The club’s Director of Football / Media, Graeme Macleod pays tribute to Nairn County player, Calum Riddell, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 28 having been diagnosed with a brain tumour in the summer.
It is safe to say that among Calum’s loves were family and friends, socialising and football.
Calum was two years younger than me and I first got to know him when we both went to Boys Brigade and played in the football team. We reached the end-of-season final when I was in about primary 6 and after a tense draw after extra time, the match went to penalties. Calum was the youngest player in the team but he was still desperate to hit a penalty in the shootout. He was told he could hit the “sixth” penalty for us if it was still level after the initial round of five penalties each. The other team hit first and we hit second and by the time it came around to our third penalty (or the SIXTH overall), the bold Calum was placing the ball on the spot before anyone realised what was going on and preparing to start his run up! Luckily, he stuck it away and we went on to win the shootout.
That was Calum though – he could ‘play the daft laddie’ down to a tee when he needed to. He knew exactly what he was doing but would have protested his innocence regardless – “I was told to take the sixth penalty so I did, what is all the fuss about?”.
We played together in the Nairn County youth teams as teenagers. It is common practice for players to wear lycra undershorts underneath their match shorts and in the laws of the game now, these undershorts must be the same colour as the actual shorts that form part of the kit. Back then though, that was not such a problem and Calum turned up for one game with these undershorts that were the brightest colour of orange imaginable. What possessed him to buy them we will never know but those sorts of things never bothered Calum.
I lived in Edinburgh for six years after leaving school, so my contact with Calum was minimal during this period. I maybe went a year without seeing him when I met him in the pub one night when I was home. Calum came straight over and the conversation flowed as if I had never been away – he had that knack of being able to engage with anyone regardless of how well he knew them or when he had last spoken to them. ‘Shy’ was never a term you would have used to describe him.
We played together at Nairn St Ninian for a season-and-a-half and it was great. We had success on the park reaching the quarter finals of the Grill League Cup, the third round of the Scottish Cup and winning the Elginshire Cup and promotion. Calum played a huge part in this not only on the park but in the way he brought the players together. He had a unique name for pretty much everyone – I got ‘White Chocolate Orange Egghead’ (only Calum could come up with a name that poked fun at someone’s pale complexion, ginger hair and balding head all in one go) or the ‘Ginger Warrior’. He never picked on easy targets either – he gave it out in equal measures whether you were an insecure young player in the team or one of the older, more experienced ones.
He loved the social aspect of football and even if you planned to have a quiet Saturday night in, if Calum decided we were all going out then you were going out and that was it. You could even go home and plan to stay in but change your mind and know that if you turned up at the Seaforth then the boys would be there with Calum holding court. Any chance you had of sneaking in unnoticed and making out you had been there the whole time was never happening though – you would get a sarcastic cheer from Calum as you walked in the door and he would have his “I told you that you would be out” moment and then buy you a drink. There really was never a dull moment or a night where you would wake up the next morning thinking ‘last night was not that great, I wish I had stayed in’ if Calum was about.
He was a fantastic player as well. He had this superb skill of being able to step up to a free kick to the right of the goal that looked more suited for a left footer and whip the ball across the goalkeeper with his right foot with pace. If it was on target, you knew it was in. Others will recall goals from the halfway line, too. He would literally run himself into the ground for the team until he could run no more and it was not uncommon for him to cramp up in BOTH legs.
We brought him back to Nairn County in 2016 and I was delighted that he was the first signing of the new era last summer. He scored on his debut, a friendly against Nairn St Ninian and I joked with him afterwards that he could retire now as the most successful goal scorer in the club’s history with a 100% scoring record. He said that would not be happening and that he would keep the record going – and he did! He scored in the next friendly away at Inverness City two days later. “Told you the run would continue,” he said to me afterwards.
Despite his condition, only on Sunday Calum was up at the Academy Playing Fields watching the club’s youth teams play. He still had that razor sharp wit about him and was in fine form, telling Ronnie Sharp to prepare himself for the sack after his team get leathered by Calum’s All Stars in Sunday’s Benefit Match!
Before kick-off at home games, you could always hear Calum’s distinctive roar in the home dressing room from out in the stand just before the players emerged from the tunnel as he got his team mates up for the game that was ahead. That dressing room will certainly now be a far quieter place.
Calum Riddell 07/05/1989 – 03/10/2017. Team mate, family man, friend.