In his tantalising late cameo as a substitute against Brackley FC, “Speedy” McLean looked like the fastest player to don a Hereford FC shirt since Sid (Sirdic Grant) in Midland League days. Sadly, as Ryan was Trophy Cup-tied, those 20 minutes or so is all we’ll get to see until August.
Ryan Mclean (21) was educated at the Thomas Telford school in Shropshire. The school has extensive sports facilities and dozens of their students are with the Academies of local professional clubs. Ryan worked with the Shrewsbury Town Academy from his early teenage years. But for whatever reason, he wasn’t taken on as a professional.
Little Step 6 club Allscott FC was his first go at men’s football. He stood out quickly, securing 7 Man of the match awards. The village club were never going to retain his services for long and in December 2018, he moved up to Market Drayton FC. The gingerbread men are the Blyth Spartans of Step 4 (albeit without the glorious history). They remain perennial strugglers and aspiring ‘ballers normally swerve away. Understandably, the club was thrilled. “A real find of the season” their programme enthused. “Possesses genuine pace playing as a wide man or wing back.” Ryan was nominated as one of the twelve most exciting players in the Northern League.
After a fixture against Newcastle Town when Ryan “caused loads of problems”, ‘Castle manager Robin van der Laan made an approach for the striker, with the promise of making him a better player and putting him in the shop window. Also handily for the former Shrews trainee, his Newcastle team captain is MD of a sports coaching programme company and was able to offer Ryan some ad hoc coaching work. Another reason to be grateful to Newcastle.
McLean remained “raw” according to his Dutch Gaffer, which again indicates that his Academy education was incomplete. At Town, he learnt more about the science of running football. How and when to run. About timing and how to stay onside. In a truncated 19/20 term, young Ryan repaid the time invested in him by scoring 15 times, playing on either wing or sometimes as a central striker.
With a long-playing career for Vale, Barnsley and Derby plus a coaching role for Manchester United (who Ryan supports), Van der Laan knew people in the game. Consequently, the speedy striker was invited to train with Port Vale, Stoke City and Salford City while other clubs sniffed with interest. None of them could offer anything immediately in these cash-strapped days and he was probably advised to “keep learning, keep scoring and we’ll bear you in mind.” Moving up from Step 4 to the professional game is a big leap. The young striker was convinced his performances weren’t too far from the standards required. And carried on finding the net, zooming in from wide. In Newcastle’s apology for a 20-21 season, Ryan scored 9 goals in ten games, outscoring Joey Butlin’s own impressive net-finding record at Chasetown FC. The two clubs met in September, obviously unaware that circumstances would see the club’s top scorers briefly become team-mates. Two of those ten games were Trophy matches which blocked further opportunities in a Hereford shirt.
Said our Boss to the Hereford FC site, post Brackley “Ryan has come in from two leagues below, but we think we can develop him and push him forward and I really think we’ve got a real good player on our hands.”
In truth, without Covid, Hereford would have a more settled squad and thus could not consider other players with potential. But now we have, I’d so like to see more. Precious few players at any level have caught my eye from my settee over the last twelve months. But the Road Runner did. “Who the heck is that?” I shrieked from my couch as the Bulls’ temporary no 9 zoomed past startled Brackley defenders, who probably did some shrieking of their own. Direct players who take on opponents, beat them and score are rare indeed. And are in demand.
The point Hereford FC need to emphasise again and again is that we can offer a realistic stepping-stone to progression, rather than trying to jump the wide river to the full-time bank at one go. At 21, Ryan is still very young. If he can prove himself at Edgar Street in a very competitive League, his credibility and attraction will rise quickly. Maintain the same standard, score goals on video and by January, full time clubs will be making offers.
The argument flies in the face of my own wish for more continuity at the Street and less turnover but sometimes needs must.