Stuart McKinstry: Leaving the club he loved, family sacrifices and one happy uncle.

Successful Leeds United sides normally have a number of Scottish players, from your Billy Bremner, to your Eddie Gray and more recently, your Robert Snodgrass, they seem to just click. Current Leeds captain Liam Cooper also plays for Scotland, qualifying through family members, although he was born in Hull. A young lad by the name of Stuart McKinstry, from Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the many Scottish greats that have played for the club. Stuart who grew up as a Motherwell fan alongside his sister, mum and dad, signed for the club at the age of just ten. All of his family were Motherwell season ticket holders, with Stuart’s first time watching the club he grew up supporting coming at just sixteen months old, before later going on to being a mascot at the club’s only champions league game when he was eight. Stuart’s mum Karen described how proud they were when he earned his first professional contract. “It was a huge honour for the family when he was asked to sign a professional contract at fifteen and fantastic when he made the bench for the first team against Kilmarnock”. Stuart from a young age has had a ball at his feet and his mum believes that it was always the chosen path for him, saying “many believed from a young age that Stuart would definitely go onto become a professional footballer”. His dad John briefly played for Motherwell when he was sixteen for two years but didn’t enjoy the experience, and so, gave up football for a while.

The McKinstry’s are a close family so you can imagine when the call came that Leeds United were interested, there were mixed feelings. Stuart who is now seventeen, was aged only sixteen at the time, so a move down to England on his own was never an option. Karen recalls making the tough decision alongside John, that both him and Stuart would make the move down to live in Leeds while she and his sister Lauren would stay in Scotland saying “we as a family have made a lot of sacrifices over the years for both of our kids but my husband moving to Wetherby to support Stuart has been the biggest sacrifice to date”. Karen has no regrets and is happy with their decision despite her missing them both. It wasn’t just a hard decision for the family but for Stuart himself, but he’s pleased that he decided to join Leeds. Stuart said “it was the hardest decision of my life but it has been a positive one, there have been ups and downs but I’m loving it”. Growing up as a Motherwell fan and the signing for the club for the club he loves, making that decision to leave, just shows the level of ambition he has. Not only has he had to adapt to life away from Scotland and away from most of his family, but he has also had to adapt to English football. Scotland gets a bad rep for being a physical league that doesn’t have much technical ability but Stuart doesn’t think this is case and feels like he’s adapted well to football south of the boarder, saying “‘It wasn’t hard for me to adjust if I’m being honest, there’s just more athletes in England compared to Scotland”. He did however admit that although there isn’t much difference in the standard of football, it was strange to not know many people where he lives having being only a ten minute drive away from his family in Scotland. 

Stuart signing for Motherwell just after his 10th birthday with the academy director Gordon Young (Photo via Karen McKinstry) 

When he signed his first professional deal he was happy at Motherwell and had no intention of leaving. However after performing well for the youth sides, training with the first team and being part of the first team squad at just sixteen, interest levels were always going to be high. We know that director of football Victor Orta has a large scouting network that focuses on scouting young players that have potential. His first team signings have been questionable and inconsistent however at youth team level, they’ve been relatively good. There were a number of teams that watched Stuart but when the call came from Leeds, it was hard to turn it down “ when Stuart went down to chat with Leeds he had no intention of leaving Motherwell but was blown away with the club and the opportunity was too big to not consider” Karen said. One member of the family that was very excited when Stuart signed for Leeds was his uncle Alex. Leeds have a good fanbase in Scotland and Alex, the only member of the family that supports Leeds, says that he “can’t wait for the day he breaks into the first team, there won’t be a prouder uncle”. Stuart, who is enjoying his football at the moment playing for both the under 23’s and under 18’s, has the dream of making his first team debut in the near future. Having trained with the first team on several occasions, Stuart described it as an “incredible standard”. Most young footballers have a role model or a player that they look up to to base their game on, but not Stuart. He likes to focus on himself and believes that everyone is different. 

For those those who don’t know much about his playing style, I’d describe him as being sharp across short distances, with two great feet and brilliant dribbling ability making up for his lack of strength. However, do not be fooled by his slight build, he’s more than happy to put himself about, as Manchester United’s Hannibal Mejbri found out on Wednesday night in the FA Youth Cup, leaving him on the deck. Below is an example from that game against Manchester United of his ability to pass using his weaker foot. Cutting back inside onto his left, Stuart played a brilliant cross into the back post that nearly resulted in a goal.

Playing mainly from the right wing but more than comfortable on the left or as a number ten, Stuart stands out on the ball. He receives the ball and the first thing on his mind is to turn, square up his opponent before looking to beat him with his quick feet. Even when he fails to do so, he doesn’t let this affect him. Of course with more experience and training with the level of players he does, he will improve on when its the right time to look to beat his man or whether to pass and move. At only 17 Stuart still has a long way to go and is only at the start of his professional career but if he can keep his focus and keep working hard, there is no reason why he can’t be a success. There will be ups and downs but its sounds like he has a great family and support network to ensure he gets the best chance of making it at Leeds United. 

Written by Thomas Wilson

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