Danny Denholm’s career goals

Published on 7 July 2021

Danny is best known as the left winger of East Fife FC in Scottish League One. To the children of Crossford Primary School, however, he is Mr Denholm, and apparently fair game whenever things go awry on the football field.

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(c) George McLuskie

For all their millions, the likes of Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo feel the pain of defeat as acutely as anyone involved in the beautiful game. What they don’t have to worry about as they troop disconsolately off the park is the inevitable schadenfreude of 11-year-old Fifers, something that Danny Denholm has become accustomed to over the past few years. 

Danny is best known as the left winger of East Fife FC in Scottish League One. To the children of Crossford Primary School, however, he is Mr Denholm, and apparently fair game whenever things go awry on the football field. 

“When I was just starting out in primary schools I was playing for Forfar and got sent off in a game against Hearts. The kids gave me some stick for that one,” recalls Danny. “We also got beat in the play-off final and that was heart-breaking for me. I come in on a Monday and I’m getting gyp from a primary seven.” 

Danny graduated from Dundee with a Primary Education PGDE in 2015 and now splits his time between full-time teaching, part-time football and a burgeoning third career in the media. His acclaimed ‘Lower League Ramblings’ blog and podcast have led to invitations from the likes of the BBC and football magazine Nutmeg, a development that has left Danny’s mother bemused. 

“I was rubbish at English at school, which used to annoy my Mum not least because she’s a librarian,” he explained. “Now she sees me writing a blog and having pieces published elsewhere and shakes her head in disbelief. 

“I’ve been into podcasts for years and it was always something I wanted to do. I love just chatting about football. I like having lots of different things to focus on. It all came about because I was sick of how badly the lower leagues in Scotland were covered. I wanted to give them the respect they deserved. These might be small clubs but the supporters and people involved with them care as passionately as those who follow the biggest teams.” 

Through his blog posts and podcasts, Danny has shone a light on the reality of footballing life away from the multi-millionaires of the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. He has also used the platform to explore serious issues facing players at all levels of the game, such as gambling addiction and mental health problems. In doing so, he is helping to challenge stereotypes about footballers. 

“I hate the snobbery towards footballers and this myth that we’re all thick and can’t behave ourselves. I’m a bit of a rarity in that I went to university, but that’s more to do with the fact most players leave school at 16 to become footballers.” 

Danny was not one of those offered a professional contract in his teenage years and found himself undertaking a Sports Studies degree at the University of Stirling instead. His performances for Forfar Athletic attracted the attention of clubs further up the football pyramid but an unhappy year at Championship side Livingston convinced Danny that full-time football was not for him. 

After working as a school support worker, Danny developed ambitions of becoming a PE teacher before changing direction and applying to study primary education at Dundee. A tough year followed as Danny, now back playing with Forfar, juggled his studies and football, but the course proved a route into a secure and rewarding profession at a time when many of his contemporaries were desperately clinging on to fading footballing dreams.  

2 men playing football
“I was only 17 when I started my first degree and didn’t have much direction but my Dad insisted that I stick the course out as it would open doors for me later and he was right,” said Danny. “After my experiences at Livingston I knew a full-time career in football wasn’t viable and I enjoyed working with children so teaching seemed the obvious route. ”

Danny Denholm

“My postgrad year was really tough but I was more mature the second time around and was prepared to put the hours in. Forfar trained at Kinross so I’d go to lectures during the day then stay in the library at Dundee for hours before going to training on my way home to Edinburgh at night. 

“The way everything has worked out has been ideal for me. Being part-time allows me to play football at a good level while focusing on things outside the game. Outside the top few clubs in Scotland, the financial rewards aren’t great so there’s a fair bit of back-stabbing in full-time football as everyone chases the next short-term contract. The situation I’m in suits me perfectly in terms of my lifestyle.” 

After graduating, Danny took up the post of non-class contact teacher at Crossford only for his headteacher, recognising his strengths and experience in sport, to remodel the role almost exclusively around PE.  

Danny says the football pitch could hardly be more different to the classroom but he has still been able to take lessons from each to apply to the other. 

“The dressing room environment is very different, very brash,” he said. “It’s not a place where people are particularly conscious of others’ feelings, so in that sense it’s the polar opposite to a classroom where respect and support are all important. 

“Becoming a teacher has made me more analytical about football, and training in particular. I’m always thinking about not just what managers and coaches are trying to get across but the ways they are doing it. It’s a nightmare for our assistant manager. I’m always telling him that he shouldn’t be turning his back when he’s delivering instructions and lecturing him about communication! 

“It’s fair to say that my pupils aren’t intimidated by the fact I play for East Fife, but it definitely helps them relate to me. A lot of the naughtier kids are into football so I probably get a bit more respect from them as a result. Aside from playing, I love watching football and can use that as a way to build bridges. It’s a great job. I have definitely landed on my feet getting to do two things I love.

Images courtesy of George McLuskie and Kenny MacKay.

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