Wednesday 21st March 2018
Web correspondent and Sons View columnist Andy Galloway puts together a special article ahead of Saturday’s Irn Bru Cup final.
TWO months shy of ten years ago, I attended what is now the YOUR Radio 103FM Stadium to meet Dumbarton’s new signings Derek Carcary and Paul Keegan.
There are two things which make that press conference easy to remember. One, of course, is that I was meeting two of the early additions that then manager Jim Chapman made to the armoury for a tough, but successful, crusade for the old Third Division title.
The other is the almost surreality of it all taking place on a day when Scottish football had other things to concentrate on.
Like a match that emptied large parts of the country, as thousands of people made their way down the M6 dressed in blue. They were heading to Manchester for the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) final.
Five years earlier? Pass. I probably went to college to study journalism, came home, had dinner and watched the football.
The football that all of Scotland was talking about back then. A certain 120 minutes in Seville. The final of the same competition, this time involving a team in green and white.
Those two matches were mainly for the fans of those two Scottish clubs. But they had an impression on all of us. You might have wanted them to win, it might have been the opposite, you might not have been bothered one way or the other.
But these were two Scottish clubs in an arena where they really wanted to be successful. They can win leagues and domestic trophies until they’re blue (or green) in the face. Europe is where they really want to succeed.
For the rest of us, they were times to wonder when our club will be in the arena where WE really want to succeed. It doesn’t have to be in Europe, which for most teams is a pipe dream.
A domestic cup final will do.
And for Dumbarton, that day is Saturday, March 24 in the Irn Bru Cup final. We haven’t succeeded in that arena YET, but we’re in it and we’re 90 minutes away from doing so.
That day, Perth is OUR Manchester 2008. OUR Seville 2003.
In fact, given that the Scottish clubs lost those finals, it could be better than that.
The current Sons squad have an opportunity that hasn’t been afforded to any player with the elephant and castle on the shirt since 1951. In terms of the three cups currently contested in Scottish football, we’re talking another 54 years back in history.
Queen Victoria was on the throne, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was Prime Minister and William McKinley hadn’t long been elected as the 25th US President.
Since losing the 1897 Scottish Cup final to Rangers, Dumbarton haven’t been in the final of a national competition that takes place year in, year out.
The list of players who have tried, and failed, is almost endless. It includes the likes of Craig Brittain, Paddy Flannery, Mark Clougherty, Donald McNeil, Murdo MacLeod, Kenny Ashwood, Kenny Wilson, Lawrie Williams, Roy McCormack, Johnny Graham and Hughie Gallacher. Legends to a man, beyond all conceivable measures of doubt, each of them with his own unique place in the club’s history.
But come 4.15pm on Saturday, between 11 and 14 of the current Sons squad will have played in one more current national cup final for Dumbarton than any of them.
And they may have one more national cup winner’s medal with the club as well.
OUR Manchester, OUR Seville.
McDiarmid Park on Saturday could not easily be confused with either of those fixtures, or this year’s final of the same competition in Lyon, in terms of razzmatazz, exposure to the world of football, or the sheer numbers.
The passion of those taking part on and off the pitch, though? Not a shred of difference.
One man’s trophy for clubs outwith the SPFL Premiership is another man’s European honour.
The ball will be just as keenly contested; every goal will mean everything. Just as it did when Danny Handling and Dimitris Froxylias stuck the ball in the pokey against The New Saints last month.
It’s also just as likely that it will end in scenes which would be soundtracked by the guitar solo from ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay.
Bringing the Irn Bru Cup down Castle Road bearing black and gold ribbons means just as much to Dumbarton as it does to Europe’s elite to return with a continental trophy decked in their colours.
And if Andy Dowie is holding it aloft at the close of play on Saturday, it will make all the tough times seem worth it.
Tough times? Yes, those moments you lock away somewhere, never to darken your door again.
Or do you?
Isn’t there a place for them in the event of victory? As in: “This is why you sat through all those games where you were 4-0 down in the thundering rain when there was still a quarter of the game left”?
Because this would be the ultimate reward for doing so.
We’ve had the aforementioned 2009 Third Division triumph, followed three years later by promotion to the second tier, followed by surviving for six seasons as we are now. All of them magnificent achievements.
But victory on Saturday, March 24 would be different. This is the only national knockout trophy which a part-time Dumbarton has a realistic chance of winning.
While other Scottish clubs are in domestic finals season in, season out, Sons have had to wait their turn. Something which, as it turns out, they’ve been doing for 121 years.
If you want to find our last victory in a current national cup final, you can stick another 14 years on to that total.
The 1883 Scottish Cup final, when Vale of Leven were beaten 2-1. That, in terms of Scottish football’s current knockout trophies, is our one and only final victory.
We haven’t yet ended that 135-year wait, and face a demanding match against Inverness CT in order to do so.
But the 121-year one will finish next Saturday.
The attention of Dumbarton – the town, and its surrounding area, not just the club – has been captured.
Fans are flying in from abroad, those who can’t make it will be watching, the local supporters’ sleep will be decreasing as the final draws near.
There will be tears one way or the other. Whether they’re the tears of Paul Gascoigne in Turin, or the tears of Rod Stewart when Celtic beat Barcelona, remains to be seen.
For now, we’re ready.
We’re ready for OUR Manchester, OUR Seville.
OUR greatest victory?
We’re within 90 minutes of it.