Celtic’s Kiwi connection

THE lives of Stalybridge Celtic’s Tony Whitehead and Liam MacDevitt have become entwined both on and off the field.

The pair first became briefly acquainted when MacDevitt had a trial at Irish side Limerick, where Whitehead was an established player.

Liam MacDevitt and Tony Whitehead

Imagine the surprise some time later when MacDevitt went to play in New Zealand for Southern United and unknown to him was picked up from the airport by Whitehead.

The pair were among four to share a house so became friends on and off the field.

And that has continued with Whitehead following MacDevitt to join the Bower Fold club and the pair remain so close they live next door to one another in Monton.

Whitehead said: “When I was asked to pick up Liam from the airport in New Zealand I instantly recognised him from his trial at Limerick, though I did not know his name.

“Four players shared a house and Liam and I were the first two there and we became close during our season at the club.

“Then when I joined Celtic, Liam told me the flat next door to his was available and that is how we came to live close to one another.”

Striker MacDevitt, 24, began his career at Yeovil Town where he was in the youth team followed by 12 months as a professional.

He later played for St Albans Town in the National League, Lewes Town and Gosport Borough while studying for a degree in journalism and English literature through the Professional Footballers’ Association.

MacDevitt worked for the PFA at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he worked as a video journalist.

After completing his studies, MacDevitt fulfilled a further dream by playing overseas for Southern United and Tasman United, both in New Zealand, during a seven-month stay.

Southern had 10 foreign players vying for seven spots and, because of a lack of opportunities, that influenced the move to Tasman United where his team-mates included Paul Ifill, the former Millwall, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace player.

MacDevitt, who can play through the middle or out wide, described the standard of football in New Zealand as comparable to the BetVictor Northern Premier League but a different style as it is possession based.

And looking back, he added: “It was only for one season but the best-ever experience to live and play football in a different country. New Zealand is such a beautiful country.”

The move to Celtic came about when MacDevitt landed a job at the BBC’s MediaCity in Salford working on the new Match of the Day Kickabout programme, a dream job.

He interviewed the England Lionesses before the Women’s World Cup and recently the Tottenham first team and boxer Anthony Joshua, who is a keen Watford fan.

MacDevitt said: “I love working on the programme which is the best-ever job apart from being a professional footballer.

“It is great to still being involved in football.”

MacDevitt spoke to Celtic manager Simon Haworth and joined up with the team pre-season before signing permanently.

Irish midfielder Whitehead, 23, spent six-and-a-half years at Limerick playing in the League of Ireland, premier and first divisions, before moving to Southern United in the city of Dunedin which is at the bottom of New Zealand’s south island.

He played in 16 of their 18 league games and described it as an “unbelievable” experience.
Whitehead said: “We would have five or six training sessions and one match each week so were effectively professionals in a semi-pro league.

“It was a different football culture and playing everything on the floor and playing out from the back.”

Dunedin is a massive rugby city and Whitehead got to play four of Southern United’s league games in their 27,000 capacity stadium which had a permanently closed roof.

“We had a crowd of 2,000 at one game while at our normal home ground we would average between 300 and 400.

“It was a great lifestyle and after training I would spend time on the beach. It was about as far south as you can get in New Zealand and the next place is Antarctica.”

Whitehead’s move to Celtic came about through MacDevitt and also Celtic manager Simon Haworth’s connection with Coventry City.

“The gaffer was looking for a midfield player and Liam mentioned me to Simon who also spoke to his former Coventry team-mate Willie Boland who was my manager at Limerick,” he said.

Apart from playing semi-pro for Celtic, Whitehead recently began a job with Little Sport Coaching delivering PE lessons and after-schools coaching to children aged between 18 months and 18 years.

Whitehead added he would like to play as high as possible explaining he is using his first season in England to find his level.

Of his time at Limerick, Whitehead described playing for 20 minutes against Manchester City as a 16-year-old in a pre-season friendly as a highlight.

“City’s side included Edin Dzeko and I ended up marking James Milner which was not easy,” he explained.

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