BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
THE MAN who handed Robert Snodgrass his professional debut has confessed he feared Scotland’s hat-trick hero would be lost to the game completely because of his lifestyle away from the pitch.
Allan Preston was manager of Livingston when he gave the raw teenager his first senior appearance as a second-half replacement just four days after his 17th birthday in 2004.
Even that early on, the then Lions boss was convinced he had a richly talented player on his hands and that the youngster had the world at his feet.
But Preston believes that bad influences and wrong choices away from football were in danger of robbing ‘Snoddy’ of the career he has since built for himself.
Turning up late for training and at times still under the influence of alcohol were warning signs that thankfully the attacker eventually heeded.
And Preston could not have been happier to see his former protege star in Scotland’s 5-1 hammering of Malta on Sunday night with a rare hat-trick for his country.
He told Capital City Press: “As a kid at 17 he had real natural ability and was a brilliant talent.
“But he could have been lost to the game because of the things happening off the field.
“The best thing that happened to him was going down to Leeds because it got him away from things in his life away from football.
“He was mixing with the wrong influences and hanging about the wrong people.
“There was nothing malicious about him, but he was getting into the things that 16 and 17-year-olds do – and the things that players playing in the Premier League can’t do.
“It was beginning to affect his career. He was turning up late to training and sometimes even intoxicated.
“He was a great boy, a great kid and a brilliant team-mate, with unbelievable ability. He was a real prankster as well, stuff that was harmless fun.
“But we’ve all played with players at a young level whose ability was second to none but who chose the wrong path.
“When he went out on loan to Stirling Albion, it was a question of whether he was going to be a footballer or if he would be lost to the game.
“He should be an inspiration to other young boys who could go one way or another and choose the right or wrong path.
“He thoroughly deserves everything, especially after everything he’s been through recently with his injury.
“All credit to him, because he seems to have come back leaner, stronger and fitter, and an even better player.”
Preston has vivid memories of Snodgrass’s first goal in senior football, which came in a 2-0 win against Dunfermline on only his third appearance for Livingston.
And he believes the 28-year-old Hull City attacker is worthy of all the adulation coming his way from the Tartan Army and beyond.
He added: “Robert is Scotland’s talisman. He’s the 2016 version of James McFadden, in that he can produce something out of nothing and there are only so many guys in the Scotland squad who can do that.
“To score a hat-trick of any kind is brilliant but to score an international hat-trick is even better. I’m delighted for him.”