Lee Erwin on Scotland failures, Iran chaos and thriving in Finland

Just eight months ago, Lee Erwin’s career seemed about to drift into journeyman land after a brief but chaotic stint in Iran followed by unspectacular stints in Ross County and St. Mirren.

The danger was not only that he would run out of road in the Scottish Premiership, but that his career would be linked to the incident in 2015 when he landed a left hook from Rangers defender Bilel after Motherwell’s play-off win Mohsni choked.

He broke through at Fir Park, where he impressed and won a move to Leeds United in the Championship, but he’s one of those common tales of young Scottish players for whom the trajectory soon becomes flat and they’re soon out of the picture altogether.

Also Read :  Iran Agrees To Ship More Drones, Missiles to Russia

But Erwin has not disappeared. He joined Finland’s Veikkausliiga and just finished the regular season at FC Haka as the league’s top scorer with 14 goals – and 18 in all competitions.

He was converted to a No. 9 and, with Haka finishing fourth, will be in contention for a Europa Conference League spot in next week’s playoff final.

It was his side’s last game on Sunday before the decider but he was suspended on a tally of yellow cards, allowing him to travel home to see his family, including his one-year-old daughter. He’d missed just six minutes in 26 league games but was relieved that Honka forward Agon Sadiku, four goals behind him in the standings, didn’t make the goalscoring list to make him sweat for the golden boot.

Also Read :  Sturgeon: No country has been better prepared for independence than Scotland

“To be honest I didn’t care as I wasn’t expecting it at the start of the season, but when you have a season like this and you’re so close, it’s nice to cross the finish line,” says Erwin.

“It feels good to be playing and scoring goals again. For years I’ve played in different positions and switched from one wing to the other, but now I’m only number nine. I never thought that I would become a proper centre-forward as I used to love to float around.

Also Read :  Senior Iran political figure breaks with regime in public criticism

“It’s the first time in my career that I’m leaving with the thought of scoring a goal today and I know exactly what my job is. I’m at an age now where I’ve had to commit to a position. That’s the big difference, knowing on Friday that I’m playing and even if I haven’t scored a goal by the 60th minute, I can’t get out.”

In 12 months with County he scored just one goal in 22 games and in over 18 months with St Mirren he scored four in 42 games. His career was at a critical juncture and he knew he had to find a club that would put his career back on a good footing.


Erwin clashed with Rangers’ Bilel Mohsni while at Motherwell (Photo: Jeff Holmes/Getty Images)

“I could say it didn’t work out in Scotland due to a lack of playing time but I got chances and just didn’t take them. You have to shake hands.

“To be honest, I didn’t care where I went at the turn of the year. I knew my options would be limited in Scotland and you can get into your comfort zone as you’re only 10 minutes from your home, so I just wanted to play again and see where it took me.

“Now I’m benefiting from it. Since I’ve been here I’m much more focused because I’m only here to play football and nothing else. The good thing was that the Finnish season hadn’t started yet and the coach told me I would play here, that gives you confidence.”

He has minor complaints about the umpires mistaking his Scottish accent for dissent when he asks a question and the street names signifying navigation trips becoming orienteering challenges, but he’s better for the experience.

A Turkish club tried to sign him in January but Haka wanted to hold on to him as they look to reach Europe for the first time in over a decade but Erwin knows that with his deal at the end of the season no matter where he is the future lies it will not be back in the UK.


Erwin in action for Leeds in a pre-season friendly against York City (Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

“Most interest is abroad as my stock is higher in Europe,” he says.

“When you come back here, people label you as what you did here before. People will look back at me five years ago and think, “No, I’m not touching him.”

“There may be an impression that I’m not arrogant or that I don’t work hard, and my goal record wasn’t good enough. I have to accept that, so my future is away from here (Scotland) in my eyes.

“It’s a clean slate with European teams and they will judge you by this season alone, so I always want to experience new things. I don’t want to be sitting here in four or five years and asserting myself in Scotland. As you get older, you realize there are other possibilities that you may not have considered.”

