Calum Ferguson

_83867864_fergusonCalum Ferguson is a 20 year old forward who joined Inverness Caledonian Thistle of the Scottish Premiership, after a decade in their youth system, earlier this year and earned a Scottish Cup medal in doing so. The son of a Canadian, Calum has represented Canada at various youth levels in tournaments including Torneo COTIF, the Milk Cup and the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. I spoke him about the Scottish-Canadian connection, Canada’s current crop of young players and playing for the team you rooted for as a kid.

SSPC: Aside from your mother being born in Canada, what’s your connection to Canada like and is it strange to play for Canada rather than Scotland?

CF: My family has a strong connection to Canada going back a while. My mum’s family originate from Scotland but like so many they emigrated to Canada and stayed there. I have lots of relatives that still live in Canada and come over to visit. My grandparents met and married in Canada and I grew up hearing all the stories. Yes I was born and raised in Scotland but Canada is part of my life and gave me my chance.

SSPC: From what I’ve read you discovered you were eligible to play for Canada by accident. When you found out how did you feel about it?

CF: My mum is a Canadian citizen and I was always aware of the connection but it only became real when I was playing under 17s with Inverness and got in contact with Rob Gale. Rob advised me to apply for Canadian citizenship and get back in touch. Interest died off for a while then I signed a professional contract at Inverness and later got on the bench for the 1st team at 18, my citizenship came through not long after and Rob called me in.

SSPC: You’ve recently cracked the Inverness senior team after being part of their youth program for about a decade and on top of that you’re Inverness born and bred. For your typical Canadian athlete (in any sport), that’s something they will likely never experience thanks to drafting. When you made you made your first appearance was it a dream come true?

CF: I’m born and bred in Inverness and have supported the club since I was a child. So yeah it was always my childhood dream to be a 1st team player and coming up through the youth set up was an exciting journey. From the age of 10 you are playing against the top youngsters in Scotland, the likes of Celtic and rangers and travelling abroad to youth tournaments, so it’s a unique set up that helps ease the transition into a professional or international set up. Coming on for my début was something I’ve dreamt of and will never forget, but you can’t dwell on that. The next step is starting games regularly and scoring goals.

SSPC: What’s your impression of the MLS?

CF: I follow the MLS closely and it’s great to see my friends from the National team breaking in and the likes of Kianz and Larin scoring goals. It’s a very different set up from in Europe but I think the introduction of 2nd teams in the USL will help the step up from residency programmes to the 1st team and hopefully see more young Canadians taking their chance in the MLS.

SSPC: With the U20 team you’ve taken part in some big tournaments, played some solid teams and travelled quiet a bit. Any experiences stand out?

CF: The national side has taken me around the world with lots of highs and lows. But my first involvement with the team at the Cotif tournament in Spain stands out. Making my début against Japan, then scoring my first goal for Canada against Belarus with my family at the game was a special moment and I will never forget it!

SSPC: What’s the biggest difference you’ve found between playing along side and against Scottish youth players and playing with and against CONCACAF youth?

CF: In Scotland the game is very direct and can turn into a physical battle, but CONCACAF opposition is a totally different battle. They will give anything to win scrap, nip, hit, kick whatever it takes and it makes it difficult for us to focus and play our passing game, but it is something we are used to by now Callum+Ferguson+Brora+Rangers+v+Inverness+B2YfYkPesRqland have to learn to handle in the right manner.

SSPC: Having played with guys like Cyle Larin, Jordan Hamilton and Michael Petrasso are you excited to be apart of the future of the Canadian program?

CF: Yeah there is some gifted players coming up through the Canadian system and we had a very talent age group. We proved how good we were as a group beating and competing against some of the top teams in the world, however we underperformed and let ourselves down in World Cup qualifiers. You see the likes of Cyle Larin scoring and playing for the senior team and it sets the bar for the rest of us to rise to. Everyone wants a taste of it and the future of Canadian soccer is bright.

SSPC: There’s a long history between Canadian Men’s program and professional soccer in Scotland, long time Inverness player Richard Hastings for example capped 59 times for Canada, and recently yourself, Dylan Carreiro, Fraser Aird, Luca Gasparotto and maybe even Scott Arfield appear to be kind of on the verge of rebooting that relationship. Is the fact that there’s this history add a level of pride to being part of the program and give you a greater sense of responsibility?

CF: Yeah there is a connection between the two countries which goes back a long way and is reflected e7dece014d229c17b6e8b3df42123487also in soccer. I grew up watching Richard Hasting playing at Inverness and what he achieved winning the Gold Cup and scoring along the way is something to look up to. Richard is still involved with the club’s youth program and it’s good to get advice from him because he’s been there and done it all. Yeah I’m proud to have the opportunity to keep the connection alive and hopefully follow in the footsteps of some great players. Having Dylan and Luca in Scotland keeps us in touch and pushing each other to do well at club level and go on to earn the right to represent Canada.

