Lewis Anderson spent time chatting to East Stirlingshire’s newest recruit Fraser Neave on how a positive attitude and hard work pays off. Here, he discusses his hairdressing career involving the Scotland Rugby team, time at Hibs as a youngster, working under Garry O’Connor at Selkirk and how his move to Shire came about…
The phrase a ‘jack of all trades’ is often used to describe someone who is skilled in several different areas – and in Fraser Neave’s case you couldn’t be closer to the truth.
Business has been booming for East Stirlingshire’s newest recruit at his Boombarbers store, located in Edinburgh’s West End. The hairdressing company, who boast seven award winning salons across the capital, is where Neave plies his trade outside of football.
On the pitch, it hasn’t been plain sailing. Far from it, in fact.
The attacking midfielder has had to endure injury setbacks, manager knock backs and the harsh reality of finding himself in every footballer’s worst predicament – the scrapheap – in recent years.
However, this vibrant character has a certain steeliness about him that many others do not. He won’t, for a moment, dwell on the past and has never allowed his head to drop even through the toughest of times.
As a result of his tremendous never-say-die attitude, Neave was recently rewarded with a contract he earned through sheer persistence and hard work.
The former Selkirk and Gala Fairydean Rovers ace explained: “It was very tough being out in the footballing wilderness while the season had already begun.
“I’ve always wanted to test myself at the highest level possible, so I was eager to try and join another team in the Lowland League.
“I’ve enjoyed playing in this league for a number of years now and was fortunate enough to receive a couple of offers from pals I know well at other teams in the division.
“It was just a case of getting in somewhere to keep my fitness levels up and start enjoying my football again, so I went in to Broxburn Athletic for a few weeks before the offer to train with East Stirlingshire came about through a mate of mine called Adam Murray.
“They train the same nights as Broxburn do, but I was keen to pursue the move and when I travelled through for my first session and met the manager, everyone made me feel very welcome.
“The facilities the club is using at the Falkirk Stadium are brilliant and that reassured me this was the place I wanted to be.
“I got my head down and worked as hard as I could, and it was great to be offered contract by Derek (Ure) in the end.
“I’m still getting used to various things, but his training has been very good, and I’m led to believe he’s been at the club for a long period of time.
“He likes to involve himself in training as much as possible and his passion really comes across, so hopefully this will be the start of an exciting chapter.”
Playing at the 8,000-seater ground is certainly a far cry to the days of lining up at venues such as Yarrow Park and Netherdale.
Neave ended up becoming a hairdresser by chance.
He began his career with Roseburn Colts, playing alongside former Hibs and Hearts stars Jordon Forster (Cheltenham) and Jamie Walker (Wigan Athletic) at under-7s level.
A few years later, the 25-year-old landed a dream move to Hibernian where he spent three seasons playing at pro-youth level.
However, a full-time contract never transpired, and Neave was forced to return to high school for a year, which is how he eventually stumbled into hairdressing.
He stated: “Sadly things never worked out at Hibs and that’s how my hairdressing career started.
“I went back to school not really knowing what I wanted to do, but I always missed football because at Hibs it was pretty hands-on; you were training around three times a week including games at the weekend.
“Going from that to not playing at all was a massive change. My hairdressing meant I had to work every Saturday so that interrupted things and I went about three years without playing football.
“I played for Bonnyrigg’s under-21 side occasionally during the week before deciding to move job and go self-employed.
“That allowed me to take Saturdays off, which is when I first got involved with Selkirk in the Lowland League.”
Neave joined the Souters in August 2015 under boss Steve Forrest before going on to work under two other managers over a two-year spell.
One of those faces was Garry O’Connor, who Neave already knew well from his Easter Road days.
He admitted: “Myself and Garry were pretty close. I met him at Hibs when he was obviously one of the first-team players.
“When Steve left, Garry was given the Selkirk job and the ambition he had for the club made me want to stay there. Unfortunately, after a few months things never worked out the way he had imagined but I liked his philosophy as a manager.
“He seemed to rate me as a player – I was playing week-in-week-out under him and you could tell he’d learned a lot from the manager’s he worked under during his career.
