A THREE Towns footballer who started out in the Ayrshire juniors with Ardeer Thistle has joined the ranks of the UK's £10 million players.

Ross Stewart put pen to paper on a big-money move from Sunderland to Southampton on transfer deadline day last week - though his big move was followed by a rude awakening on Saturday as his new club was thumped 5-0 by his old one.

Stewart's career has been on an upward trajectory since he played his final game for Ardeer Thistle in May 2015, aged just 18.

That summer he moved just up the road to Kilwinning Rangers - and though he showed promise back then, it would have been hard for anyone to imagine where the striker has found himself now.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Ross Stewart during his time with Ardeer Thistle.

Dubbed 'the Loch Ness Drogba' for his performances with Ross County, Stewart moved into the senior ranks of Scottish football after just one season at Abbey Park.

He joined Albion Rovers in 2016, though the part-time Coatbridge club were unable to pay his transfer fee - with the funds instead provided by their supporters' club members and by Stewart's father.

After a season there, he earned a move to then Championship side St Mirren, where he struggled to break into the first team.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Ross Stewart during his time with Kilwinning Rangers.

But a successful loan move to Alloa Athletic was followed by a permanent switch to Ross County, who that season earned promotion to the Scottish Premiership.

After helping the team to promotion, Stewart thrived in Dingwall, and on deadline day in January 2021 he made the move to Sunderland - where he was a key figure, and for whom he scored in the 2022 League One play-off final as the Black Cats won promotion back to English football's second tier.

He scored 26 goals that season, which earned him the PFA Fans' Player of the Year award for League One - and caught the attention of Scotland manager Steve Clarke.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

He earned his first call up to the national side in March 2022, and made his debut on June 8, 2022 appearing as a substitute in a Nations League game against Armenia, and has turned out for Scotland once since.

He has now joined one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League - for a transfer fee which we understand didn't need a contribution from his father - though Saturday's result at the Stadium of Light, Saints' first defeat of the Championship season, showed that winning a place back in the top flight won't be easy.

But should Russell Martin's side earn promotion, it will be yet another achievement to add to a growing list of accolades in Stewart's inspiring career.