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Growing up in Glasgow, Stuart Kelly went on to be part of the youth and reserve team set-up at Rangers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
At the time, Scottish football was a far bigger force than it is today. The first-team featured the likes of Brian Laudrap, Rino Gattuso, Paul Gascoigne, Andrei Kanchelskis and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The club even came close to signing Brazil legend Ronaldo in 1997.
“With the reserve team, there was five or six internationals playing for us at any given time,” said Kelly.
“You don’t look at them like that when you’re there. They’re a colleague or a friend and ultimately the competition. I’m quite proud of some of the guys I played with. Gattuso was a young boy that came in and trained with us. He got fast tracked to the first-team pretty quickly.”
During the striker/midfielder’s earliest days with the youth team he also doubled as a helper for the club’s kit man. The job gave him a front row seat for a piece of tabloid headline news at the time when Gascgoine was accused by Danish international Erik Bo Andersen for having urinated on him during a training-ground prank.
“My job was to look after the first-team gear, so you’re in and out of the changing room and I remember it came out in the papers that Paul Gascgoine was p***ing on one of the guys in the showers . . . I was actually there when he was doing it. He was just talking away and p***ing on him at the same time,” he said.
After not having his contract renewed by Rangers in 2001 Kelly went onto play for Scottish non-league club Shetlesston FC – who had also secured the services of former Celtic and Republic of Ireland international Tommy Coyne. He then joined East Stirlingshire FC where he scored a number of goals. However, the team struggled for results at the time.
“It was at a time where Arsenal were ‘the invincibles.’ Everybody in the UK used to bet for [Thierry] Henry to score and for Arsenal to win and to me to score for my team, but for us to get beat . . . that was the running joke at the time, but I was loving it because it gave me exposure,” he said.
In 2003 Kelly made the move to Christchurch to play for Canterbury United with the goal of staking a claim for a spot with an A-League club due to the competition being set to begin in 2005.
His most memorable campaign came in 2005/06 which saw him score a number of goals for Canterbury en route to their one and only grand-final appearance. However, Kelly says he “wasn’t a great person to be around” at the time, due to his first major relationship break-up coinciding with his team’s playoff run.
After finishing third in the league, the side defeated Manuwatu on penalties. They then went onto lose 0-3 to Auckland in the next phase.
“They absolutely spanked us. The game was over after 15 minutes and I think we were upset about that,” he said.
However, they then defeated Team Wellington to set up a rematch with Auckland in the grand final.
“Auckland were different then, they were a pretty direct physical team and I think within the first 30 seconds there was an all-in fight. I remember Ben Sigmund slapping someone in the face . . . that ignited the game,” he said.
Kelly scored two goals in the match which finished 3-3 after regular time. However, Canterbury lost agonisingly in a penalty shootout.
Following the 2006-07 campaign with Canterbury, Kelly moved to Melbourne and played for Oakleigh Cannons and South Melbourne FC before returning to New Zealand and having short stints with Otago United and Auckland City.
Kelly also had stints in Thailand and Finland before returning to Christchurch permanently in 2013 to play for Cashmere Technical in the Mainland Premier League and Canterbury United in the national league.
He played a crucial role in Tech winning back to back Chatham Cup titles in 2013 and 2014. He scored the second of the side’s three goals in their 3-1 win over Waitakere City at English Park in 2013. A year later won the Jack Batty Trophy for a man of the match performance in Tech’s 2-1 win over Central United.
“That second year all of our games were on the road and we still won it . . . the biggest disappointment is that we were two games away from breaking the all-time record for consecutive victories,” said Kelly.
Outside of football Kelly managed and owned a Frontrunner store in Northlands Shopping Centre until taking up a role as Halswell United’s director of football last year.
Kelly coaches Halswell’s first-team in the Canterbury Championship League and also played a handful of games for the team. However, arthritis in his knee prevented him from being a regular.
“There’s no pain or anything, but if I train and play it flares up . . . I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t train at the level I want to be and therefore won’t be playing any more,” he said.
Halswell were a dominant force in Christchurch in the 1990s and 2000s. However, have slumped in more recent times and were relegated from the MPL in 2016. Kelly believes the club is now putting the right pieces in place to help return to club to Canterbury’s premier competition in the coming years.
Coaching appears to be a path Kelly wants to take further. He is also currently doing a masters in sports management through the Johan Cruyff Institute.