Ryan Nelson: From non-league to Norway

Ryan Nelson was returning for his second season in Norwegian football when he found out he would be joined by two more Englishmen for the 2018 campaign.

“Dom [McGiveron] and Kyle [Spence] are two of the nicest lads I’ve come across in my time playing football,” he says. “They are both professional on and off the pitch and I feel we get on really well, which is a big bonus.”

Having already established himself in the midfield of fourth-tier side Valdres in 2017, the 20-year-old welcomed the addition of his two compatriots as they looked to improve on their 8th place finish the previous season.

Valdres have made a solid start to this season, having reached the second round of the Norwegian Cup for the first time since 2012 and the side currently sit sixth in the table.

“We had a very strong start to the season and are looking to take every game as it comes,” says Nelson. “One of the goals from the club was to get through to the first round of the Norwegian Cup and we smashed that. We are playing well and gelling together really good.

“Ole Angers, the coach, is always pushing us to our limits which is a very good thing, hopefully we have a really strong season together.”

Nelson, a midfielder from Durham, joined Valdres last year after a call from a football agency. He remembers the call fondly.

“It was on a Friday night, I think I was at home at the time and Neil Saxton (from the agency) rang me and said to me there might be a offer for me to go abroad to Norway.

“After being home for nearly three months, there was no doubt in my mind
that I could turn it down, however I only had ’till the Tuesday to decide because of the transfer deadline over in Norway.

“Normally you’d get maybe one to two weeks to think about the decision so I sat down with my mum and rang my father. They both said the exact same thing that was going through my head, that it was a great opportunity to go and showcase myself even though they’d miss me.”

After agreeing to the deal, the 20-year-old was pleasantly surprised on his arrival in Fagernes, the small town 200km inland from Olso where Valdres are based.

“It’s absolutely amazing here. It’s such a beautiful place, I’d never heard of it until I came over so I was very shocked.”

However it wasn’t the first team Nelson had made the move from home. When he was only 17, he joined Scottish Championship side Queen of the South who are managed by former Scotland international Gary Naysmith. It was another call from an agency which set it all off as he left his side at the time behind to make the step-up to professional football.

“I was playing at Shildon and had been involved with the first team a tiny bit. I was playing good and playing in various positions and I had just finished
a week trial at Middlesbrough with the under-18s.

“I received a phone call from Craig at the agency and they told me I had an opportunity to go play professionally and after this I never looked back and took the chance with both hands.”

After impressing for Queens’ under-20 side, scoring 14 goals in 29 games, the midfielder earned a call-up to the first team but despite playing in several pre-season friendlies and appearing eight times on the bench for Naysmith’s senior team, he never got the chance to make his debut, something which disappointed the former Shildon man.

“Once Gary Naismith took over, I feel that he gave me a lot of respect,” he recalls. “Gary always used to come watch the U20s games so you were always under the spotlight and then I got given the chance to play in the first team pre-season games and I thought I did quite well.

“I then appeared multiple times on the bench but the games were tough, the results were close. Maybe I was just unlucky.”

Nelson then returned home and admits returning to the professional game was all that was on his mind and the two-year contract he signed in Valdres was testament to his commitment whilst returning to the amateur game.

“It’s quite a tough task mentally to go from training every day, to only training twice a week and playing on the weekend.

“After a month or two I knew that all I wanted was to go back to playing pro. Nothing else was on my mind, I kept my head down and done my thing to try and prove to myself that it wasn’t over just yet.”

When he made the move to Norway, the 20-year-old realised that although he may not have got to make his senior debut in Scotland, he did learn a lot off the pitch.

“Moving away gave me a lot to learn and it makes you realise at a young age what living on your own is all about.

“Not having my mam to make tea and do my washing was a big miss but doing everything myself has taught me a lot especially only being so young!”

His time in Scotland also saw him improve on the physical side of his game, so much so that he has picked up ten yellows and two red cards during his time in Norway so far.

“To be honest with me being quite a small player in Scotland at first,
I was getting smashed every game and I learnt from that that nobody is just going to open the door and let you straight in so I toughened up.

“The game is totally different in the two countries; I was getting cards for fouls which, in my opinion, I had to make. One of the red cards last year came from immaturity from me personally, losing my head – but I was young and you learn from your mistakes.

“Hopefully this year I can keep the tally quite low but I’ve got to say, I do love a good tackle!”

Despite the on field differences compared to home, Nelson has no regrets when it comes to his decision to take his football overseas. The midfielder himself is now a great advocate of the route, now that he has made the move himself.

“I would 100% recommend a move abroad,” he says. “It’ a great opportunity to get first team football.

“With the English leagues dominating the world of football, it’s difficult to get that opportunity to show yourself and going abroad for me has been amazing. I’ve improved surreal amounts as a footballer and as a person, it matures you.

“It gives you the experience that you may never get back home at England. My advice would be if you get the chance to play abroad, I would not turn it down.”

With the discussion about his time abroad so far coming to an end, the topic becomes more reflective as Nelson discusses the best players he has ever shared a pitch with and there is no hesitation as his thoughts turn back to his time playing in the UK.

“The best player I’ve played with has got to be Steven Dobbie at Queen of the South, he used to do things that I’ve never seen before! He could turn a dead opportunity into a goal.

“The best player I have played against was when I was on trial at Middlesbrough and I faced Angel Gomes from Manchester United. What an absolute talent he is. Playing first team football with United at such a young age is just phenomenal.”

After I completed writing this interview, Valdres have just slipped up in the league but if there is one thing you can guarantee, it is that they will come back stronger, challenging for the title until the very last game, if Nelson has anything to do with it. His fighting spirit has got him a professional deal abroad so far and you wouldn’t bet against that spirit guiding his side to promotion this year.

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