Kristian Gibson hopes to kickstart promising football career in New Zealand

Nelson Suburbs have signed former Glasgow Rangers youth product Kristian Gibson for the Mainland Premier League.
PHILLIP ROLLO/FAIRFAX NZ

Nelson Suburbs have signed former Glasgow Rangers youth product Kristian Gibson for the Mainland Premier League.

It was 1:30am when Kristian Gibson's phone rang.

It was late but he was still awake, and though the accent sounded familiar, the voice at the other end was one he did not recognise.

"It's Ryan Stewart," the man said. He was a football player from Nelson, New Zealand, and was wondering if Gibson would like to join his winter league team, Nelson Suburbs.

Like Gibson, Stewart hailed from Northern Ireland, so there was an immediate connection.

For the 21-year-old who has represented and captained his country at three different age group levels, Stewart's late night phone call could not have come at a more perfect time.

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After four years in the academy system of Scottish giants Rangers, his football career was at a cross road. He was studying at university but did not want to be there.

"It was bizarre," he said of the phone call. "I knew I was going to come over straight away because I was waiting for something like that to get me away again. 

"I said to him 'give me two days to chat to my family' and as soon I said to my mum and my dad they said to me 'you're going.'"

Gibson arrived in Nelson a fortnight ago to begin preseason training ahead of the Mainland Premier League and already he's aiming to put his hand up for Tasman United selection.

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But he knows it will be hard work.

Gibson has been on the brink of professional football, signing a three-year development contract with Rangers.

Though he hails from a small village in Northern Ireland called Donemana, Gibson said he had always been a Rangers supporter. So a chance to be part of their academy in Glasgow was a dream come true for an aspiring football player.

He said he would frequently attend games at Ibrox Stadium and it was watching the Old Firm derby games against Celtic that made him hungrier than ever to achieve his goal.

"You can't even explain it. You have to be there. It's just electric. Everyone is standing. It's just madness," he said.

"It's like in between intimidating and exciting."

Gibson may have never pushed on to the first team but he was still able to experience the fierce rivalry with Celtic in the youth ranks.

He recalls one under-16 final, which his team won on penalties, where 10,000 spectators, including supporters groups of both clubs, were in attendance.

​"It's madness, isn't it?

"It's quite scary at the start, especially for the new boys. But you get used to it and just play within the lines of the pitch."

Gibson earned a one-year extension but saw the writing was on the wall after that, and he was released at the end of the season.

"At that stage you sort of know you're not going to make it. You knew the guys who would stand a chance because at this stage they were looking more at strikers or midfield players, where I was playing right-back, left-back and centre-back.

"I went into the office one day and said 'what's going to happen next year?' because I needed to sort out what's going to happen for me. One manager said he'd keep me on, but the other said they'd have to let me go because they would just be paying me to stay more or less and they didn't have much money at that stage, when they went bust."

Gibson spent a season with Glentoran in the Northern Ireland Football League Premiership following his spell with Gers, and even experienced Europa League action, but he was beginning to wonder what the next chapter would be. That was until Stewart called.

Now in Nelson preparing for Suburbs' season opener away to defending champions Cashmere Technical on Saturday, Gibson said he plans to take football as far as he can in New Zealand and seems motivated to make the most of a fresh start.

"I know I'm good enough it's just finding somebody else that knows as well that I'm going to be valuable to their team.

"I didn't just come to enjoy myself. I've come for the football and I'm hoping to give it a good crack this year."

 - Stuff

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