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FOOTBALL: Keeping it inthefamily; DAILY KICK-ABOUTS HELPED SIBLINGS MAKEGRADE.

Byline: STEVEN RATTRAY

POWERFUL Forres Mechanics midfielder Graeme Grant has played over 200 Highland League games with the No.2 on his back.

But he may well have worn the No.1 shirt if he hadn't been fed up of his sister firing the ball past him as a youngster.

It may sound as though his career between the sticks was always doomed to failure when he couldn't even stop his sister scoring. But she is Scotland's most capped female player.

Graeme said: ''I used to be a goalie when I was young. My sister Nicky and I would go into the garden and she would pummel shots at me for hours.

''I played in goals for a five-a-side team that my old man ran while Nicky played outfield.

''But you better not mention that or I will end playing in goals again if our keeper gets injured I don't fancy the idea of donning the gloves again.

''I used to enjoy it but I eventually got fed-up of her lashing the ball into the top corner!''

Nicky added: ''We used to go out every night after school then at the weekend we would be out there the full day.

''Graeme taught me a lot like showing me how to chip the ball. I owe a lot to him and my dad. My dad took time with us, making us do what we thought were silly drills but it has paid off.''

Graeme's Highland League career took off at the age of 18 when he moved from New Elgin juniors to Buckie Thistle where he quickly developed a reputation as a tough-tackling wing-back.

After less than five seasons at Victoria Park the fans' favourite was snapped up by Elgin City, the club both he and his sister had trained with as teenagers.

Playing in the Third Division proved a bittersweet experience for Graeme but he's still glad he gave it a go.

He said: ''It was a good experience but it is a big commitment having to do so much travelling and it affects your work as well as your weekend.

''Despite that I would probably still be there if it wasn't for the signing ultimatum I received just before the end of the season.

''Overall it was a positive experience, especially being given the chance to play at Hampden and Cappielow.

''N icky has also done really well for herself and never gets the recognition she deserves after all she's achieved.

''She has played football in more countries than I can name thanks to her international career and is Scotland's most capped female player. But she's had next to no coverage.''

While Graeme has represented three clubs within 20 miles of his home Nicky's career has taken her around the globe.

She spent eight seasons with a ladies side in Aberdeen winning the Scottish Cup four times before joining Cumbernauld (who later became Stenhousemuir ladies) and won the treble in four out of five seasons.

And from there she signed for Icelandic club IBV.

Nicky said: ''I was working as the national girls football co-ordinator for Sportscotland at the time and combined my work with flying over to Iceland for games.

''After a season I came back and signed for Arsenal where we won the double but I never wanted to move to London and stayed on in Scotland.

But after a bust-up that saw me go from being national captain to not being involved at all I decided to take the chance of playing for Frankfurt who are a full-time and professional outfit.

''The training over there was excellent but I picked up a couple of injuries and never got a chance to play to my full potential.

''The team at Frankfurt was full of internationals, including Birgit Printz who was named World Player of the Year earlier this month. She is a really nice woman and we're still in touch.

''I'm sure Birgit could do a job in the Highland League and even go as high as the First Division. She's a top finisher.

''I decided in the end to leave Germany and turned my back on my dream of playing full-time. I joined Kilmarnock and I'm working as a school teacher.''

Although they may have outgrown their back garden Nicky and Graeme still get the chance to kick a ball about whenever Nicky is home.

Graeme said: ''N icky comes along with me to training when she is at home. But I don't understand why I don't get to go along and train with her team!''

l HIGHLAND LEAGUE chiefs are toasting a money-spinning boost after sealing a lucrative deal with brewing giants Fosters to sponsor the League Cup.

Kenny Taylor, of Fosters' parent company Scottish Brewers, actually won the trophy as manager of Cove Rangers and played in the Highland League.

Taylor said: ''The Highland League is an established sporting institution and through this deal we can give something back to the game and the region. I'm sure the cup will be keenly contested.''

CAPTION(S):

DOUBLE ACT: Nicky; and Graeme Grant still train together whenever they get the chance
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 31, 2003
Words:855
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