New centre-back signing Kieran Ainslie has said he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at being given the opportunity to rejoin the club after seven years away – and hopes to make up for lost time by targeting a place in the Berwick starting XI.
The 26-year-old, who lives and works in the town, was formerly a part of the club’s youth setup, rising up through the age categories to play for the reserves and also in some bounce games in pre-season friendlies for the first team.
However, when the club’s youth set-up folded, Ainslie was forced to move on and, after a short spell with the unsuccessful Berwick Town project, he spent three-and-a-half seasons with Eyemouth United before joining East of Scotland League rivals Coldstream, where he helped them to promotion in his first season at the club.
And after his return to the ‘Gers was announced last week, Ainslie, who frequently turned out for the East of Scotland Select side over the past two seasons, believes he was always capable of cutting it at SPFL level and paid tribute to ex-Coldstream boss and current Development League team manager Neil Oliver for encouraging him to head along to pre-season training with fellow new signing Mark Walters.
“After leaving so long ago, it was a pleasant surprise to be given the chance to come back,” said Ainslie. “I’ve always thought I’ve been capable and over the past couple of years I’ve become a lot fitter which has certainly helped me. In the past, I’ve played with the likes of Andy McLean, Dougie Brydon and Jonny (Fairbairn) who have all had successful times at Berwick, and the emergence of Jonny in particular over the past 18 months made it seem more possible that I could play for the club again.
“I was encouraged to head along to pre-season training by Neil Oliver, who I had worked with before at both Berwick and Coldstream, and he believed that me and the other Coldstream lads could make an impact on the first team squad as well as aid the Development League squad. Then, Colin (Cameron) got in touch and asked us to trial for the first team, to which we obviously all said yes.”
The centre-back clearly impressed boss Cameron enough in his friendly appearances against Hibs, Dunfermline and Kilmarnock to offer him a contract, and he admits that the nature of the ‘Gers’ training can only help him improve further.
“The training itself is much sharper,” he said. “It’s unreal compared to what I’m used to and that can only help me improve. I feel fitter and I’m learning from the coaches and more experienced players with every session. As for travelling up, it’s fine and compared to when I was at Coldstream, it’s maybe only 20 minutes further each way.”
Ainslie’s signing, following on from ‘keeper and fellow local Walters’ a week earlier, has prompted a great reaction from those in and around the town and the defender admits that he’s been slightly overwhelmed with what people have had to say, while also going on to outline his aims for the upcoming season.
“I’ve been very happy with the reaction,” he admitted. “My family and friends are proud and the local community as a whole have also wished me well which I am incredibly grateful for.
“As for this season, my main goal is to try and establish myself in the team and obviously help win games for Berwick. Celebrating a goal in front of the Ducket wouldn’t be bad either, but I don’t usually get too many!”
By Martin Inglis