Monday, 15 December 2008

A Cup full of memories

First published in Sons View, 15 December 2008, Dumbarton -v- Ross County - Homecoming Scottish Cup Third Round Replay

Well, here’s one game most of us didn’t expect to be watching, if we’re honest. Like many Sons fans, my initial reaction when I heard the Homecoming Scottish Cup third round draw was: “Ah dear, away at Dingwall. That means a long journey to play the highest ranking side we could possibly face at this stage, with little realistic prospect of a result and not much money tipping back into the coffers either.”

The moral of the story? Never underestimate Dumbarton’s ability to surprise us, sometimes even in pleasant ways! Although the quest for promotion to Division Two and a regaining of the initiative following a couple of disappointing results is our absolute priority right now, a bit of Cup respite certainly won’t do morale any harm. Especially after the 7-0 whopping we took against St Mirren earlier in the season. Of that, I’ll say no more. I’m just glad that some of the loyalists who suffered at Love Street had something to cheer on the eve St Andrew’s Day. This afternoon, too, we hope.

No football supporter needs reminding that the balance of a game can twist dramatically in the last ten minutes. But Derek Cancary’s brace in the match against Ross County that produced this tantalising replay probably took the most starry-eyed Sons optimist (if such exists!) by surprise. You don’t go down 2-0 on the road to a side with its sights still fixed on the SPL and expect much change beyond a consolation goal. But Dumbarton pulled off a shock and we deserve this day in the sun… possibly wind, snow, rain, sleet or hail. The weather won’t matter a jot if we defy the odds again and make it to the fourth round.

When it comes to Cup exploits, a certain generation of Dumbarton fan finds him or herself inevitably contemplating two legendary occasions. They were moral victories, if not actual ones. I’m thinking of the Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts in 1976, when we were initially within one header of glory. Just as remarkable were those two heroic games against Celtic in the 1970-71 League Cup semis, when Sons drew 0-0 with the Bhoys and then went down 4-3, fighting ’till the end of extra time, in the return match.

Even some of the English-based newspapers remembered Dumbarton’s existence then. I still have the cutting from The Times somewhere in my possession. I’d been following the Sons for less than a year, and along with the 1972 promotion season to follow, it probably gave me a false prospectus for what turned out to be some wilderness years from then on. But what would football be without its dreams and its dreamers, not to mention sticking it through thick and thin?

Apart from some Stirlingshire Cups, the Scottish Second XI trophy (1881/2) and the 1951 Quaish (if that counts), Sons have not been lavish in our acquisition of silverware through knockout tournaments in the past. Our opponents today, however, notched up a total of 18 Cups of different shapes and sizes during their 65 years in the Highland League, before persistence finally paid off with expansion of the Scottish League in 1994 and their ascension to the higher echelons. Those trophies were four League Cups, two Qualifying Cups. Four North of Scotland Cups and eight Inverness Cups, for those of you who like to keep track of such things.

Mind you, it hasn’t all been glory. That Scottish Premier League target has eluded Ross County so far, while their dearly beloved rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle, in addition to accruing probably the best ever Cup headline (“Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious!”) have already made it to the top flight ahead of them. Just remember not to say that too loudly around SHS.

All this is pretty much irrelevant this afternoon, however. Despite the gap between the teams, County know that Dumbarton are ambitious, obstinate, and have one or two experienced campaigners in our ranks as well as youngsters keen to prove themselves. You can’t chuck the formbook out of the window exactly, but Cup competitions are always the opportunity for someone to prove somebody else wrong. Is it time for Sons to do that? No-one in yellow and black will say anything else today. Hopefully because they’re too busy singing their hearts out for the lads, whatever the weather.

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