MOVING from the Premiership to the fifth tier of Scottish football isn’t the most well-travelled career path but then, Chris Erskine has never gone about things in a conventional manner.

At the age of 22, he was still turning out for Kilbirnie Ladeside before being brought into the professional ranks by Partick Thistle and on the pitch, the playmaker has earned a reputation for his creativity and out-the-box thinking in the final third.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Erskine’s latest move has been another unorthodox one. After spending the last 18 months at Livingston, the 33-year-old has decided to swap the Premiership for life in the Lowland League with his local team, East Kilbride.

The financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic played its part in the move, he admits, but there remains a sense of fiery ambition within Erskine – one that he hopes will result in promotion to League Two come the end of the season.

“It was a quiet summer in terms of hearing from clubs because teams didn’t know their budgets and then East Kilbride got in contact with me pretty quickly,” he said. “I went and spoke to the manager and liked what he had to say.

“I’m from East Kilbride so I’ve been keeping an eye on the team over the last few years and I’ve got a lot of friends who’ve played for them. I’ve always thought they would get up and into the leagues eventually but it’s not quite happened for them yet.

"But after speaking to the manager and hearing what he had to say – just how ambitious the club are, where they want to take it and you can see with the other guys they’ve signed as well that we really want to go for it this year."

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Erskine continued: “The goal for me is to get the team up. That’s the ambition of the club anyway and that’s why they’re signing guys like me and Pates [Paul Paton] and the others. That’s their ambition and it’s mine as well.

“Being from East Kilbride – I’ve lived here my whole life – it would be good for our town to have a professional team in the senior league set-up. That’s my goals and I wanted to go somewhere where I could still achieve something.

“I wasn’t just going somewhere to pick up some money and play out the rest of my career. If I could help get East Kilbride into the senior leagues, that would be something else that I would be proud of when I look back at my career.”

Erskine is not the only player to have taken the decision to sign up for part-time football, with a host of players joining clubs in the Highland and Lowland leagues for the upcoming campaign. Paul Paton, Darian MacKinnon, Ian McShane, Gregg Wylde and Kallum Higginbotham have all taken the step down in somewhat surprising circumstances but Erskine says the reality is simple: these are the only clubs offering contracts at the moment, and players require the stability of a regular income.

“That’s the way it is just now,” Erskine said, when asked if the offer of a concrete wage was an important factor in his move.

“There are so many players in the same position just now, out of contract and not getting wages over the summer. Boys have got bills to pay. I think in football at any time, if someone offers you a contract that’s right for you sometimes you just need to go for it and I think that’s what we’ve seen over the last few months.”

The drop into the Lowland League might well represent something of a step into the unknown for a player who has spent the last decade in the professional ranks, but there will be one familiar face among Erskine’s new team-mates. Paul Paton lined up alongside the midfielder at Partick Thistle then Dundee United, and the pair have been reunited at K Park for the upcoming campaign.

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Erskine says the addition of Paton, who was most recently on the books at Dunfermline, helped him reach his decision to sign a one-year deal at East Kilbride, as well as serving as evidence of the ambitious nature of the club.

“When East Kilbride were speaking to me they were already speaking to Pates,” he said.

“I think that’s one of the factors; if you’re going somewhere like that you want to know you’ve got a good team around you and other guys are doing the same thing. The fact that they were speaking to Pates and some of the other boys that they’ve signed gave me the idea that they were doing things the right way and wanting to make a real go of it, so that was a big factor for me to go there.”

Erskine is hopeful of delivering promotion into League Two and elevating the club into the professional set-up during his time at East Kilbride but concedes the path to the SPFL is difficult to tread.

The current system in place means only one of the Highland and Lowland league champions get the opportunity to contest a promotion play-off against League Two’s lowest-ranked team; a mechanic that Erskine says leads to complacency in fourth-tier clubs, but leaves room for ambitious clubs outwith the pyramid to grow.

“It’s a tough ask because of the way the pyramid system is,” Erskine said of East Kilbride’s promotion chances.

“You’ve got to win the league, then there’s the play-off with the Highland League, and then you have a play-off against the side that finished bottom in League Two.

“It’s a hard way to get up but I’ve heard the plans for East Kilbride and they want to go as far as they can. They’ve got plans for a stadium to be built in East Kilbride so they’re a club that’s got ambition and they want to go up the way which is the thing that appealed to me.

“I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn to say there are teams in League Two that are just happy to be there and they’re not really bothered about pushing for promotion. Teams like East Kilbride and Kelty Hearts and other teams are actually putting a bit of money into it to try and get up through the leagues, and that can only be good for Scottish football.”