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Too short to play for Aberdeen? Sheffield United midfielder Paul Coutts is proving plenty of people wrong

Paul and his long-term girlfriend Vicki at the family home.
Paul and his long-term girlfriend Vicki at the family home.

From being too short to play professionally to making his name south of the border and aiming for a Scotland call-up, Aberdonian Paul Coutts lives the quintessential young boy’s dream. Laura Redpath takes a peak at his life off-pitch

I held the phone to my ear as it rang and rang. Typical, I thought to myself. A big-shot football star too busy to return calls from what was once his local newspaper.

The player in question was Sheffield United midfielder Paul Coutts – an Aberdeen lad who kicked off his career playing as a youth for Aberdeen from the age of 10, Scotland U21s, Cove Rangers in the Scottish Highland League and several English Football League teams before signing for Sheffield United in January last year.

Paul in action for Sheffield United
Paul in action for Sheffield United

Becoming a professional footballer is undoubtedly an achievement in itself, but it’s even more so for Paul as he was told he wouldn’t make it.

When he became too old to play as a junior, Aberdeen told him he was too small to get a professional contract. Today, he’s grown to an impressive 6ft, playing at a club with a rich history and he’s making quite a name for himself. And with the jam-packed life he’s living, I begin to think it is little wonder he’s too busy for an impromptu press call.

But when he did phone back, a couple of days and two voicemails later, his lack of communication wasn’t down to being a total hotshot – he’s a typical 27-year-old bloke who simply forgot to get back to me.

Chatting away to Paul was like speaking to any lad in his 20s. He has an Aberdonian twang, although he says his accent has mellowed in the eight years he’s spent south of the border. He grew up in Kingswells and then in the King’s Gate area of Aberdeen.

Speaking from his four-bedroom home in Sheffield, he tells me he’s wearing a Nike tracksuit – his usual day-to-day attire after finishing training early in the afternoon. He admits he hasn’t put much thought into this particular look – in fact, it was a freebie from JJB Sports. But when he does shop, he does so in All Saints and Selfridges.

It must be nice having such an early finish and having the rest of the afternoon to yourself, I ask him. “You do end up doing nothing after training but that’s what you are advised to do,” said Paul.

“We play every Saturday and most Tuesday nights so there are a lot of games and we’re training every day. You’re thankful for the rest.”

Although he is away from the training ground for much of the day, Paul still finds himself hard at work, sticking to a strict diet of chicken, fish and vegetable dishes.

At the weekends, when the pressure of match day is off, Paul and long-term girlfriend Vicki Ledingham, who’s five months pregnant with twins – make the most of their freedom, tucking into takeaways or going out for food and a trip to the cinema.

Paul with long-term girlfriend Vicki
Paul with long-term girlfriend Vicki

“You build up during the week so you can unwind on a Saturday night.

“We’re in the gym quite a lot so you get all your vitamins and protein supplied by the club and then you get guidelines on what you can have at night.

“If you don’t eat the right things you put on body fat and they test it all the time, and if you’re up, you get fined.”

So have you ever been fined?

“I’ve had loads of fines,” he said, laughing at his naughty eating behaviour.

“People come down from Aberdeen to visit and bring me butteries. That kills me.”

Nothing is forever

Spending much of young adulthood away from the comfort of home, Paul left Aberdeen eight years ago. Vicki, also 27, and from Inverurie, joined him and to date Paul says the couple have lived in a total of 10 different houses.

With transfer deadline day at times making the call on where he could end up next, he often doesn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the move. Instead, he finds himself living in a hotel close to the club before finding a house.

“It’s been tough for Vicki,” he said. “She’ll get settled in a job and then we’ll be moving again. This is our fourth different city and we’re just moving house again.

“When you get into a new area you obviously don’t know where you want to live. You just take something that’s on the market. We’re just moving into a nicer area. By the time we get settled into our next house, I’ll probably be on my way again.”

And come June, the babies will be moving with them, too.

