Paul Sweeney’s first football team was Whitfield Star in his hometown of Whitburn.
After playing there, he was signed to Tynecastle Boys’ Club, where one of his fellow players was Brian Rice, who would go on to Hibs and then Nottingham Forest.
At Tynecastle he was playing with an older age group when he was spotted by Alistair McIlroy, Raith Rovers’ scout, and offered the chance of a trial.
Paul played a couple of closed doors games and signed on ‘S Forms.’
Paul recalls, “There were a few other clubs interested in signing me. Hearts wanted me ,but in those days an ‘S Form’ was like the holy grail in football and you couldn’t do anything. Sometimes you look back and think did I sign too early, could I have gone into full-time football earlier?
‘‘But, I feel I did the right thing at the time – it gave me great experience at an early age.
Gordon Wallace was Rovers’ manager at the time, and Paul recalls training was very good.
‘‘You could tell that Gordon had played at a very high level.
‘‘He then left to join Dundee United, and Bobby Wilson replaced him.
‘‘Bobby was a really nice man, but for whatever reason, it never really happened for him as the manager.
‘‘I remember I would travel into Edinburgh to meet up with Colin More, Paul Smith and the other Edinburgh boys to travel to training.
‘‘Bobby gave me a regular game in the first team, but we ended up getting relegated.
‘‘By that time we had quite a few young players – myself, Billy Herd, Keith Wright, Billy McNeil and Paul Smith.
‘‘We also had a strong pool of older established players such as Donald Urquhart, Alan Forsyth, Craig Robertson, Jim Marshall, Chris Candlish and Colin Harris. It was very disappointing to go down.’’
Frank Connor came in as manager gave the whole club a shake.
Paul recalled: ‘‘He had done his homework on the team and he knew that we shouldn’t be in that league.
‘‘He brought in some experienced players such as Hamish McAlpine, Alex Brash and Andy Harrow.
‘‘Frank started to give the players belief that we could win promotion. The season we finally went up, he brought in Gordon Dalziel who built a great partnership with Colin Harris.
‘‘Looking back, a lot of the players, even the ones who played under Bobby Wilson, went on to play at the highest level in Scottish Football in the Premier League – Keith Wright went to Dundee, Paul Smith to Motherwell, Craig Robertson eventually went to Aberdeen and Colin Harris moved to Dundee and then onto Hibs.
When we moved into the First Division, Frank used his contacts from the West of Scotland to bring in players like Ronnie Coyle and Jock McStay. Along with Daz, they were my travelling mates for a good few years.’’
Paul recalled eight great years with Rovers, and cited Connor as the man who had the biggest influence.
‘‘Frank certainly improved me as a player, and he he gave us the belief that we could play at a higher level,’’ he said.
‘‘We had some great games in the Scottish Cup, we ran Rangers very close on several occasions.
‘‘The memorable 0-0 game at Stark’s Park on a Monday night, when we played against a Rangers’ team that had four English Internationals in it – Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, Mark Walters and Ray Wilkins – and various Scottish Internationals.
‘‘ They were the team holding on for a draw at the end. Two nights later at Ibrox it took three goals in the last 10 minutes to beat us as we tired after three games in five days.’’
Paul’s solid performances caught the eye of Newcastle United, and he suddenly found himself at one of the great clubs in British football.
He recalled; ‘‘The move came out of the blue, I had been out with my girlfriend in Bathgate, and when I got home, my mum and dad said come see this.
‘‘On Ceefax there was a story saying Paul Sweeney was on the verge of a move to Newcastle!
‘‘ None of us could belief it, and then the house phone rang and it was Frank who explained that talks had been taking place.
‘‘Within about two or three days, he took me down to Newcastle and the deal was done. I signed, and Raith Rovers received £100,000.’’
Paul was signed by manager, Jim Smith, but he stepped into a club turmoil. United were as good as relegated when he arrived, the boardroom was in a state of unrest.
‘‘It gave me the opportunity to get a starting place quite quickly.
‘‘I made my first team full debut against Arsenal at Highbury, against David Rocastle.
‘‘I remember my sister and brother-in-law being at the game as they lived in London.
‘‘I had the chance to play also at Old Trafford and then we had a televised FA Cup-tie against Manchester United at St. James Park the following season.’’