Inverness natives Ryan Christie (left) and Nick Ross were both part of the club’s Scottish Cup-winning team
In Texas, football is religion. Families are raised under the Friday night lights, where communities rally in support for high school and college teams, and tailgating is a popular sporting past-time.
It’s a far cry from the kind of football Nick Ross was raised on in the Scottish Highlands.
But the midfielder finds himself about to embark on his second season in the American ‘soccer’ leagues, returning for El Paso Locomotive’s second year in the USL Championship.
A product of the Inverness Caledonian Thistle youth system, the former Scottish Cup-winner is enjoying life on the Mexico border, where an away game is thousands of miles away instead of down the A9.
Here, he tells BBC Scotland about his favourite Terry Butcher team talks, leaving his home to see the world and his struggle with spicy food.
What kind of dog or tree would you be?
Ross, 28, made his debut for his hometown club at 17 when Terry Butcher presided over a relegation that ultimately offered young players the chance in the first team.
He affectionately describes the former England captain’s managerial style as “crazy”, with Butcher hyping players up for games by asking what dog, tree or historical figure they would be.
“It worked because you weren’t thinking about the game,” Ross recalled. “We’d be laughing and then going into the next one like ‘what is he going to say now?’.”
Then came John Hughes. “He was different, but just as crazy – all about football,” he said.
“I just imagined him with 10 screens on watching different games at the same time. He’d come in and ask “did you watch that German game”… eh, no.
“His ideas about football were amazing and we all loved his training. We seemed to get better and better under him and winning the Scottish Cup with my home team was incredible.”
John Hughes was ‘all about football’, says Ross
Calling managers looking for a club
Having helped secure silverware, a top-three finish and European football, Ross left in search of a new challenge with Dundee but soon got itchy feet.
Ross found himself a Spanish agent, who helped secure a spell in Romania with Sepsi OSK but still was not getting the game time he craved and returned home to train with Brora Rangers while he plotted his next move.
He decided to take his future into his own hands and contacted managers and clubs around the world, offering his services to teams in America, Scandinavia, Spain, Australia.
“It’s quite easy to get hold of people – you’d be surprised,” he said. “A lot I tried, I knew there was no chance – like top teams in Sweden or Major League Soccer, who would never take someone they’d never heard of. And it was too much money to fund myself to fly out to train with clubs.”
Along came El Paso, about to start out in the US second tier, playing “Championship to lower Premiership” level football and hosting regular home crowds of 6,000-7,000.
The league is split into east and west, but El Paso’s travelling distances for away games makes past trips to the likes of Kilmarnock pale in comparison.
“It’s quicker for us to go to LA than the other side of Texas,” he said. “We play San Antonia, Oklahoma, Portland, Seattle, Vegas – you can be four or five hours on a plane,” he said. “The only one we drive to is Albuquerque in New Mexico as it’s just five hours.
“I’m doing what I want to do and I’m sure some are jealous – especially my mum and dad when I Facetime them sitting in the sun while there home with the heating on.”
‘I’m not really into spicy food’
While a stack of fluffy American pancakes has proved the ideal recovery meal post-match, Invernesian Ross has struggled with the local cuisine.
“I’m not really into spice, so that’s been tough,” he said. “There’s chillies added to random things. I’m getting used to, it’s not like Mexican food like fajitas at home – it’s proper stuff.”
Despite that, Ross is enjoying life in El Paso. There is “no green, no trees, just sand”, but the Scot spends his time going to college sports events and enjoying the atmosphere and would be keen to stay longer.
“I’d like to stay and find another team, or if it goes well, stay in El Paso as I’ve got a girlfriend there,” he said. “I’d like to see the east side too – they’ve teams in New York, Florida.
“Everyone in our league wants to get to MLS, but it’s so hard to get into. Maybe one day I’ll come home, but I’m enjoying being somewhere with good weather, different places and types of football.”