“I think it will be OK for the next couple of years. We’ll have to get settled somewhere for them starting school but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m excited about being a dad but a little nervous as well. I’ll have a lot of sleepless nights ahead.

“I’m going to try and blag that I’ll need sleep for my training so Vicki will have to get up in the night but I don’t think I’ll get away with that,” he laughed.

Having been together since Paul was with Cove, Vicki sees his job as just what he does, and doesn’t echo the likes of Colleen Rooney and Victoria Beckham.

“I don’t think she sees herself like that,” Paul laughed when I quizzed him on whether she saw herself as a WAG.

“I think because we were together before I was professional, she just sees it as what I do. She worked for Subsea 7 when we were in Aberdeen and when we moved she kept herself busy with jobs. She’s working for a gym just now. She likes to be working and she’s bored if she’s not.”

Leaving home

Moving around the country for years, Paul and Vicki are no strangers to settling in unfamiliar places. But when Paul first left home, he didn’t really think much of it. For him it was the chance to play football full time and like any young hopeful would, he grabbed it while it was going.

“It was one of those things that didn’t really dawn on me until I had done it,” he said.

“I didn’t really think about moving away from family and friends. I didn’t sit and dwell on it. I just got the opportunity to play football and went for it.

“It was an unbelievable opportunity, I got lucky. It wasn’t hard at first, but as you get older you miss out on things at home that you’d want to be at but it’s the sacrifice you make. I still see home as Aberdeen.”

At the end of the season Paul always takes the time to go home and visit those he hasn’t seen throughout the year. He has an older brother Keith, who turns 30 this year, and a younger half-brother Gary, who is in first year at secondary school and is, like most young boys, football mad.

“He loves coming to games,” Paul said. “He gives me tips and stuff which is quite funny. I get on well with them both.”

Coutts during his Cove days, up against Keith
Coutts during his Cove days, up against Keith

Taking a break

During the summer Paul has to keep his fitness levels up, but he and Vicki manage to escape abroad for some well-deserved time off. Vicki usually decides where they are off to – last year was Greece and the year before was Florida – which Paul admits is a fair deal, given how much he has dragged her around the country during his career.

This year however, with the babies due in summer, things will be a little different.

“Vicki just had a break in Dubai before she was unable to fly.

“She got back on Monday. I don’t think I’ll get a holiday this year as she’s due around June when we normally go away.”

And with games always scheduled for Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, Paul hasn’t had a festive period at home with his family since he left. Vicki stays with him for Christmas and Hogmanay, but for the last couple of years they have had family down to visit them.

“The first couple of Christmases we were sitting wondering what’s going on and having a bowl of pasta for Christmas dinner.”

A young boy’s dream

Paul missed out on selection for Scotland squad in upcoming friendlies against Czech Republic and Denmark, but he’s still well-known in Sheffield.

Often recognised while out and about he doesn’t mind taking the time to speak to fans, but jokes that this experience isn’t so great when the team aren’t doing well.

“My life’s definitely changed,” he said. “Anything you do is under scrutiny and you can’t really go out all the time.

“Sometimes my friends come down to visit and want to go out but I can’t if I have training the next day. It’s still a long term ambition of mine to get into the national Scotland squad.

Coutts training with Scotland under-21s
Coutts training with Scotland under-21s

“I’ve had a few injuries the last couple of seasons but hopefully they are behind me.”

Paul and his fellow players are also involved in the community, giving talks at local schools.

“They definitely look up to you. I think it’s most young boys’ dream to be a footballer.”

So for those in the north-east watching Paul from afar, pondering if he’s become too big for his boots – he’s far from it.

Coutts’ career south of the border

  • 2008-2010: 60 appearances for Peterborourgh
  • 2010-2012: 86 appearances for Preston
  • 2012-2015: 67 appearances for Derby
  • 2015-present: 49 appearances for Sheffield United
  • 2008-2010: 8 appearances for Scotland Under-21s