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TOTD: Sean Winter

SOME clubs just get under a player’s skin.

For Sean Winter, Stranraer will always have a place in his heart.

Two hundred and one appearances and 38 goals only scratches the surface of what he achieved for the club and what the club would mean to him.

He said: “Of course, if I’m honest, I could not tell you a player to have played for Stranraer previous to me joining.

“I couldn’t probably tell you any of the results or where they finished in the league or anything like that.

“But, as soon as you join a team, I feel quite loyal, you see players that sign for a year then go to the next team and sign for a year and go to another team, I can honestly say that if I never got released from Stranraer I would be there just now.

“I had no reason to leave and I enjoyed my time there.

“It happened to me at East Kilbride, a lot of people are saying stay senior as long as you can and it would be daft to go to the Lowland League but as I say if I’m happy somewhere and I feel it benefits me then I will stay.

“I had no intention of leaving Stranraer.

“I had five amazing years with relative success for the budget that Stranraer had so that’s what I would say was probably the big thing for me.

“I feel like I’m a loyal person and I would have been at Stranraer just now if I hadn’t been released and I would have had a possibly a testimonial and possibly become a club legend.”

Winter, like fellow Team of the Decade member Frank McKeown, had been playing with Junior side Arthurlie when the opportunity came to make the move into the senior ranks.

Team-mate Stevie Aitken was returning to Stair Park as assistant manager to Keith Knox and wanted to bring Winter, McKeown and Craig Malcolm with him.

Malcolm’s deal would prove straight forward while McKeown would join a year later.

However, for Winter, it was a drawn out affair that could easily have never happened.

The midfielder explained: “I was at Arthurlie from when I was 19 to when I was 22 so I think basically the amount of money they paid me each year I think they were entitled to that as compensation because I was under 23 as a development fee.

“I was desperate to go to play senior, my birthday is August 31, which is literally the last day of the transfer window.

“So we said we would wait until the transfer window was up and then I would sign for Stranraer because I was 23 and without them having to pay that fee but it didn’t quite work like that.
“I think because the season had started when I was 22, Arthurlie were still due a fee.

“Stevie said if that is the case Stranraer don’t really have the money.

“I think it was working out at £3,000 or £4,000 but obviously I was kind of unknown and I came from Junior and I don’t think they had the money to spend on someone that they didn’t know if it was going to work out or not.

“Stevie said ‘look we will probably just leave it, keep an eye on you and we will maybe sign you next year’.

“I wanted to get it done, so I phoned someone who I think was called Tommy Johnson at the SJFA and asked if there was anything I could do and he suggested that I sign as an amateur, which is what Queen’s Park did.

“I signed the contract as an amateur so I could play for Stranraer which basically meant I didn’t get any payment for the first year, I just got expenses but I was desperate for the opportunity.”

Even then, Winter missed the opening game of the 2010/11 season – a 2-1 defeat at home to East Stirlingshire in the League Challenge Cup – before making his debut the following weekend in the League Cup.

However, it was during his league debut that Stranraer fans got their first indication that they had a star on their hands.

The 32-year-old said: “When I signed, I actually had a holiday booked to Zante with my pals.

“I was just turning 23 and had booked this holiday with my pals because I thought it was falling through for Stranraer.

“I booked the holiday, it was a last minute thing, and so I missed a week of the pre-season training.

“I got back on a Friday and on the Saturday we played against Morton.

“That was my first game and I came back and I started the game.

“We got beat 7-1 and were absolutely battered but I felt quite fit and I felt quite good.

“Then, the week after, we played Clyde and they were the odds on favourites for the league.

“We were playing at Broadwood and it was a big professional stadium and it was some feeling for me going to one of these grounds to play.

“I feared the worst after we got absolutely battered the week before.

“Then, people were tipping us to finish bottom of the table and I was a wee bit worried.

“That was my league debut and my family were there as it was my league debut.

“We were down 2-0 [former Blue Marc McCusker scored both] in the first half an hour and I was thinking we were going to get battered.
“I set up Craig Malcolm first after I went through and tackled the goalkeeper.

“It probably could have been a foul, to be fair, and I ended up getting up and probably could have got it myself and scored.

“I was a wee bit gutted when Malky just ran in and stole it.

“He scored but then he set me up to get the equaliser and it finished 2-2.

“I was always worried that I would not be good enough.

“I had played Junior football until I was 22 going on 23 and I was thinking maybe I am just not quite good enough.

“Then, to play, against the league favourites and to play so well, that just settled me and made me realise that I was good enough to play at that level.

“Then, I could kick on from there. It was massive for me that I played so well on my league debut.”

