Lewis Toshney refuses to look back in anger.
As a much-vaunted Celtic product and Scotland under-21 captain, he was considered one of the brightest young defensive prospects in the country when he made his Hoops debut in February 2011.
That, in itself, was a dream come true for the Dundee lad who used to possess a season ticket for Parkhead, roaring on his heroes every second week alongside his Grandad, Dennis, who sadly passed away last year.
Then the injuries came. Most notably, the persistent knee troubles which date back to his teenage years with the Bhoys. There were flashes of his undoubted promise at Kilmarnock, Dundee and Raith Rovers — but his body let him down in the end.
Toshney was sidelined for nine months at Dundee United before joining Arbroath, Brechin, Falkirk and, most recently, Inverness. A hip problem resulted in the centre-half failing to make an appearance for the Caley Jags this season.
The time had come to make the hardest decision any footballer will ever make. Last week, at the age of 29, Toshney announced his retirement and, to his immense credit, there is no bitterness — just enthusiasm about what the next chapter has in store.
“There were offers in the top division in Ireland and the Scottish Championship, but with the injuries I’ve had I said: ‘Do I really want to put myself through this for another year? Is it worth it?’,” he said.
“I hadn’t played all season at Inverness, then I was doing physio on my own in Dundee and my knee started to give me bother again. At some point you have to just accept that it’s time to hang up the boots — and look to the next stage of your life.
“I’m a massive Celtic fan and my Granda and I used to go to the games together. We had a season ticket from when I was six years old. So, signing for Celtic and then going on to make my debut at 18; that was the ultimate dream fulfilled.
“Being from Dundee and playing for both hometown teams was something else, too.
“Injuries hindered me — and I’m not one for making excuses — because I was the Scotland under-21s captain, then I done my knee and it was another lost campaign. That was a recurring theme.
“But, I gave my all, and anyone that does that can look back with pride.”
As he hung up his boots, Toshney picked up the cones.
He has been appointed manager of Downfield JFC as the ambitious Spiders embark on their own fresh adventure, with a reshaped committee in place and lofty aspirations to challenge the likes of Broughty, Lochee United and Carnoustie.
His former Dundee United teammate Simon Murray will help him out during the initial training sessions (a fitness plan with a start date of May 10 has already been dispatched to his players) ahead of an anticipated start date of July 17 for the Premiership North season.
Toshney’s excitement is palpable.
“We are a brand new club in terms of the team and committee — but the ambition here is through the roof,” he continued. “One thing I can promise is: I’ll be learning on the job and trying to better myself every single day.
“And I’ve told the committee that I’m not looking at this job as a stepping stone; I’m not thinking about doing one season then moving on.
“I’m here to get Downfield up the leagues. There might be an element of gelling in the coming season — dipping our toes in the water — but I know for a fact that this club is going places in the very near future.
“That pyramid system is a massive draw, with the lure of League 2, and we want to attack it.”
The move also sees Toshney delve into the wide world of the working man, as he trains to become a utilities worker in Dundee. “My dad has already said to me: ‘welcome to the real world — this’ll open your eyes!’”
Toshney credits his time at Dundee United with igniting his passion for coaching. He is currently studying for his Uefa ‘A’ Licence.
— downfield football club (@ClubDownfield) April 21, 2021
It may have been a tortuous period in terms of his fitness woes, but he was afforded a wonderful opportunity to work under Tannadice academy director Andy Goldie and youth coach Lloyd Gaffney.
“I’ve been doing the coaching side of things since I was at Dundee United. Andy Goldie had me working with the under-17s and I really caught the bug,” continues Toshney.
“I still keep in touch with Andy and really enjoyed working with him, Lloyd Gaffney and the players at that level.
“You get to see talent develop. For example, I worked with young Kerr Smith, who made his first start against Kilmarnock the other week, and remember thinking ‘he could really kick on’.
“If it wasn’t for the move up to Inverness — which was a purely playing decision — I would probably still be in there working with the youths. But it’s funny how things work out, because this is an unbelievable opportunity to work with adults at a really ambitious club at Downfield.”
Given Ray McKinnon’s influence on Toshney’s career — signing him for Raith Rovers, United and Falkirk — it is no surprise to know that the Queen’s Park manager has already indicated that he’ll be on-call 24/7 for advice.
A less obvious revelation is that Toshney has signed McKinnon’s son, Matt, to play in defence for Downfield.
“I look at a former manager of mine, Ray McKinnon, and how he started at Lochee United,” continued Toshney. “His career took off, he managed some really big clubs and he’s just won a league title. It’s a brilliant place to start my journey.
“Believe it or not, I’ve actually signed Raymond’s son! Matt’s a right good player; a centre-half.
“I’ve already spoken to Raymond and [long-time assistant] Darren Taylor and they’ve told me that their phone is always on if I need any advice or guidance. That’s absolutely invaluable and I’m sure we’ll see them both down the Downfield when Queen’s Park aren’t playing.
“I’ll take little bits from them and every other manager I’ve worked under — because there have been some brilliant ones.
“I’ll have my own style but you’d be daft not to learn from some of the coaches I’ve had.”