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Early October 2011, over 25,000 fans lined the stands at the Riazor. The majority, if not all, of the fans were there to watch Deportivo La Coruña. To watch Depor record another win in their bid to bounce back to La Liga.
Their opponents that night were Guadalajara, a city almost bang in the middle of Spain. That night people from Britain would be forgiven for casting an eye over the Segunda side’s fortunes- and not because the city is twinned with Nuneaton.
'Signing for Guadalajara and then getting the chance to play in front of almost 30,000 fans at Depor was amazing' 24 year old Scot, Ryan Harper who started the game that night told futbolgrande.
Born in Barrhead, Harper relocated to Spain with his family when he was just seven years old. ‘It was hard for the first year, especially with the language. But being young was an advantage and I picked it up fairly easily’ remembers the attacker of his early days on the Costa del Sol.
'I started playing youth football for Fuengirola and by U17s was playing at the highest standard for that age group. I had the honour of playing against sides like Real Betis and Sevilla. It was a brilliant level, probably similar to the reserve leagues in England'.
From there, Harper had spells with a number of semi-professional sides in Spain. At Poli Ejido he scored 11 in 39 before moving on for spells with Villanueva and Alcobendas Sport. Then another move resulted in 12 goals in 36 games for Estepona.
'They were good years. I scored goals at every team but was always aiming higher. Being the youngest player at all the teams helped me to learn and develop a lot.'
Then came a move to Betis B and eventually that elusive contract. ‘After ten games I started training with the first team. They changed my contract to make me professional. I learned a lot but never got to play with the first team, there was excellent strikers in front of me so it was hard.’
One season and five goals later Harper was on the move again. According to the Daily Record Pepe Mel, the Betis coach, wanted him to stay as back up. It wasn’t an option for Ryan, who by now was desperate for first team football.
The call for first team football came Segunda Division side Guadalajara. Amidst teams like Depor, Celta Vigo and Murcia it was the perfect step for Harper’s development in Spain.
A goal against Villarreal B and the opportunity to play in the Riazor- the same stage where Manchester United have experienced European nights- rank highly but it’s not all been so straight forward.
'I started playing for the first team but then got a bad injury. I had ACL surgery four months ago now. Hopefully I'll be back in three weeks. I'm really looking forward to my comeback.'
And what of his future? A return to the UK? Unlikely. ‘Now I’m playing Second Division football I’m not looking to go back to Britain soon. For the time being I am very happy here.’
And at futbolgrande we’re happy to see him there too. Oh, and also, he’s not the only Harper making an impact in Spain. He has two younger brothers both highly rated. Jack is at Real Madrid and Mac-like Ryan and Jack before him- is at Fuengirola.
Futbolgrande put it to Ryan how far his brothers could go, he confidently stated ‘they both will make La Liga, take my word for it.’