Former Rangers striker Andy Little on his retirement, injuries and why the sacrifice wasn't worth it in football any more

WHEN the fun stops, stop. The enjoyment had gone, the buzz was no longer there and, deep down, Andy Little knew what decision he had to make. There was relief rather than sadness, though. Football had been weighing Little down, but his retirement from the game aged just 29 lifted the burden from his shoulders and his mind. Little hasn’t fallen out of love with the game, but professional football hasn’t given him that sense of fulfilment for some time. A 13 minute cameo off the bench in a 1-0 defeat to Montrose in November will be his last outing. The effects of a training ground accident that left him with a fractured skull and eye socket two-and-a-half years ago continued to take their toll on Little. He had returned to action with Stirling Albion but his stint with Dumbarton proved to be short-lived, and the final one of his career. “I have been thinking about it for a few years, I suppose,” Little told SportTimes. “After the head injury, April 2017 that happened, I didn’t want to give up at that point. “I thought there was a chance that I could get back playing again and I am glad that I did but I just felt that I wasn’t able to do what I used to be able to do. “I was struggling with headaches every so often, my fitness wasn’t there and I was just lacking sharpness. Mainly, it was frustration. “My body wasn’t capable of doing what it used to be able to do. I have never been a real technical ball player that doesn’t need to run around, my game has always been the physical side of things and I felt like I was missing that. “People maybe think it is a bit premature but, I must say, since I made the decision to retire, I feel brilliant. Mentally, I feel very happy and I am ready to get on with life.” The news that Little had decided to hang up his boots would have caught many by surprise but the Northern Irishman has no regrets as he looks to write the next chapters rather than pondering those that have already been penned. Released from Rangers in May 2014, the Northern Irishman had a two-year stint with Preston North End as he tried to re-establish himself, but recent times have been tougher on and off the park. His move to Stirling came after spells with Blackpool and Accrington Stanley and he struggled to find something to replace the excitement and emotion of life at Ibrox. “I think the enjoyment had gone out of it, definitely,” Little said. “Once you go part-time, you really need to enjoy it. “Sometimes in the professional game you will have really tough weeks or you will be injured for three or four weeks, but it is a sacrifice you think is worth it because you are getting well paid for it. That is your job and you need to accept the downs. “But when it becomes your part-time job and you are doing other things, you really need to be enjoying it. I did feel that the enjoyment had gone. Part-time money is not enough to live off and you need to have another job. “I felt like I hadn’t had the enjoyment – hadn’t scored enough goals, hadn’t played enough games and won enough matches. It has been years since I had those feelings and injuries were the big one to be honest.” The knocks, bumps and bruises are part and parcel of the game but an assortment of ailments had been curtailing Little for some time. The other serious injury – a broken cheekbone and jaw he sustained against Dunfermline – hindered his chances of extending his stay with Rangers as Ally McCoist released him ahead of the upcoming Championship campaign and his career quickly stalled. Every step forward was followed by two back. Eventually, Little couldn’t set off on the road to recovery anymore. “If someone told me now I would be injury free for the majority of the rest of my career I would continue to play,” he said. “But I kind of got fed up of dealing, mentally, with the downs and I was really struggling to cope with the frustrations of injuries. “I felt I needed to make a bigger decision for my life, really, and put myself out of my misery because it wasn’t worthwhile anymore. “It was my girlfriend who would pick me up on it or call me out on it. She would say I was horrible to be around on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday if I had trained poorly or played badly. I wasn’t much fun to be around and I didn’t want to put her through that anymore.” It was around the grounds in the lower echelons of Scottish football where Little enjoyed his most profitable campaign in Light Blue and he netted 25 times as Rangers lifted the Third Division title. That season was the start of ‘The Journey’ for Rangers as they began their climb back to the Premiership . The lure of turning out at that level these days just wasn’t there for Little, though. “You are training Tuesday nights and Thursday nights and not getting a high at the weekend, I was on the bench a lot of the time,” he said. “My body didn’t feel like I could play 90 minutes and I was getting bits of games here and there. “You are travelling the length and breadth of the country, in League One you are playing Peterhead, Arbroath, Montrose, Brechin. And your whole Saturday is taken up. “My last game was Montrose away, which we lost. I phoned Jim Duffy on the Monday morning. “I was at a wedding that day after Montrose and I had to miss the day and go at night with my girlfriend. The amount of sacrifice you make in football, training on Christmas Day, playing on Boxing Day and New Years Day, missing family events. You do make an awful lot of sacrifices and, after 12 years of that sacrifice, I felt like it wasn’t really worth it anymore.” That, then, was that. There are memories and magic moments for Little to recall and reminisce over but no more will be made. His Old Firm goal in 2012 won’t be forgotten by the Ibrox crowd, and neither will his role during Rangers’ troubles. For club and for country, Little has done himself proud. “If you told me at the age of 17 when I signed for Rangers, if you gave me a run down of the things I would achieve and the experiences I would have in professional football, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “That is the truth, I really wouldn’t have believed you. “I achieved far more than I ever expected and I loved every minute of my time at Rangers and Northern Ireland. It was incredible and experiences for me to keep for the rest of my life. “I am proud of all of that, and proud that I didn’t give up when the head injury happened. I had a few specialists that told me to really consider retirement at that point. “But I am glad I didn’t give up and I gave it another go before I felt it was the right time.” *Former Light Blues striker Andy Little is pictured promoting Rangers Pools for the Rangers Youth Development Company. To sign up for Rangers Pools visit http://www.rangerspools.com or download the new app at Apple or Android stores. All profits go towards the upkeep and maintenance of Ibrox Stadium – while profits from their other products are donated to the Rangers Youth Department. For full details on RYDC’s portfolio – Rangers Lotto, Rangers Pools, Rising Stars, Scratchcards, Stadium Bricks and the Youth Members Club – visit http://www.rydc.co.uk or call 0141 427 4914



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