You can follow Calum on twitter at @calum_ferg12  and instagram @calumfergg

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Matt Lam

Matt Lam is a former Canadian U20 player currently making waves with Hong Kong 220px-Matthew_Lampowerhouse Kitchee. A product of legendary Ajax Academy, the Edmonton native has played in the NASL (with FC Edmonton), Japan’s second division and Croatia’s first division prior to arriving in Hong Kong, where he’s hoisted 6 trophies including 2 league titles in 3 seasons. At only 25, he’s seen more success and darkness than most players do in their careers. We spoke to him about playing in Asia, corruption in soccer and the questions of which team to represent.

SSPC: Most Canadian soccer fans (myself included) don’t really know that much about the game over in Asia (eg. crowds, quality of play, fields, ect.). What’s it like playing there compared to North America and Europe?

Matt Lam: Playing over in Hong Kong has been a unique experience. With all the teams in the league coming out of one city clubs fight for everything, supporters, stadium rights, sponsors. It has positives and negatives with everything. There are a number of quality stadiums mixed with a few mediocre ones, since everyone of course wants the best stadiums to be their home grounds it is decided on the previous years placement who gets first pick on a few of the better stadiums. It is very different from playing here than Europe and North America. I also played in NASL when it was still at its very early stage so it would be tough for me to compare it now. The Hong Kong league has been around for an extremely long time so it has that bit of history behind it similar to Europe but, I don’t think you can compare most places to the European atmospheres for football.

SSPC: What motivated you to play in Hong Kong rather than try and find a place to play elsewhere in the NASL, Asia or Europe when you departed Edmonton?

ML: After my time with FC Edmonton I had an offer from the rival club of Kitchee actually. I think they knew of me a bit from playing in Japan. I was interested and also because of my personal connection to the city. My dad is from Hong Kong and I saw an opportunity to possibly get my Asian passport. Unfortunately due to some complex immigration laws I was unable to get that but I found my way to Kitchee and was very happy that I made that decision. The club in the last 8-10 years has developed itself as one of the power houses in Hong Kong and in the AFC cup of Asia. A club that tries it’s best to mimic the ways of Barcelona. A number of coaches have come and gone now in the last few years and all were Spanish including the current manager. The club has just recently moved into its fantastic new training facilities and has a lot of big goals and aspirations. I have had a lot of personal and team success here in the last couple years and I hope that continues.

SSPC: What do you think of Hong Kong Premier League’s short season? Does it leave you wanting more?

ML: When you see the number of teams in the league you would imagine the season is 12066_10153064568180537_249974635_n-300x230very short. We actually match many of the European leagues for schedules. The League isn’t very long but there are a number of cups to fight for which really fills up the schedule. Preseason included we run from Mid July to end of May. This season apart from the League we have 5 cups to fight for not including the AFC cup. We definitely get the games in by the end of the season.

SSPC: You mentioned your father being from Hong Kong, do you see yourself playing for Canada or Hong Kong in the future?

ML: Had I been able to get my Hong Kong passport things may be different. Here in Hong Kong they were doing as much as they could to help me get my passport so that I could play for the Hong Kong team. It was nice to see how much they would have liked for me to put on that kit along with all the fans. It will be sometime now for that to be possible for me. I have said though, that if Canada came calling I wouldn’t say no. I would love to have the opportunity to represent my country. To me Canada is home and I would love to be a part of the national team setup again.

SSPC: Your first professional experience was with Croatia Sesvete in 2009-10 when the team found itself at the centre of a match-fixing scandal. How did that event impact you? Did it change the way you look at the game? Did it make you more cautious?

ML: Yes, that was quite the experience that I had. At a young age I had an opportunity to be playing in the top league in Croatia, the opportunity to play against some big clubs that compete at the highest levels in Europe. I was very excited to see where that could lead. Unfortunately, things went wrong very quickly. I had been there for a few months and was starting to earn my place in the core squad. A few days after my first substitute appearance was when the president decided that no one was getting paid anymore. It was a terrible period, one that finally led me to break off my contract with them and return home, after my landlord came to my door telling me that the club had also stopped paying the rent for my apartment of course. To be honest though, maybe I was just a naive Canadian player but I never really noticed anything suspicious about match fixing at the time. Thinking back on it now I remember some strange things happening that obviously had to do with that stuff. I’m thankful that I got out of there in a hurry though before I myself may have been impacted more by the huge match fixing scandal that took place. If I’m not mistaken there were a handful of players that went to jail for their involvement. I could talk for days about my time in Croatia for sure. It was a bad experience but I learned a lot from it and definitely have been much more cautious about everything to do with my career since.

SSPC: Do you keep up with any of the developments in Canada at both the club and national team unnamedlevels?

ML: I try to follow up as much as I can from the Canadian team and the North American leagues. With the time change its pretty tough to watch any of the games live but I’m always checking the results.

SSPC: Prior to Ajax and Sheffield United’s academies, what kind of training did you have growing up in Edmonton?

