More appropriate for the title of this article, would be ‘Career Barely Beginning’. So far in this series about footballers whose careers have been cut short, depriving them of a long and distinguished playing career, I’ve only touched on men who were just reaching the peak of their playing prowess only to have all snatched away through severe back luck. Now, imagine if you will the feeling of being spotted by a scout from your own boyhood idols, the club you’ve supported since you were very a little lad and were taken to see your first match by your father when you were in short trousers. Then, after an initial successful trial with said club, and the management there making all the right noises about wishing to sign you professionally, fate intervenes in the cruellest way possible.
TV celebrity chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay suffered this very scenario himself back in the mid-eighties. Born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire – the commuter belt of Glasgow – Ramsay actually grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, hence why he has no Scottish accent and a more plummy, upper-class British tone when swearing. It was during this time in Warwickshire he was spotted playing for his school team as a centre half, and represented the county at Under 14 level, aged only twelve himself. Scouts of some of the professional teams saw Ramsay play over the following seasons, and come the early eighties the Scottish teenager was invited to his boyhood idols – Glasgow Rangers – for a trial. At the same time, future Scottish football legend Ally McCoist, had just joined the Glasgow club after an indifferent period in England playing for Sunderland. Both young men were trying to find their feet at a big club, with McCoist obviously having a head start on Ramsay, having already played league football. Amongst the very competitive nature of the selection process, and possibly due to trying too hard to impress, the young Ramsay damaged cartilage in his knee during training. Determined not to allow this to spoil his chances of breaking , but played on, feeling it would heal. The trial period also included appearances in friendly and testimonial matches, so Ramsay could be judged in a side containing Rangers first-team regulars, which included the recently signed afore-mentioned McCoist. Jock Wallace and his backroom staff were suitably impressed with Ramsay’s performance, and at the age of fifteen signed for the Ibrox club.
No doubt understandably excited at embarking on most young men’s dream – being a professional footballer, fate unexpectedly struck for the worse. During a squash game with friends, Ramsay tore a cruciate ligament in his already damaged knee. After much treatment and rehabilitation at Ibrox, it soon became heart-wrenchingly clear Ramsay’s footballing career was over before it even began. Rangers released the injured player, leaving Ramsay to ponder on his future. The one saving grace for the Scotsman was his age - he was still in his late teens so had time on his side to take a different career path. The pain and huge disappointment of having to turn his back on football could have crushed some young men, but instead Ramsay used this to make a success of himself in a different field. Rather than be known as the promising young thing who didn’t make it at Rangers due to a dodgy knee, he enrolled at college in Oxfordshire studying hotel management, before moving onto working as a commis chef in an exclusive hotel, before running the kitchen there. After a move to London, he worked in a series of restaurants until being inspired by the work of the somewhat volatile and unpredictable Marco Pierre White. Some say this is where some of Ramsay’s own explosive temper and choice language originates from, having worked in White’s kitchen witnessing and being on the receiving end at times of his rages and occasional bullying for over two years. Urban myth has it White was the only person to have made Ramsay cry. When asked about this, White has replied he never made Gordon Ramsay cry – Gordon Ramsay chose to cry.
Ramsay moved on from working with White, to other famous chefs – Albert Roux, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon. Gaining much knowledge, technique and expertise he moved onto becoming head chef, then operating his own businesses to much success, gaining his first Michelin Star in the mid-nineties. Come the late nineties, television began to take a notice in Ramsay, with a fly-on-the-wall documentary ‘exposing’ what life inside his kitchen was like. The viewing public lapped the footage up, finding it cringe-worthy watching such a skilled and talented chef explode in fury bordering upon volcanic eruption regularly. Truth is, Ramsay is a perfectionist, and his whole reputation depends upon the quality of the food his kitchen produces, and the level of service his restaurant conveys. If it is not up to his very high standards, standby for the Wraith of Ramsay. One particular episode nearly melted Channel 4’s bleep machine. Heaven knows how feisty Ramsay would have been on the pitch had he played professionally at Rangers – just imagine him with his somewhat forthright attitude during an Old Firm match, or an England – Scotland international.
In 2001, Ramsay became the first Scottish chef to be awarded three Michelin Stars, and then in 2006 he received an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to blasphemy.