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Hard-working football star tackled dyslexia and won

HE has come a long way and sometimes the view can be perplexing.

The journey for Steven Naismith from an Ayrshire town to the front row of the most glamorous, lucrative football league in the world has been accompanied by a sense of fear that never paralyses him but nags him to be better, always to try harder.

In the frenetic world of an Everton team excelling in the Barclays Premier League, there is rarely a moment for reflection but Naismith grasped one when on holiday in Dubai.

"I was in the gym and one of the Everton games came up on TV. I said to myself: 'I am thousands of miles from home but I am watching myself playing football'. It was one of those moments when you realise just what has happened in your life," said Naismith, now all of 27.

It was no surprise he was in the gym when he had this epiphany. His very DNA seems stamped with the work ethic.

The son of a father who is a social worker and a mother who works in a supermarket, Naismith was the boy who completed his Evening Times paper round in Stewarton before heading out to play football.

His rise to the top follows the routine trajectory of rising star: Kilmarnock, Rangers, and then the self-styled best league in the world with Everton.

But Naismith has overcome more than most. He is engaging, intelligent and articulate. He is also splendidly crabbit, even belligerent on the field.

When he mutters that he can be "too competitive and a bad loser", one instantly recalls the flailing elbows and the unflinching tackles that have led to suspensions at international and club level.

These misdemeanours, though, point to another truth about the footballer. The smiling, talkative player sitting across the table is tough.

This resilience does not just encompass recovery from two separate knee ligament injuries. It was central to his early days as a primary school pupil. Naismith is dyslexic and he fostered an inner attitude of anticipation, preparation and endurance.

"I sat in class when others were reading out loud and I would look ahead to see just what passage I was going to do. I would then practise it my head. I was always looking ahead, not wanting to be caught out."

It was, perhaps, apt that his graduation to senior football came just as he was preparing to sit his Standard grades. "My mum rages that I found out the night before I had to do my exams. Then got a phone call saying Kilmarnock were offering me a contract," he said.

The learning process was just beginning and it came in a series of tough lessons that preyed on Naismith's belief that he might just not make it.

"Am I good enough? That is always the question I ask," said Naismith, now relaxed about how this is a trait rather than an obstacle.

"When I went into the Kilmarnock first team I would say: 'They are so good'. And I would work and work and then become a regular player.

"It was worse at Rangers. I was there with Barry Ferguson and Boydy [Kris Boyd] doing so well and I just thought I would have my work cut out to get into the first team. Then before long you start in the big games, you start winning trophies and you realise you are part of something, that you deserve to be there."

This all sounds like a smooth progression but there are always moments of doubt, banished by an inner drive and the subsequent hard work.

"Even now I think I am lucky if I get another game," said Naismith, who has 27 caps and has become a starter under Gordon Strachan's tenure as national manager. He will be central to the manager's plans for the qualifiers for the Euro 2016 championships and is a senior member of the squad for the friendly against Poland in Warsaw on Wednesdsay.

"I have always thought I have had to work hard for anything. I look at others and think: It must come so easy to them. But I never fully believed I would be a player at any point. I always worried that I had to work hard just to make any step," he said.

Did his experience with dyslexia help in meeting difficulties later in life?

"Maybe," he said. "It perhaps reinforced the reality that I always have to work. I am level-headed. I do not get carried away with stuff surrounding me. As football gets bigger, stuff can get thrown at you and you can get carried away. I have never let myself be bothered by that."

The move to the Barclays Premier League has been negotiated smoothly in terms of the hype and hoopla.

"I did not realise how how big it was until I went down there," said Naismith of his transfer to the big league. "It carries across everything from the facilities to how you are seen. Strangely, maybe, more people approached me when I was at Rangers and there was more banter. In some ways in England, you get less. It is not as intense as it is in Scotland," said Naismith who has set up home in Cheshire with his wife Moya and baby daughter Lacey.

However, Naismith has had to fight to be picked for an Everton side that has been performing well this season.

"This is the best level I have ever been involved in and you have to work hard to justify being there," he said. "It can be a brutal game. If you want to play at the highest level, there is no comfort zone. You are judged in every game, sometimes in every minute of every game.

"If you want to be at the top you have to be prepared to be tested. It is a challenge, but it is a good challenge. I enjoy that. I loved having to fight to be the best at Kilmarnock, then at Rangers the intensity was even better because you were fighting against Celtic with that burning rivalry.

"Now I am in a team where the quality of players is the best I have ever seen. Steven Pienaar is the best player I have ever been on a pitch with. Unbelievable. He can do things with the ball I have never seen before," he said of the South African international.

He is aware of the size of the test facing him in England. "You see highlights on Match of the Day but when you train with these players they are so much better. You have to learn and learn quickly."

He has. Naismith is now starting more regularly for Everton and the goals have come and so has the praise.

Naismith, who works with Dyslexia Scotland and funds annual dinners for the homeless in Glasgow and Liverpool, has expressed interest in setting up a charitable foundation when he retires but his plans are otherwise unspecified.

He has kept his home near Stewarton and his wife may want to continue her career as a dentist. But what about him?

"I think about it more than ever," he said of the future beyond football. "Davie Weir [his captain at Rangers] said play as long you can, but how do you know what you will feel like playing on crap pitches in the third division in the winter when you may be a target for players out to make a name?

"But I love playing football so I may go on and on.''

He loves talking football with his manager Roberto Martinez and, on international football breaks, with Lee Wallace of Rangers.

They all share a love of the game and a fascination about how it is played. Naismith, however, concedes he would only enter management if he was comfortable making the extraordinary commitment the job demands.

He has come a long way through talent and hard work and an attitude that admits fear but seeks to overcome it. Does he ever feel overwhelmed, does he ever need to confide his doubts?

"'No," he said briskly. "I would never go to people with those concerns. I do not want to show weakness. I would never show it.

"I would view any crisis in my life as up to me to solve. Definitely."

It is a singular view from a personality at the top of his game.

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