THERE can’t be many people whose first experience of watching football involved their dad collecting an English Premier League winner’s medal and an FA Cup winner’s medal being draped around their old man’s neck the following week. But for Niall Keown, son of former Arsenal defender Martin, that is exactly how he was introduced to the game.

With such an upbringing, of course, comes added pressure, and the unrealistic expectation that at 22, Keown junior will be an accomplished international-class modern-day version of Keown senior when he was in his pomp.

He may get there, but he acknowledges that he is a work in progress. Now a centre-half for Partick Thistle, Niall is intent on forging his own path, but he admits that comparisons to his famous father are as inevitable as his own decision to become a professional footballer.

“When I was really young, I don’t think I knew the significance of what was going on, I just grew up being a football fan and I didn’t really know any different,” said Keown.

“I just assumed it was a normal sort of thing. It was only later on that I thought, ‘wait a minute, not everyone’s dad is doing this.’

“The first game I went to was the game in 1998 when Arsenal won the league, and the trophy was presented to them, and the second game I went to was the FA Cup final. I can remember being in tears with the noise.

“We turned up to the third game, which was at the start of the new season, and me and my brother couldn’t understand why dad wasn’t being given a medal after that game, because that’s just what we thought happened.

“As I grew up, I was a big Arsenal fan, and it was only then you realised what had been going on and what dad had achieved.”

Keown junior is clearly his own man, but he does wonder if perhaps his own path in life was predetermined by who his father was. Even if initially, he was more impressed by some of his dad’s famous friends.

“The first toy I got was a little ball when I was about 11 months old, as soon as I could walk really,” he said. “That’s what I was born and grew up into, I didn’t really get a choice of much else, but I seemed to really enjoy it as a kid and I’ve been playing football since I can remember.

“When I started going to games my heroes were the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp up front though, I didn’t have much interest in watching poor dad at the back. I was probably pushing past him at the end of games to get autographs from his team-mates.

"I was more interested in watching the players scoring goals, rather than dad, who was just being boring at the back.”

It is perhaps little surprise that being exposed to such world-class attacking talents, Keown’s early ambitions as a footballer were further up the pitch. Subconsciously perhaps, it was also an attempt to distance himself from comparisons to his dad, even though it became apparent that his skill-set was suited to playing in the centre of defence. It took a word from Keown senior to make him see sense.

“I didn’t play at centre-back until I was 15,” he said. “When I was younger, I was only interested in playing further forward. I played up front originally, and then in midfield.

“Dad saw that I could end up being a footballer of some sort early on, and he thought centre-back was going to suit me best anyway."

That is not to say though that Keown was forced into a destiny that was not of his own choosing, and he is glad now that he has such a rich resource for advice to fall back on with such expertise in his own specialist area.

“A lot of people ask what he was like off the pitch, because he was quite intense on the pitch, but to be honest, he is very calm and relaxed really,” he said.

“It’s helpful to have someone who has played in the same position as me, but he never gives me too much information, he just lets me crack on and learn in my own way.

“I think that’s the best way. As a player, if you get too much information it can scramble your thinking and confuse you a bit, so he’s only supportive with what he says.

“He’ll give me pointers on my game as to what he thinks. It will just be little things he’ll see in my game, but he knows probably better than anyone, that when you are a young centre-half at the age of 22 or 23, you’ve still got five or six more years learning until you get to near your peak. He didn’t win anything at Arsenal until the age of 32, so he knows that these things take time."

Keown is resigned and accustomed to being judged as a player by the standards his dad set, and he hasn’t only encountered such expectations on his shoulders from the media or supporters, but from within his own changing room.

“At the start, there is an element of that when you go into a new dressing room, particularly from any players that have been Arsenal fans,” he said.

“It is probably interesting for anyone to have that insight into what any group of players are like on and off the pitch. I know that I would always be like that if I meet a big player. I’d always want to know what their habits were, if they did extra training, what was their mentality both on and off the pitch?

“I probably had more pressure growing up in the sense of there being an expectancy from players that I would meet when I went into an academy because of who my dad was, but once you have settled in after a couple of months, you become accepted for the type of player you are, and you build your own reputation.

“I understand that people are always going to make some sort of comparison. We play in the same position. Everyone has their right to do that, but I don’t really take any notice of it. I know I am my own player. Yes, we have similar attributes, but we have different styles too and different opinions on things.

“I think you have to use that pressure in the right way. I’m competitive in that sense, but I never see it as a negative and I try not to let the pressure get the better of me.

“It’s always going to be there that my dad played the game too, but I have to put that to one side, and everything I do is to try to build my own career and not have what he did in the game looming over me.

“I try to use that to give me a competitive edge, and I suppose in a way, try to emulate what he did in the game.”

Martin enjoys coming up to Scotland to watch his son when work commitments allow, and he has become a familiar face around Firhill at midweek matches. But his presence isn’t prohibitive for Niall, who says his dad is his biggest supporter, rather than his biggest critic.

“He was always quite hands-off and never forced me into doing anything, but he is delighted with me playing at Partick Thistle," he said. "He comes up to watch the games whenever he can and he just loves it.

“If he offers me some pointers, I never really turn round and tell him to get lost, and if he comes and sees something that he thinks I should take on board, then I’ll listen to what he has to say.

“I think he can see that I’m in a good place right now for my development. He can see how competitive the league is.

“Within the league there is a real variety. With some of the teams down the bottom it is a real scrap, and when you play some of the teams higher up in the league, the ball is on the deck a lot more and there’s probably quite a gap in the quality throughout the league, and quite a variety in the styles that you come up against.

“He’s very much happy with that, and for me, with the stage I am at in my career, it’s very much about playing as many games as I can and developing and improving my game, which is exactly what I’m doing at Thistle.

“At the end of the day, I need to make my own mistakes and make my own way. If I can be as half as successful as dad though, I’ll be doing OK.”