There are teams in Finland, Turkey and Greece all looking to Erwin, but he won’t be taking his family with him. It’s a tough task for a professional to uproot your whole life and immerse yourself in a new culture and style of football, let alone do it alone.

Erwin went to Finland to enjoy his football again and raise his profile, but he has experienced the downside of following the money after moving to Iran in 2018.

He signed with Tractor Sazi based in Tabriz, the country’s fifth largest city. Former Celtic striker Anthony Stokes and former Rangers winger Harry Forrester were both at the club as the team attempted to recruit foreign players in a bid to win the league.

Erwin came from Kilmarnock where he scored seven goals in the 2017/18 season and at Tractor he had scored four goals in his first seven games but the reason he ended up back in Scotland within four months had little to do with that to do soccer.

“Iran would have been fine if it had been more professional. It was good on paper, but when the passport and salary problems started, things got difficult.

“We couldn’t fly home without a stamp from the club. I went for three months and came back for a month trying to get out of contract but then had to come back for a month. That was worse.

“It’s something to look back on anyway. They are crazy about their football in Iran. People waited at our hotels to talk us into free dinners at their restaurants. We would get crowds of 70,000. My last game was 90,000, it’s insane.

“The level was really good because we had a lot of Iran internationals, including the captain.

“But it was sleep, exercise, eat, exercise. That’s it. That was life.”

On paper, the move sounded great. The money was much better than what he would have been offered in the UK and they were staying in a five star hotel.

Due to the sanctions against Iran, receiving his wages meant a trip to Dubai or Turkey. They also had a bonus credit card that was loaded with money after games based on performance, but he found he wasn’t able to spend it all and decided to buy Apple devices to take home gain weight.

However, being able to travel home every now and then had been expected and important to him, and when that proved difficult, if not impossible, he knew his time was up.

“The contract said your family would get all those flights but when I tried they said I needed a special stamp from the club and I couldn’t because I wasn’t married.

“A lot of other things happened but what finally did it for me is when we had a few days off and we went to Dubai for a few days. I asked if I could fly home but they said I couldn’t go as I needed an exit stamp. It got to the point where they said, ‘If you win, you can go’.”

What happened then? “We won 4-1 and I scored three goals in seven minutes,” he laughs.

An Iranian club came into play for him again in the summer, but he says he couldn’t take it anymore mentally.

The culture in Finland is different than Scotland and the discomfort is limited to crazy introductory games where newcomers have to choose between wearing a diaper or a thong in the shower or drinking hot cider during a halftime interview and wearing a sponsored snapback when they do not win.

“There is a press man who talks to us after every game and asks me what my goal is after every game,” he says.

“It’s his first question every time and at the beginning I just said I wouldn’t put a number on it, but over time he just kept asking. I don’t know what he’s trying to tell me, but at least I can say now that my goal was to be the top scorer!”

At 21, Erwin was in demand at English clubs after scoring in a home and away game against Rangers to keep Motherwell in the top flight. It ended in disgrace after Tunisian defender Mohsni responded to Erwin shoving him full-time by charging at him, triggering a melee in the middle of the park.

“People seem to think I get asked about it all the time, but it’s only when Rangers play Motherwell that it gets brought up. I’ve been to Rangers games since and sometimes someone says something but I don’t mind, I’ve had worse nights!”

Erwin sealed a move to Leeds in 2015 at the age of 21 after just one season as a regular with the team. He received a bit of backlash from some fans for what they saw as disloyalty after helping him through two knee surgeries, but believed he was just a boy with ambitions.

“People say I left for money, but I didn’t even know how much I was being paid. I just went down and signed because it was a huge club,” he says.

“Say to a 21-year-old, ‘Would you like to go to Leeds?’ and they would say yes. You can say I should have stayed and played for another year, but what happens if you hurt your knee again and then that move isn’t there?

It’s a prime example of how fickle football can be. Erwin went on loan, was sacked and then moved from team to team without finding a home, but he has found a platform in Finland that puts him back in touch with big transfers.

If he can help secure European football for Haka, then it’s come full circle at Motherwell since the 2014/15 season when he got a taste of the big time.

Now he wants it for the remaining years of his career, wherever that may be.

(Top Photo: Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.