WORKING under Tommy Burns at Celtic as a teenager may not have helped Simon Ferry to enjoy the stellar playing career which his early promise suggested he might.

But would Ferry, who has become one of the most popular personalities in Scottish football in the past few years thanks to his Open Goal interviews and Keeping the Ball on the Ground vodcasts on You Tube as well as his slot on Go Radio, have sprung to prominence without being influenced by the Parkhead great at a young age?

The Peterhead midfielder, who has been snapped up by Herald and Times Sport in the big signing of the transfer window and will pen his first irreverent column this Saturday, believes he owes his mentor a huge amount.

“My hero in life, the guy who made me who I am today, was Tommy Burns,” said Ferry. “I wouldn’t be sitting here doing the column and the vodcast and the radio if it wasn’t for Tommy Burns.

“He wanted you to be a better person as much as a better footballer. You can see his personality in everyone who came through. Aiden McGeady, Charlie Mulgrew, myself; we are all products of Tommy. I was fairly outgoing when I went to Celtic, but he brought it out in all of us.

“If he saw you walk by somebody, whether it be a cleaner or a cook or a receptionist, and not speak he would pull you up straight away, tell you to look people in the eye no matter who it was and be sociable.”

Ferry’s gregariousness and razor-sharp wit have made his Si Ferry Meets chats with some of the game’s best-known and well-loved footballers enormously entertaining viewing and helped them attract a devoted following.

Just how successful the online series has become was underlined when Open Goal announced a live show at The Hydro in Glasgow in May - it has subsequently been rescheduled for January due to the coronavirus outbreak - at the end of last year.

“We sold out 13,000 tickets in six hours,” he said. “I am told they sold out faster than Beyonce. I’ve got the same size of a*** as her as well!”

Ferry’s interviewees relax, enjoy themselves and offer up anecdotes they wouldn’t otherwise volunteer if a microphone was thrust in front of their faces. It is like watching two old pals, which very often they are, reminiscing about old times over a pint. Fans of all allegiances love them.

“Anyone who listens to footballers is probably sick of all their cliched answers,” said Ferry. “We worked hard. The fans were great. All the rubbish they usually talk. I think people know now if they are going to come on the show they can’t be like that. If they are I would probably just bin it.”

So how did it all kick off? “It was my pal’s idea,” he said. “He does the other side of it – the sponsorship, the editing, all that kind of thing. He thought vodcasts were going to be huge. I didn’t have a clue what a vodcast was. He explained it and said he thought I would be really good talking to footballers.

“I had been full-time at Dundee. But I was playing part-time at Peterhead and working at the Royal Mail by that stage and wasn’t happy. I thought: ‘Why not give it a bash?’ Somebody is offering me money to talk about football so why not? It is better than working the nightshift.

“Kevin Thomson was the first. I played with him at Dundee. We did him and my mate said: ‘This is going to be unbelievable. I’ve never heard a footballer talk like that. People are going to love this’.”

He wasn’t wrong. Tens of thousands of viewers now log on to the regular downloads. The stories are fascinating, revealing and frequently hilarious. Those about former Celtic players Paolo Di Canio and Thomas Gravesen especially.

Ferry played under Di Canio during his time at Swindon Town and produced the best football of his life. They won the League Two title together in the 2011/12 season. He is at pains to point out how much respect he has for the Italian firebrand despite the regular roasting his former manager receives.

“He was just an angrier version of Tommy Burns,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t like him, but I loved him, loved his passion, loved his enthusiasm for football. He was similar to Tommy. People who get inside my head are my favourite type of people and he could certainly do that. He knew how to make you tick.”

So has Di Canio been asked to do Si Ferry Meets? “When I first started out he agreed he would,” he said. “But I think he is ignoring the request now.

“He has probably seen the stories about him on the show. I don’t think he will have taken too kindly to some of the boys’ stories about him. I can’t see that happening any time soon. But I always say, although he was funny and a bit of a nutcase, for that level of of football his management was top class.”

And Gravesen? “My mate spoke to Tommy and he told him: ‘Tell Simon to stop telling lies about me!’” said Ferry. “But there have been so many people who have come on and had tales to tell about him. They can’t all be lying!”

Speaking of screwballs . . . drafting the former Motherwell and Celtic winger Paul Slane in to the Keeping the Ball on the Ground vodcast team has proved an inspired selection decision. His madcap mate has become the undisputed star of the show.

“I was at Celtic briefly with Paul when I came back from Swindon on loan,” said Ferry. “He had just signed from Motherwell and we spent a week in pre-season together. I have never laughed so much in my life.

“He pulled me before training one day and said: ‘See today Si, do not pass me the ball, I don’t deserve to be here, I should be back at Motherwell, I am absolutely not good enough’. He used to sit in the toilet for about an hour before training. He wouldn’t come out.

“When we started the vodcast I went to the guy I do it with and said: ‘I’ve got somebody who would be perfect for this’. Paul makes people laugh. I don’t think he appreciates how much people enjoy watching him.”

The success of Open Goal and Keeping the Ball on the Ground has raised the public profile of a player of whom great things were expected when he helped Scotland to reach the final of the European Under-19 Championship in 2006 and before he suffered a serious ankle injury that sidelined him for over two years.

“I stay five minutes from The Fort shopping centre in Glasgow,” he said. “Any time I go there I always get five or six people coming up to me to have a chat. I love it. I could be working at the Royal Mail, nobody knowing who I am.

“I get approached even more when I am out with Paul Slane. It’s like walking about with David Beckham. Obviously not in the looks department. But he has a real celebrity status. It is nice when people come up and tell him they love him. I really enjoy it. It is one of the perks of the job.”

The 32-year-old is still heavily involved in football despite all his media work. He has been made player-first team coach at League One club Peterhead and would like to move into management at some point in the future. He also spent a stint back at Celtic as an under-11 coach before his myriad other activities meant he had to stand down from the role.

“I was hoping to do for my kids what Tommy Burns did for me,” he said. “Obviously, other things came up. But I feel passionate about developing kids. The upbringing I got from Tommy Burns was what I was trying to pass on to the kids. Hopefully one day.”

If Simon Ferry can give his proteges the same grounding in life that he received from Tommy Burns it will stand them in very good stead for their lives both on the field and off it.