Charlie Telfer’s career is one that I’ve always kept an eye on. Having been touted for big things at Rangers as a teenager, the midfielder was always top of my scout’s shortlist on Football Manager. Something, incidentally, that we’ll soon cover.
Yet, from the tangerine of Tannadice to the Oranje of Holland, Telfer’s career has gone full circle; the playmaker finds himself back in League 1 as he once did with his boyhood club. This time, though, he has the experience to go along with his ability and a manager who trusts him. Two in fact. The born-again Bairn is now focused on returning to the top of his game and the top of the Scottish footballing pyramid with the help of David McCracken and Lee Miller, who we will also be hearing from in Stonewaller Number 2.
But we thought it would be a good idea to go right back to the start of Charlie’s footballing story to get an idea of what has led him to this point. Back To The Future. I promise that the headline has nothing to do with Marty McFly, Charlie….
So before Telfer made the short trip from Falkirk to Stirling for a top up of his short back and sides at Red & Co, we caught up over a coffee in Edinburgh’s George Street. Here is what we got through.
Tell us how you got in to football at first. So we had family friends who were Rangers fans and, for one of my birthdays, they bought me one of the Champions’ League packages for Rangers. We were at one of the games when an advert for the club’s soccer school appeared on the big screens but, at that time, I was playing rugby.
Were you?! Yeah, my dad is in to rugby so I played that as well. I played it from primary one right the way through until fifth year.
Were you… bigger at that point? (Laughs) Nah I was the small, quick one! But, over the years, I’ve not grown that much taller! But when I saw the advert for the Rangers soccer school I thought I’d just go for it. I then went in to the community team before being scouted by the pro-youth coaches at under-10’s. I then moved up with them and worked through the age groups from there.
I read that your dad encouraged you to trial for Rangers’ community team; has your dad been big a big influence on your career since then? Yeah, absolutely. Both of my parents have been, to be honest. I can probably count on both hands the number of games they’ve missed since I first went in to Rangers. We’d go away on International tournaments with Rangers and they’d be the only parents there; some people might think that’s a bit much, but I loved it. As well as that, it’s always been very easy to speak to them about football as they were aware of what was going on. So yeah, they’ve been amazing for me.
You’ve mentioned that you made the jump from the community team to pro-youth set-up, but what transpired that allowed you to do that? It was just a case of me performing well. The coaches of the pro-youth team invited me on a six week trial but, within two weeks, they offered me a contract. So it just went from there.
When that happened, did that give you the confidence that you could kick on and have a career in professional football or was it still too early in your development? I just loved playing football at that time; it was more a case of enjoying it. It never got serious until I was maybe 14. I would maybe go up and play with the older teams from time to time but I just rode with it. But it was when we went to under-15’s that it started to get a bit more serious, yeah.
Just on coming through at Murray Park, how do you look back on your upbringing at Rangers? The main focus for us growing up was winning football matches. You often hear people saying that isn’t right and it should be more about learning how to play the game. But a lot of the boys who I came through with still have that must-win mentality. Albeit I have played for some teams who aren’t doing as well or what have you, but I still get the same frustration when we don’t win. At Rangers, if we lost a game, the coach would still put his arm around you but he would say that we’re not allowed to lose games here; it never felt like you were going to be sacked or anything like that! But it instilled that pressure in me from a young age. I actually struggled to get to grips with the mindset a little bit when I first went in to Dundee United; we’d maybe lose to Aberdeen or Celtic and it was seen as fine. At Rangers it was just a case of ‘win, win, win’.
During your time at the club, Rangers were sent to the bottom of the SPFL Pyramid in 2012 and were made to work their way back through the leagues. You were 17 at the beginning of that first season in the lower leagues, as much as you didn’t want to see your club suffer, did you think the demotion would benefit you personally with more first-team opportunities? Yeah, I think so. I also went full-time that same season. Within two days of pre-season I was training with the first team as well. So, at that point, I did believe there was a real chance of me breaking in to the team. My parents and close friends were saying the same thing. We also thought that the club wouldn’t be signing players on huge contracts and that they’d go down the road of promoting youth instead. So I was really, really excited at the time. But, when Rangers first went in to administration, I was on international duty with Scotland and, when the news broke, I went ‘oh no!’ - I thought they weren’t going to exist! But I was just a bit naive to the situation.
You only made one appearance for the club and decided to move on to Dundee United in the summer of 2014. What do you remember from that period? At the time, I was getting really frustrated as it was myself and Andy Murdoch who were the younger ones training with the senior side. It came to Christmas and all of the other younger boys got two weeks off but we trained all the way through - we even trained on Christmas Day. I think we counted that we were in for twenty days in a row over Christmas. But, as time progressed, I still wasn’t playing. I then came on at Ochilview against Stenhousemuir and was back out of the side. I was just getting really frustrated by it. Especially having seen players like Craig Sibbald at Falkirk racking up over 100 games at the same age I was. Craig and I had been away with Scotland together so I would compare his experience with my own; I was just sitting about! So yeah, I was very frustrated. Then Dundee United came about at the end of that season; and they were flying at the time. It was almost a no-brainer for me. It was tough leaving Rangers after so long and being a fan of the club, but Dundee United were pushing for Europe. I could go from not playing in League 1 to playing in the Premiership and potentially get a run in Europe. So, on a footballing level, it made so much sense for me.
You’ve mentioned that you speak to your parents about football, but did you lean on anyone else for advice during that period? I spoke with my girlfriend and my mum and dad, as you mentioned. They all just wanted me to play. They were just as frustrated as I was when they’d come to Rangers games to watch me but I would be up in the stands. So they shared my view of moving on to find playing time. My agent as well, he told me that it was a great opportunity for me to go and play. He mentioned the young nature of the team - GMS, Armstrong, Souttar, Gauld - so it all pointed towards Dundee United for me at that point.
Given that you had been at Ibrox for over a decade, Rangers were due compensation for your development after you signed for Dundee United at the end of your contract. That process dragged on for a few months and in to the season; was that a distraction for you? It was. As there was a pending tribunal to decide the fee, Dundee United were reluctant to play me as they felt the fee would rise if I was to play well in the first 10-15 games. Both the manager and the chairman told me that I could play here and there but not too much as it might cost them a fortune. I was also stuck in the middle of Dundee United saying Rangers had only existed for two years then Rangers saying they nurtured me since I was nine; so it was a frustrating period. But, saying that, I’m not sure I was ready to play in the first team straight away, so it gave me time to settle in to the club and the standard.
On that, you entered a Dundee United changing room that was brimming with talent and you’ve mentioned some of their names already, but how did you find it compared to the Rangers dressing room? The step up in training was so different. You still had Lee Wallace and Lee McCulloch at Rangers but the Dundee United squad had quality players throughout it.
Dundee United had just beaten Rangers the year before in the Scottish Cup semi-final as well, hadn’t they?