period at QPR was also the time of the famous plastic pitch, and it certainly made its mark on David and the other players at Loftus Road in more ways than one. A product of the great innovator Terry Venables, it seemed to David that it caused as many problems to QPR players as it did to the opposition.
David remembers looking at Alan McDonald’s legs and seeing the large areas of skin that had been stripped off due to the constant friction burns he was getting when putting in the usual head-long uncompromising tackles on opposing players. The pitch was also unforgiving on the joints and was the cause of a great many ankle injuries to our players at that time.
As the summer wore on, a combination of fatigue from the twice daily training sessions and uncertainty over future youth funding (particularly the travel costs of the large Irish contingent) lead David to consider the future.
Around October or November he decided to return home after almost 18 months at Loftus Road. David has no regrets about his time at QPR. He enjoyed the experience at the club, but the combination of his young age and the solitary lifestyle left him little option at the time.
On his return to Ireland David signed for Carrick Rangers where in an 18 month period he won the Irish Youth Cup and League, scoring the winner in the Cup Final, a game which he played while struggling with bad diarrhoea!!!
He went on to play for Irish League teams; Linfield, Glentoran, Bangor, Coleraine, Glenavon and Distillery, and enjoyed a successful two seasons with Australian side Mooroolbark. He won several major Irish League honours including League, League Cup and Irish Cup (where he scored a last minute winner for Bangor against his old team Linfield). David also tasted European football, playing matches against Nicosia and Grasshoppers of Zurich, losing the away leg 7-1!
After six operations on his knees, David retired from football at the young age of 27. He has had short spells as assistant manager to two Irish league teams, but now devotes his time to running a successful international internet business.
Even though David McCallan’s time at Loftus Road was only brief, I’m proud to be related to an Irish League goal scoring legend and one time QPR apprentice.