ML: The real foundations of my game came from my dad. He was the one who made sure developing good technique and understanding of the game were most important. My brother and I and my sister also (I forgot to mention her one time and never heard the end of it) would go out   to the neighbourhood field for hours working on different skills, challenging each other and my dad was always Matt+Lam+FC+Edmonton+v+Vancouver+Whitecaps+KMBLu8UrDRflthere to help and push us. Later I played the bulk of my youth soccer with the Edmonton Juventus Club where I had a couple great coaches who all had a hand in developing me as a player. We had a a great group of players, a few of the guys from the team are some of my closest friends.

SSPC: Figure I might as well ask, what happened between you and FC Edmonton?

ML: It was unfortunate that my time was cut short and my last season with the club didn’t go the way anyone really wanted it to. However, to be honest, it led me to a really great opportunity over here in Hong Kong and kind of gave me the push to make the move so I try to focus on that side of it. I would prefer to not go into too much detail about what happened between me and the club. What I can say is that I have been in touch with one of the coaches who reconciled with me and I am grateful for that. I don’t hold anything against anyone at the club at all – It’s my hometown and nobody wants to see FC Edmonton succeed more than the hometown players.

SSPC: What do you think could be done to improve the development system in Canada?

ML: In my opinion the development system in Canada has a very long way to go if we want to achieve sustained success at the highest level. I think where we need to start is developing quality coaches at the grassroots level, where the focus is on technique and allowing kids to be creative. There is too much focus on winning and losing and at the early stages none of that should matter. What’s important is giving kids the tools to build off of and become their own creative players and developing an understanding about the game. There is such a focus on winning and losing which has led to years of Canada developing big, strong and fast players for immediate success at the youth levels, but as we can see when you get to the highest level you can no longer depend on size and speed to win games. I am very lucky to have a dad that was always putting the focus on skill and technique and no doubt is the reason I am where I am today.

You can follow Matt on Instagram at @mattolam

Jamar Dixon

Jamar Dixon is a 26 year old midfielder currjamar-profileently playing in Veikkausliiga with FF Jaro. A product of St. Francis Xavier and the Victoria Higlanders, Dixon has been working his way up the ladder since 2013 when he joined BW 90 IF in Sweden’s fourth division and is now earning regular minutes in Finland’s top flight. This season he’s appeared a total of 24 times with Jaro, in Veikkausliiga and cup play, and found the back of the net twice. We caught up with him on Skype, prior to his game against KTP, to talk about his development, Finland, the MLS and the possible Canadian league.

SSPC: I wanna make sure I have your time line correct. You’re a product of St. Francis Xavier’s men’s program, first pro experience was in Sweden’s 4th tier followed by finland’s 3rd. Correct?

Jamar Dixon: Yes that’s correct I had to take a different route after Sweden because my club was causing contract issues for me. I was on trials with Orebro in the Swedish Allsvenkan top flight but due to contract issues my agents and I decided to make the move to Finland because I was getting offers plus I need to get away and start fresh.

SSPC: Did you find playing at St. Francis Xavier and training with Victoria prepared you for pro play in Europe or did the lower levels give you a better idea of what to expect?

JD: STFX was a great experience and it did push me further. From STFX I went to Victoria dixon_jamar00.html_eydl0Highlanders and that was amazing. That club was run so professionally. I admired everything about that club. That club really pushed me and showed me a clear vision that I could make it at a professional level in Europe.

SSPC: How’s Finland’s top flight? Was it solely the job offer that brought you to it?

JD: Finland top flight is good league. Lots of talented players. And no it wasn’t just a job offer. I wanted to further my career and this was a great opportunity.

SSPC: Have any interest from MLS?

11418997_1450719735245904_1052296872_nJD: Nothing concrete but anything c an happen in football. I leave that stuff to my agents. I would love to get a chance to play in the MLS it’s great league and it’s growing every year.

SSPC: Just curious, there’s been a lot of talk about a possible launch of a Canadian league in 2017. Have you heard anything about it and is it something that would interest you or would you prefer to stay with a more established league?

JD: I haven’t heard nothing about that but that would be excellent for Canadian football. And I don’t know if I want to come back now I still want to push for higher levels in Europe because I know what I need to do out here and I just need to stay focus and positive.

SSPC: Any national team interest?

JD: I’ve been in contact but nothing concrete. I would love to get chance to play for the national team but I need to focus on club football then all that will come into play. It’s in Gods hands.

SSPC: How is Finland (life-style wise)? A big shift from Canada?

JD: No it’s great. It’s similar to Canada in many ways. Lots of beautiful nature and stuff like that. The only difficult thing is the language but everyone speaks or tries to speak English so it’s all good.

SSPC: Ever talk with the other Canadians playing over there?index4

JD: Yeah I have my good friend Andrew Gray out here as well he plays for FC Haka.

SSPC: So what’s next for you? Planning any big moves in the off season?

JD: Hahaha only time will tell my friend, I’m going to stay humble and continue to work hard. Anything is possible after that.

You can follow Jamar on Instagram at @jamar.dixon