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History

Once an Iron... Lee Ridley

17 April 2020

It’s the dream of every young boy up and down the country but few actually go on to play for the football they watched as a child.

During the coming days, we'll republish past interviews with former Iron players from our matchday programme.

An exception to this is Lee Ridley who was brought up in the Scunthorpe area and realised his dream of pulling on the claret and blue strip to play for his local side.

Ridley, who is now NCS Operations Manager for the SUFC Trust, was just a teenager when he was offered the chance to show United what he could do and he kicked things off by telling us how that initial contact came about.

“I was playing for my local under 16’s team where I was spotted by a scout who offered me a trial. I came down to the club around Christmas time to have a word with the manager and it just went on from there really,” Lee said.

“I played the last half of the season with the under 16’s and then I was offered a youth team contract after that which was my first step to becoming a professional.

“I’m a Scunthorpe lad and I used to come and watch the club a lot at that age so I obviously jumped at the chance to sign because it’s every young boys dream to represent their local side and I was absolutely delighted. 

“I remember making my debut away at Darlington at the old Feethams Ground which has been slightly improved since then!

“We lost the game 2-1 so that was disappointing but I really enjoyed it and I played with some fantastic professionals which helped set me up to go on and play more games after that.

“The day in general passed me by quite quickly really because before you know it you’re out there and you realise that you’ve got a job to do.

“I thought I played well personally though we did lose so collectively we weren’t brilliant on the day but I was just thrilled to have made my first appearance as a professional.”

During his seven years as an Iron player, the defender made 117 appearances in all competitions and scored three times.

Ridley was part of the United side that achieved promotion from League Two in the 2004-2005 season and also the League One championship winning team in the 2006-2007 campaign.

But despite those achievements, he pinpoints one particular game which had nothing to do with any of those successes as one of the highlights of his time at the club.

“The game at Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup was a brilliant day and a fantastic occasion to have been a part of,” he continued.

“Absolutely nobody thought that we could ever go there and take the lead so that was a great feeling and the whole day was an amazing experience.

“It was a shame that we couldn’t get a draw to bring them back to our place but we gave a good account of ourselves and we were just a bit unlucky on the day not to have got more out of it.

“They did rest a few of their first team players but they still had a lot of top class professionals out there and some players that, at the time, were well on their way with their careers at Chelsea.

“A lot of the players that we played against on that day are still playing for major European sides so it was an experience that I will certainly never forget and those are the types of games that you want to be involved in.”

Whilst that Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge will live long in the memory of Lee, he was also pleased to have played a helping hand in transforming Scunthorpe United from a League Two side, into a Championship club.

He added: “It was great to play against so many top drawer players in that Chelsea game but to have gained promotion firstly from League Two to League One and then from League One to the Championship with my boyhood club was very special.

“There were a number of factors that made us gel together so well as a squad, obviously we had a brilliant managerial team and a very talented set of lads which is always vital to any successful season.

“But I think the main thing was the team spirit and the attitude that was instilled into us. It’s always important to get along well as a squad and become friends off the pitch as well because at the end of the day, team spirit is one of the most important elements to any effective side.”

With a selection of talented players available to choose from for Brian Laws and Nigel Adkins, the two managers in charge during Lee’s spell at the club, it’s no wonder United achieved so much as a squad in such a little space of time.

But it’s the team camaraderie that Ridley feels was biggest reason for the success United had.

“There were no ‘big time Charlie’s’ involved and we had a pretty good team spirit which is always vital to getting positive results,” he explained.

“I don’t think anybody expected us to get promoted, never mind win the league in the 2006-2007 season and if you compared our squad with some of the other squads in the division at that time on paper then you still wouldn’t think that but we managed to do it and it was the team cohesion that saw us through.

“We had a really good bunch of lads who only wanted the best for the club which really worked in our favour.

“Peter Beagrie was at the latter stage of his career when he was at Scunthorpe but he was still a very good player who always led by example on the pitch and then there was the likes of Billy Sharp and Andy Keogh who went on to bigger and better things.”

The conclusion of the 2006-2007 season, which saw the Iron crowned League One champions, coincided with the expiration of Ridley’s contract in North Lincolnshire and with his first team opportunities already limited, he was forced to make a big decision about his future.

And whilst it wasn’t a decision he took lightly, Lee knew that he would have to look elsewhere in order to guarantee himself first team football.

“I wasn’t really playing regularly at the time and I was at the age where I wanted to be playing first team football week in week out. I was offered a contract at the club and it would have been brilliant to have had the opportunity to have played in the Championship but I just felt that I wouldn’t get as much playing time as I’d have liked,” he said.

“Nigel wanted me to stay but it was a decision that I felt I needed to make in order to further my footballing career.

“I certainly loved every minute of my time at the club and it’s an experience that I wouldn’t change for the world.”


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