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Legend departs

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By Zac Hannay
Sport
Legend departs

STEVEN Swinglehurst’s time at Annan Athletic may have reached its end, but the memories forged over his 12 year stay will last forever.

The 31-year-old central defender immediately fell in love with Galabank as soon as he stepped through the door. And, almost 350 appearances later, he leaves a club legend.

It all started with a loan move north of the border from hometown side Carlisle United, where Swinglehurst was a trainee, in January 2012.

He said: “I was coming back from an injury and I wanted some games.

“The Carlisle manager at the time, Greg Abbott, said – listen I want you to go out on loan to Annan.

“From the moment I stepped through the door I loved it, absolutely loved it. Everyone was so welcoming.

“The loan came to an end, I got released by Carlisle and Harry Cairney (the Annan manager) said he wanted to sign me.

“It was a no-brainer. I didn’t wait for any other deals to come in, I just accepted the deal because I was happy there.”

Switching to part-time football meant Swinglehurst needed to find full-time employment.

He added: “When I left Carlisle I looked at getting a trade. I looked at maybe joining the police or the fire service, but it wouldn’t have worked with my football. Anyone that knows me knows that sport’s my life.

“I knew Pete Watson was a plumber, so I spoke to him, my sister’s fiancée was as well, so I spoke to him, and a couple of other people.

“I found myself on a college course and fast forward to now I’ve got my own business and haven’t looked back.”

Over the years the defender became a fan favourite, making vital blocks and tackles as well chipping in with the odd goal.

He has played, and won, at some of the biggest grounds in Scotland, enjoyed magnificent cup-runs, suffered play-off heartache, had a testimonial, earned promotion to League One and helped the team secure subsequent survival in the Scottish third tier.

TESTIMONIAL TIME . . . Swinglehurst in the thick of the action at Ibrox

Remaining at the same place for such a length of time is not a regular occurrence in today’s game.

But making a move elsewhere had never been on Swinglehurst’s mind.

He said: “It’s just the love of the club. I have had chances to move, plenty of chances, for a lot more money.

“I don’t play football for the money, and if I did I’d have left probably ten years ago.

“The year we played Rangers I think I had Rangers, Kilmarnock and Motherwell looking at me. I don’t know if it would have gone any further, but there were quite strong rumours.

“I was told by people not to sign the contract at Annan, but I didn’t want to leave, and I signed a two-year deal.”

Swinglehurst has worked under three different permanent managers and with countless different players at Galabank across the years.

Sometimes he found himself out of the starting line-up, but he always worked hard to get back in and his leadership qualities also saw him wear the captain’s armband for a number of seasons.

He said: “It’s probably down to the fans and the manager at the time, Harry Cairney, who made me feel welcome (as the reason for staying).

“Jim Chapman came in and took the club on a bit further. There were periods then when it was hard.

“But he left, and Peter Murphy came in, and the rest is history.”

After being involved in five different play-off campaigns, the defender played his part in creating history as the club earned a first ever SPFL promotion at the end of season 2022/23.

Swinglehurst said: “I always had faith (at getting promoted). I remember I was working on a job in Annan and the customer turned round and said – Steven what’s happening?

“We were down at the bottom end of the table, and it was coming up to Christmas time.

“I said to him – just keep the faith, once we click we will be unstoppable. And we got promoted.

“The same guy actually text me saying – I should’ve trusted you and well done.

“That whole year (was great), it was my testimonial year and I was captain.

“Ending with promotion and beating Clyde as well. There was a lot of payback. I always said I wasn’t going to leave until that was done.

“Scoring that goal against Aberdeen was good, beating Rangers was incredible – I can remember it like it was yesterday, but the best moment has got to be winning promotion as captain.”

Football can change quickly. And it is all change at Galabank this summer with a new management team in place.

Wullie Gibson has assumed the manager’s position following the departure of Peter Murphy.
And after being offered what could only be described as a ‘trial’, Swinglehurst made the decision to move on and continue his playing career elsewhere.

He added: “It’s not about the money, 100 per cent not. If the club’s budget has been cut and I was offered a reduced pay I would’ve signed.

“I made the decision, me and my wife, to leave and begin a new adventure.

“I’m 31 and I know I’ve still got a helluva lot of games in my legs.

“I’ve rung everyone at the club to wish them all the best. I know I left because of what was offered, but I want the club to go and do well.

“I want them to stay up, I want them to go and get promoted again into the Championship and I want them to beat Queen of the South four times next year.

“Football is football. Players have to move on sometimes. I would’ve retired at Annan, but I’m 31 and I’ve still got a lot to prove.

“A new challenge is coming.

“I could go through everyone individually (at Annan), but I would just like to say a massive thank you to all and good luck.

“From Karen (Robertson), to the people in the offices and the ladies behind the bar. Wherever you walk people would have a conversation with you and take time to speak to you. It’s a happy environment to be around. It’s an amazing little club and it is sad to leave.

“I hope everything goes smoothly under Wullie (Gibson) and I wish him all the best.

“He’s taken the reins over from Peter Murphy, which is obviously a difficult thing to do. But if there’s anyone that’s going to do it, it’s going to be him.”

Steven would especially like to thank his wife Ashleigh, their two sons Teddy and Rory, his mum, dad and two sisters.

He said: “They’ve backed me everywhere. A massive thanks to all of them, especially my wife.”

Quick questions

BEST player played with: “It’s got to be Moxy (Owen Moxon). (For the) best defensive partnership – I think it’s got to be Pete Watson. Overall the best player was Moxon, he’s so good.”

Favourite away trip: “In the league I always liked playing against Clyde because I liked getting a bit of stick off them. It riled me up and made me want to fight even more!”

Best moment in an Annan shirt: “Promotion.”

Favourite goal scored: “The Aberdeen goal, the bullet header. I recently looked back at it – it flew into the net!”

A funny story: “I honestly can’t think of one, but I’m not going to lie it probably will involve Pete Watson. It will be something to do with him no doubt.”

SWINGLEHURST also listed his best Annan XI of players he shared the pitch with across his time at Galabank.

Keeper: Greg Fleming – “It’s very very close between him and Alex Mitchell, but Greg edges it.”

Right back: Andy Mitchell.

Centre backs: Steven Swinglehurst and Peter Watson – “He’s the best centre half partner I had.”

Left back: Lewis Strapp.

Midfield: Owen Moxon, Chris Jardine and Reece Lyon.

Left wing: Aidan Smith.

Right wing: Chris Johnston.

Striker: Peter Weatherson – “It’s a difficult one for the main striker, but I would have to say Peter Weatherson.”

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