RANGERS Academy midfielder Ben Williamson won Arbroath’s Young Player of the Year Award following an impressive loan spell at Gayfield and his outstanding form has resulted in a call up to the Scotland under-21 squad for the first time.
The 19-year-old joined Dick Campbell’s side in January and played an important role in keeping the Red Lichties in the Scottish Championship.
Ben played 18 games in central midfield and his fine form was rewarded with a place in Scott Gemmell’s Scotland youth squad for this week’s friendly double-header against Northern Ireland.
Academy players Stephen Kelly, Lewis Mayo, Josh McPake, Brian Kinnear and Glenn Middleton – fresh from winning the Scottish Cup with St Johnstone – are included in Scotland’s pool.
While Danny Finlayson and Kyle McClelland are also part of Northern Ireland’s squad for the two matches in Dumbarton on Wednesday and Saturday.
Ben is delighted to be involved with the 21s for the first time in his career and vows to keep working as hard as possible in order to keep progressing.
Speaking as he helped promote The Rangers Youth Development Company – who have provided more than £9 million to the Rangers Academy since 2002 – he said: “To finish the season with a call up to the Scotland under-21 squad was brilliant. It came as a bit of a shock but I was really delighted.
“I just need to work hard to try and prove myself at that level now.
“There are a few Rangers players in the squad – guys like Stephen Kelly, Josh McPake, Lewis Mayo and Brian Kinnear - so it is great to see so many familiar faces.
“All the boys are back together training for Scotland under-21s this time and we are all looking forward to the two games against Northern Ireland.
“Hopefully I can impress the manager in training enough to get a run in the team and prove that I can play at that level as well.
“This call up has come on the back of a successful loan spell at Arbroath and I really enjoyed it there. All the boys and the staff were really good with me as soon as I went in and they made it easy for me to start playing. They all helped me settle.
“Playing in competitive men’s football every week has made me feel more confident.
“It is so different to playing academy football and to be honest I didn’t think it would be so much of a step up but it was and was really good and I enjoyed the experience.
“I learned different sides of the game.
“It took a bit of getting used to for the first couple of games – just the speed of the game and how much time you get on the ball. It was so different to academy football but that was really good for my development.
“Every game means something and you are playing to win important points and to win every week.
“We were playing to stay up in the Championship and it was great to hear the team talks from the gaffer, Dick Campbell.
“I really enjoyed working with him, he tried to help me so much during the loan spell and as soon as you have his trust you are sorted.
“The players and management staff all worked so hard to make sure Arbroath stayed up and we managed to do that.
“I learned so much there. If things aren’t going right in games you have to keep plugging away. You have to keep working hard and prove to the staff what you can do.
“I was playing right centre midfield and it was a box-to-box role – attacking and defending – and I enjoyed that.
“I never really joined in on the attack as much as I did at Arbroath but I enjoyed it. I think that has helped me develop by learning a new side to the game.
“I just need to find my shooting boots a bit more!
“It’s a shame there were no fans at the games but once I was out on the pitch I just focused on what I had to do for the team and it was such a good experience for me.
“I was also delighted to get the Young Player of the Year Award at Arbroath, it meant a lot to me to win that.
“I thought Jack Hamilton was going to get it because of all the goals he was scoring but I guess it shows that I was able to play well and help the team.
“Thanks to everyone at Arbroath for making me feel so welcome, I really enjoyed the experience and I am grateful to Dick Campbell and the staff there for giving me the chance to play.”
Ben joined the youth ranks at Rangers after being spotted on our successful Soccer Schools programme. He has been at the club for over a decade now and knows he is fortunate to join an elite band of young athletes who get the chance to learn every day at the training ground.
He continued: “I started at the Rangers Academy after going on the Rangers Soccer Schools.
“I was just playing for fun at the Soccer Schools and I kept doing well then I got the chance to go on a Sunday to the Rangers training ground.
“I progressed from there and I have now been at the Rangers Academy for about 11 years. It has been a long journey but I have loved every minute of it.
“I have worked as hard as I can and I can see the rewards now. I am a Rangers fan as well so it is a dream to be part of the club.
“I have watched academy team mates like Nathan Patterson get into the Rangers first team this season. It makes you proud to see that and it also shows there is a pathway to the first team if you work hard and are good enough.
“The manager has shown faith in Nathan and played him in big games and it is great to see. Nathan is an inspiration to all the academy players.
“It’s brilliant and shows how well the academy is doing to produce a player like Nathan who can play at the highest level.
“Hopefully it can be me next but you must always keep working hard to earn your chance. Rangers fans always like to see young players coming from the Academy and Nathan has done so well.
“Rangers had a great season and deserved the title. The players all work so hard to be successful and Nathan was a big part of that. I was training with the first team after my loan at Arbroath ended and the standard they train at every day is incredible.
“It was a great moment to get the chance to train with the first team so the loan at Arbroath really paid off for me. I just need to keep working hard to earn more chances like that.
“I will probably go out on loan again in the new season to get more experience. Arbroath weren’t a full time team so it would be good to go somewhere and train every day.
“I want to pick up as much experience as I can to keep progressing.
“Hopefully the season after that I can try and push myself into the first-team plans at Rangers more but, and I keep saying it, you have to keep working as hard on your game as you can and that’s what I will do.
“I look at all midfielders and try and pick up tips to try and improve my game.
“Former Rangers Academy coach Kevin Thomson played in a similar position as me and he helped me so much. I listen to what his experiences were of playing at the highest level and I try and take that into my game.
“He had a great career and to do something like he has in the game would be amazing.
“I just need to listen to all the coaches I work with and keep trying to improve.
“It’s a big season ahead and I want to learn as much as I can so hopefully things can go as well for me as they did at Arbroath. Again, thanks to the manager, the staff and all the boys there for making me feel so at home.”
Annual Rangers Youth Development Company donations make a positive difference to players like Ben and Nathan. More than £9 million has been provided and the latest donation was another £450,000 in January.
For full details on RYDC and their products - which include Rangers Lotto, Rangers Pools, Rangers Quiz, The Union Jackpot, Scratchcards and Stadium Bricks - visit www.rydc.co.uk or call 0141 427 4914.