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Scottish Cup Final: 'Result is irrelevant, we're here to party'

IF SCOTTISH football has become tainted by hooliganism, greed and cynicism then nobody has remembered to tell the supporters of Queen of the South.

Yesterday 15,000 Doonhamers turned the club's first appearance in the Scottish Cup Final into a day-long carnival.

A year ago the prospect of the Dumfries team jousting with Rangers for the oldest trophy in the football world seemed about as likely as the lost Ark being washed up in the River Nith.

But the club's cup heroics saw them succeed where Nazis, snakes and Stalinist spies have all failed – by sidelining Indiana Jones.

On the hoarding of the Dumfries Odeon, an advert for the latest Harrison Ford swashbuckler took second billing to a massive sign which read: "Good Luck Queens".

Diehard fan Davie Walls was among those savouring the match-day atmosphere in the town.

He said: "We are a small family club and this is a once-in-a-lifetime day for us. We are all determined to make sure it is an occasion that we will remember for the rest of our lives."

The regulars of his favourite watering hole, Greens Bar, followed his advice to the letter.

At 8.30am, the lounge is packed with fans, 'Happy Hour' by the Housemartins is blasting out of the jukebox and the place is bouncing like Hogmanay and Christmas put together.

Within minutes, a team scarf is placed around my neck and I've become an honorary Doonhamer for the day.

As glasses are drained and we troop onto the bus the party atmosphere continues. It feels like an entire town is heading to Hampden.

As we begin the 75-mile-trip to the national stadium the atmosphere is more like a family outing to the beach than a lairy, boozed-up football crowd.

Mums paint faces while the dads dutifully dole out bottles of red cola and rolls filled with Dairylea.

But what is even more refreshing is the good natured chants that rattle off the windows.

In the Palmerston Park club's songbook, it is clear there is no room for songs which feature religion, violent vendettas or centuries-old battles that took place in other lands.

When a Rangers fan in a passing car jeers and kisses his club badge he is met by unfurled scarves and a few sarcastic gestures.

Trip organiser Walls is immediately – and completely unnecessarily apologetic.

"A couple of the lads got a bit carried away there," he said.

But, as blue and white balloons whiz across the bus to laughter and cheers, the atmosphere is carefree rather than tense and edgy.

This is cup final day as it should be – without a hint of bile, bigotry or antagonism.

There is a loud cheer when a track by Calvin Harris – a proud Doonhamer – is played on Radio 1. Surely it couldn't be an omen that the first division Davids could overshadow the Goliaths of Govan?

Andy Cleghorn looks on with approval as youngsters start a kickabout with a beach ball on the dance floor of the East Kilbride British Legion as we stop for a pie and pint.

He has travelled up from Leeds for the game with his Dumfries-born mate Ross Nicolson. "We wouldn't get anything like this down south," he said in a Yorkshire accent that is thicker than a pint of Tetleys.

"Everyone is so friendly and there is not a hint of trouble."

The pair head off immediately after the final whistle to see Leeds Utd play at Wembley.

"We are going to be at the two national stadiums in the space of 24 hours. It's going to be a case of planes, trains and automobiles, but it's worth it."

Superfan Iain Wright – named after Queens legend Iain McHesney – is beside himself. "This is one of the best days of my life," he said. "Getting here is like winning the cup itself. The result doesn't matter. We're going to celebrate anyway."

Former Queens player Kevin Proudfoot was looking forward to digging out his passport. "It's amazing to think we will be playing in Europe next season. AC Milan would do nicely for me."

Outside Hampden, Walls has no inkling that his club are set to perform heroics and take Rangers to the brink.

Although they failed to take the cup, it was the day the Doonhamers brought the smile back to Scottish football.

Distance no object – for some fans

MANY football fans claim to go the extra mile to support their team – but Jim McKie travelled more than 18,000 to watch his beloved Doonhamers head to Hampden.

The lifelong Queen of the South fan moved to the US 20 years ago, but he has made three trips across the Atlantic to watch the blue and whites' remarkable Scottish Cup run.

The New Jersey-based computer systems researcher said: "Fulfilling this particular childhood fantasy has cost me a pretty penny, but it's been well worth it. To get to finally see them in a cup final is a dream come true."

&#149 The Doonhamers' first appearance in a Scottish Cup Final has reunited a family for the first time in 40 years.

Inez Marshall left to start a new life in Western Australia with her husband Ian and brother Peter Taylor, in the late 1960s.

But the trio returned from Down Under to watch Queen of the South's bid for glory yesterday.

The Scottish Cup Final brought Inez back together with her sister Morag Boyes, who remained in Dumfries-shire. The family reunion was completed by their remaining brother, Ian Taylor, heading up from Peterborough.

Morag said: "It's marvellous to have everyone back together at last for the first time in 40 years."

&#149 Hollywood legend Robert Duvall offered his support to the Doonhamers – after they emulated the plot of one of his films.

The American actor spent a period in Dumfries in the Nineties while making the film A Shot at Glory. In the movie, which was shot at Palmerston Park, a fictional and unfashionable provincial Scottish club upset the odds to make it to a cup final showdown with Rangers.

The instance of life imitating art was not lost on Duvall, who sent the club a message of support saying: "Go Queens!"

&#149 While Queen of the South have been on the crest of a wave, the club secretary ended up all at sea. Despite working tirelessly behind the scenes for the club, Eric Moffat never dreamed that the blue and whites would end up playing at Hampden yesterday. Instead he booked himself on a Baltic cruise with wife Margaret.

It appears that Moffat's efforts to reschedule the trip to allow him to join the 15,000 supporters who invaded Hampden fell on deaf ears.

"There were discussions," he said. "But the final decision was that we were going."

 
 
 

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