Playing 350 games including appearances for Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, Charlton in English Premier League, Dunfermline, Kilmarnock, and having a stint in the US is a successful career by any measure.
Greg Shields came through the youth system at Rangers, making a handful of appearances for a squad that included Paul Gascoigne, Lorenzo Amoruso, and Gennaro Gattuso. Unable to cement his place in that star-studded side, Shields moved onto Dunfermline in 1997.
At 23, he joined Charlton, at the time a promotion chasing team destined for the Premier League. After some excellent form, Shields was soon being scouted to play for the Scottish national team.
Sadly, a serious injury stalled his progress. Shields remembers the lead up to the incident in surprising detail. After visiting family back in Scotland, he traveled back to London overnight. The next day he suffered a knee injury in training. He blames himself, ‘young people think they’re invincible’. He was surely just unlucky.
Luck plays an inordinate role in any player’s career. Elite players and the injury-free are in many ways lottery winners. Countless hard-working, talented young footballers get unlucky with fitness or circumstance. With such fine margins between success and failure, coupled with short careers, football intensifies the role of luck.
When returning from injury in 2000, the team was flying high in the Premier League with a raft of quality players. Mark Kinsella, Clive Mendonca, and Shaun Newton all stood out to Shields. He had two years left on his contract but with Radostin Kishishev ahead of him, he felt he should leave to find regular first-team football elsewhere. Now, Shields wishes he had stayed longer at Charlton and tried to regain his place.
‘You’ve got to learn to enjoy the highs. There aren’t that many of them in football.’ There’s perhaps a lingering sense of regret in Greg Shields. While we all ask ourselves what could have been, where better luck or a different attitude might have helped, I think Shields should take another point of view. His drive to play regular first-team football is probably the very trait that helped him become a Premier League footballer in the first place.
Later, after several seasons at Kilmarnock then Dunfermline Athletic, Shields signed a two year playing contract in the US. It was here that he launched his career as a coach in 2013. It’s obvious that he and his family made the most of that experience. He speaks fondly of his time there – ‘great fishing’ – and of his development as a coach.
Coaching seems to have offered a certain perspective on his own career. Reflecting on his playing days, Shields notes that, ‘Life happens so fast you don’t really take stock. You move from one game to the next.’ Now, he helps his own players handle the highs and lows of football, trying to enjoy the experience along the way.
Every player is just a young person following a dream. And then they are put under intense pressure to fight, win, and succeed. Failure is punished by relegation or missed qualification, and lost revenue. That is a difficult working environment for anyone and the mental health aspect of the game is becoming increasingly recognised.
This recognition means things are a little different now from his playing days, Shields acknowledges. As a coach, he believes that man-management skills are even more important than tactics and formations. If that’s true, given his attitude to coaching and drawing on his own playing experience, Shields obviously has plenty to offer his current Dunfermline team.
It seems that Shields has reflected on his varied, interesting and, surely, rewarding playing career – complete with its highs and lows – and this is what puts him in a position to be a supportive and successful coach.
Greg Shields spoke to Charlton Fans in Scotland on 17 May 2021. Thanks to Greg for his time and honesty, and to Rob Anderson for organising and hosting the event.
Another write-up of our Zoom meeting is available here: http://drinkingduringthegame.blogspot.com/2021/05/an-evening-with-greg-shields.html