Winter, who would also score a Scottish Cup hat-trick at Hampden Park against a Queen’s Park side featuring future Scotland international Andy Robertson, would go on to become a firm favourite with the Stair Park faithful.

Clocking up more than 30 appearances in his debut season, he would score eight goals from the right of midfield and set up more than his fair share for Malcolm and strike partner Armand One.

That would become a recurring theme over the next four years as Winter reached more than 200 appearances along the way.
However, there was one occasion against Forfar in particular that saw Winter have to utilise an impressive turn of pace…

He said: “My wife’s waters broke on the Friday night when we were sitting watching television.

“That was our first kid so we did not really know what we were doing.

“We went to the hospital and they kept Jen in overnight but I had to go home.

“I asked Jen what she wanted me to do because it was our first kid and it could be a day or two before he was born.

“Stranraer were trying to stay in the league and I really wanted to play in the game.

“I asked Jen if I could go to the game and said that I would drive down myself.

“Then, obviously, I will play the game and come straight to the hospital afterwards.

“I spoke to Stevie Aitken and he said that was fine.

“I was absolutely buzzing, it was my first kid and I was sent home from the hospital but I could not sleep.

“I think I had about an hour’s sleep and I said to Stevie that I felt fine, I really wanted to play and try to help us stay in the league.

“I got down there and I did not feel great at all but I thought I would get through it.

“To be honest, I was absolutely terrible.

“We were getting beat 2-0 within the first half and I thought ‘if I miss the birth of my child and we’re getting beat as well, I will be raging’.

“I gave Russell Cadwell, the sub goalkeeper, my mobile and said to him if anyone phoned to let me know.

“I told Jen’s mum to phone me as soon as Jen went into labour and that I would leave, and I said to Stevie that if anyone phoned then I needed to get taken off and I had to go because it is obviously a two-hour journey.

“As I was coming off the pitch at half time, my phone went and Russell came over and told me it was my mother-in-law. I answered the call and she said that Jen was going into labour.

“I said to Stevie that I needed to go and he was raging anyway because we were getting beat 2-0. I literally just shoved my tracksuit on and drove up the road.

“I managed to get there – Jen did not have the baby until 1am – but I got there at about 6pm.

“I could not stop thinking on the road home that I was going to miss it.”

The following week a Malcolm double gave Stranraer the three points needed to maintain their place in League One and also ensure Rangers would be visiting the following season.

Winter also returned to Stair Park in December 2016 when East Kilbride were the opponents in the Scottish Cup.

His first half goal was cancelled out by bringing down Kyle Turner for Stranraer’s equaliser just 12 minutes later.

Winter, who is eager to find time to get back to Wigtownshire, was delighted to be named in the Team of the Decade, beating Andy Stirling and James Hilton to the spot on the right side of midfield.

He said: “I just gave 100 per cent.

“I could never not try.

“Even when people say in friendlies that it is a nothing game, when I played there was never a time where I thought ‘I don’t care’.

“I just cared. I need to win. If I am not winning, I am raging.

“I am one of the happiest guys ever but if I am playing and I am not winning I would argue with my mum.
“I just want to win and, hopefully, that came across.

“We were quite successful and it is easy to like players when you do well and you are winning more than you are losing.

“We played against Annan and I scored against them.

“That’s regarded as a bit of a derby and there is always a bit of spice to those games.

“It was the same with Ayr when we played them and there was a season where we just battered them just about every time we played them.
“We were just miles better than them.

“With the resources that Ayr had, it must have been an amazing thing for a Stranraer fan to be that far ahead of your biggest rival, who should be miles ahead of where you should be.

“I don’t think Stranraer fans have ever enjoyed a time like that since or even for a time before that as well where they were so far ahead of Ayr.

“I like to think that I always tried and I always liked to interact with the fans as well.

“I’m never one for walking by somebody.

“You have got young kids who want signatures and for me I felt daft because I was playing for Stranraer and never felt like I was somebody that you would want a signature from.

“It means a lot to these people and I always respected that.

“No matter the level you are at, if these fans are looking at you as a bit of a role model then you should always go to speak to them and do whatever they are looking for.

“They are paying money and I feel that I have always understood that.

“I was quite happy to do any events that Stranraer wanted done and I would be the first to put my hand up.

“Anything that needed done with the fans or anything like that, I would always happily do them.

“I would like to think that I am quite down to earth.

“I understand that situation and always like to get people involved, especially for a town like Stranraer, a small community town, it is important for them to have an interest and for people to interact with them so that they get an interest to come back.

“I always felt that I went out of my way to do that.”

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