Canadians aren’t exactly known for their prowess at football, or as they call it, ‘soccer’. Now that I think of it, I don’t think Canada is known for its prowess at any sport, other than the ones that need snow and ice to be played in the first place. You know, the ones where the real money gambling is laid. You can’t really blame Canada for that; I mean, it is freezing cold there for most of the year, which is not quite conducive to running around on a grass (snow-covered) field in shorts. It is, therefore, not surprising that only ten hardy souls have managed to make an appearance or more for a team in the Premier League since the league’s inception in 1992. Personally, I vaguely remember Paul Stalteri and Tomasz Radzinski, and Junior Hoilett was at one point one of the most exciting youngsters in the league, during his time at Blackburn Rovers. However, when it comes to impact, one player stands head and shoulders above his Canadian brethren. I am, of course, talking about the solid block of granite that is Scott Arfield.
It came as quite a surprise to me when I learned that the former Burnley man was Canadian. He was, and still is, hard as nails on the pitch; not something one expects from a Canadian sportsperson, even if I’m exaggerating the stereotype. But then came the realization that Arfield had initially represented Scotland at the various age-group levels up to the U-21s, and even played a game for the Scotland ‘B’ squad, back in 2009 when ‘B’ squads were a thing. Suddenly, everything fell into place – he was the archetypal Scottish player; tenacious, aggressive and willing to put a shift in for his team. Good on Canada, though, that his father was born in Toronto, which allowed him to make the switch and represent the Great White North.
Arfield came up through the Scottish football system, starting his career at Falkirk’s youth academy. He was something of an instant hit upon his elevation to the first-team in August 2007, winning the SPL’s Young Player of the Month award in December of that same year. His debut season saw him make 35 appearances in the Scottish Premier League, despite being just 19 years old. The following season saw him establish himself firmly in Falkirk’s team, and he was part of the side that lost in the Scottish Cup final to Rangers. His goalscoring output soared as well, from three goals in his debut season to ten in his sophomore year. Amusingly, Arfield was also the subject of one of the funniest rejections of a transfer bid I have personally ever seen. Hamilton Academical rocked up to the Falkirk Stadium in August 2009 with £100,000 in their trousers, thinking it would be enough to get their man. Cue the response from Falkirk chairman Martin Ritchie (and this was in their official statement put out on their website) –
“The offer made by Hamilton was nowhere near our club’s valuation of Scott Arfield and was immediately rejected. I thought they had missed out a zero in the figure they offered.”
That sort of knock-back is rarely seen in football, which it makes it all the more hilarious. It reminds me of Liverpool owner Tom Henry’s response to Arsenal’s cheeky attempt to trigger Luis Suarez’s release clause with a £40 million + £1 bid back in 2013 – “What do you think they’re smoking over there at Emirates?”. Simple, concise, and brutal.
Nevertheless, Arfield was definitely hot property, with reports that a couple of the big boys from down south, Chelsea and Manchester United, had also had a look at the boy. Undaunted, Falkirk gave him the number 10 shirt that season, and he made his first appearance in European competition in Falkirk’s match against FC Vaduz in the Europa League. Sadly though, the future Canadian captain could not save Falkirk from relegation, and as they went down, speculation mounted that he would finally leave the club, and Scotland as well.
Lee Clark, who was managing League One side Huddersfield Town at the time, had taken an almost forensic interest in the midfielder. He reportedly made six separate scouting trips to watch Arfield in action, with each of those trips reinforcing his belief that Huddersfield needed to sign him. Apparently, Clark had shortlisted Arfield and Craig Bryson, who was at Kilmarnock at the time and would go on to play for Derby County, as his midfield reinforcements. When told he could only sign one of the two, he plumped for Arfield, in a deal worth £400,000 initially. Clark has since gone on record to state his admiration for Arfield – ‘He was different class for me. He’s a great athlete and a great lad. Just a terrific, modern-day box-to-box midfielder, who can play in so many positions.’
Arfield made the move down south and immediately set about firing Huddersfield towards promotion to the Championship, which eventually culminated with a playoff win on penalties over Sheffield United. Curiously though, his second season at Huddersfield saw him marginalised, as he made just 26 appearances in all competitions and was released at the end of the season. However, that would prove to be a blessing in disguise, as it would enable him to link up with the man who arguably thrust him into the spotlight, Sean Dyche.
Dyche, who was starting his second season at Turf Moor, offered Arfield a trial, which he shone in, scoring in a game against Cork City as part of a 3-0 win. This was enough for the Clarets, who offered him a two-year deal four days later. Poignantly, when choosing his shirt number, Arfield chose the number 37, which was the number worn by his friend Craig Gowans from the Falkirk youth academy. Gowans was tragically killed in a training ground accident in 2005, and Arfield chose this way to honour his friend’s memory. He did more than enough on the pitch too to ensure that Burnley fans will not forget the number 37, and its occupant, in a hurry.
Arfield notched nine goals in his debut season to power Burnley to promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, and the club also offered him an improved three-year contract that year. His Premier League debut was even more memorable, as he scored against Chelsea in Burnley’s first game of the season. He appeared in all bar one of the Premier League games that season, but could not prevent them from dropping back down into the Championship. No matter, he, and the club, just dusted themselves off and mounted another promotion challenge, where they ended up equaling their own points record (93 points) set two years ago. Arfield scored eight goals from midfield to underpin this challenge, and this year also saw him make his debut for Canada after growing tired of waiting for a call-up from Scotland. Back in the Premier League, Arfield made 49 appearances in the league over two seasons, before being allowed to return to Scotland on a free transfer, to sign for Rangers in 2018.
He has been a regular for Steven Gerrard as well, notching up 92 appearances in all competitions already and having scored 21 goals so far, including a memorable first hat-trick of his career. John Hughes, his manager at Falkirk, had this to say when the news of his signing for Rangers had broken –
‘They’d be killing four birds with one stone. He can sit in front of the defence, play out wide or centrally and play off the front. He’s just fantastically versatile. He was at least a seven out of ten in every game he played for me.’
Scott Arfield has been one of the best-known Canadian footballers to have played the sport, and the age of 31, is still going strong, as part of Gerrard’s quest to end Celtic’s domination of Scottish football. It will be fascinating to see if he can manage to do so, and you can rest assured that Arfield will form a major part of his plans.