“His drills varied every week which was really enjoyable. He probably just never got the full backing from the club he was looking for. I think that’s what prevented us from pushing on that year because we struggled towards the bottom of the table. It wasn’t until Ian Fergus came in when things started to change for the better and we managed to survive relegation.”
Fergus transformed the tiny Borders club from Lowland League strugglers into top-of-the-table contenders.
However, Neave admits he was unable to sample the feel-good factor Fergus had created due to a re-occurring knee injury.
He said: “Frustratingly, I never played as much under Ian as I would’ve liked because I had issues with my knees, but he was a complete game-changer.
“The group of guys he had assembled at Selkirk were very, very good players and I can hands down say his training is one of the best I’ve had. It was phenomenal. He’s got a UEFA coaching badge and has coached all over the world.
“We both mutually agreed to go our separate ways to allow me to get myself back fully fit and playing again. I loved my time at Selkirk; it was a wonderful wee club and a real shame to see them go bust.”
A move to nearby neighbours Gala Fairydean Rovers in October 2017 followed, but after an enjoyable run in the side, things quickly turned sour.
He reflected: “Steven Noble got me involved there. He knew I had left Selkirk and got on the phone stating he was keen to get me signed up.
“Luckily, it seemed every time I came up against Gala with Selkirk, I always performed well, so he was already familiar with me to a certain extent!
“That was when I suffered with tendonitis in my knee. I injured my right knee at Selkirk then my left knee went shortly after signing.
“Mentally it was soul-destroying. After the first knee gave way it wasn’t too bad, but after spending so much time in rehab in the gym for the other knee to then go was pretty tough.
“I had kept in touch with some of the physios at Hibs, so I went back to see them once a week and if it wasn’t for their help I probably would’ve gave up playing. I wouldn’t say the injuries have ever held me back as I’ve always been determined to get back playing, but there’s always a little doubt in the back of your mind that it could happen again.
“I think when Dean Shanks came in, he wanted to do things his own way and he brought in his own players that he already trusted.
“There was a big player-turnover and there were no hard feelings when he said he couldn’t guarantee me game time, so I never really got a fair chance under him.”
Now with East Stirlingshire, Neave is looking forward to the future after making his debut in the black & white stripes slightly earlier than anticipated.
He beamed: “Transition wise, it’s been excellent. Of course, it’s a massive change from my time at Selkirk and Gala because they’re more rugby orientated towns.
“There were times when I thought to myself Borders clubs perhaps don’t take the football side of things as seriously as they should.
“Whereas this is the first club I’ve been involved with where you can clearly see how much it means to the boys here.
“The minute I walked in to the dressing room, every single player introduced themselves and it’s very rare that you get that at a new club.
“It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been the so-called ‘newbie’ of a team and I was pretty nervous going into that environment.
“There is a freshness and a more professional feel about the place. We’ve got a young team and the technical ability in this squad is about the best I’ve witnessed. Derek (Ure) is trying to implement his ideas and I was slightly surprised I was given a chance to impress the gaffer so early against Edinburgh Uni the other week.
“I was under the impression I would have to wait a while to get my chance because they’ve got a big squad and I knew coming home after my first training session I would have to work my socks off to get in this team.
“The quality is fantastic and individually we’ll all play a part this season. When you’ve got better players around you it only acts as fuel to improve yourself as a player and hopefully that’s going to benefit me.”
As for his hairdressing career, that also seems to be heading on an upwards trajectory.
Neave boasts an impressive list of regular clients, which include several members of the current Scotland National Rugby Union Team. Captain Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay, Sean Maitland and Grant Gilchrist have all been visitors to Neave’s branch in recent months.
He explained: “In the last shop I worked in I had a client, Matt Scott, who played for Edinburgh and Scotland at the time.
“I had a rough idea of how busy I was going to be when I moved to Boombarbers, so I asked Matt if he could do a bit of PR for me and I’d be happy to offer them a couple of discounted haircuts. Before too long, I had six or seven of the Edinburgh boys, then a couple of the Scotland guys caught on and these lads now take up most of my days now!
“It’s good publicity for myself and long may it continue because they’re all really good guys to meet.”