IT was a long time in coming, but the historic decision to admit Junior teams into the Scottish Cup three years ago was a belated case of one good turn deserves another.
The semi-professional Junior ranks, after all, had over half a century and more shaped a multitude of illustrious careers, with professional clubs keen to farm out raw young recruits for some character building in a school of hard knocks.
Three Junior clubs set out on the route to Hampden today – Auchinleck Talbot, Bonnyrigg Rose and Irvine Meadow – and all have played their part in providing a grounding for up-and-coming players, and while the practice is dormant, a look at the history books shows just how significant a part the Junior game has played in shaping the future of Scottish internationals, or in the case of Joe Baker – who had a stint at Armadale – English.
Just under 500 players have been capped by Scotland since the end of World War II. Of these players, 159, or slightly under one-third came through the juniors. Fifty-four of the first 100 of these, including such icons as George Young (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy), Willie Woodburn (Musselburgh Athletic), Billy Liddell (Lochgelly Violet) and Gordon Smith (Montrose Roselea and Dundee North End) came through the junior ranks, as did next generation stars such as Dave Mackay (Newtongrange Star), Jim Baxter (Crossgates Primrose), John White and Pat Stanton (both Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic) and Scotland's two most-capped footballers: 102 caps Kenny Dalglish (Cumbernauld United) and 91 caps Jim Leighton (Dalry Thistle).
But, of the last 100 players capped by Scotland, only five: Lee McCulloch (Cumbernauld United), Russell Anderson (Dyce Juniors), Lee Wilkie (Downfield), Colin Cameron (Lochore Welfare) and Stephen Glass (Crombie Sports) have a junior team on their CV, showing how junior football's profile has faded.
Nine of Celtic's 'Lisbon Lions' – Ronnie Simpson and Jim Craig are the odd ones out of Scotland's greatest club XI, managed by former Blantyre Victoria centre-half Jock Stein – had junior experience: Tommy Gemmell began with Coltness United, Bobby Murdoch (Cambuslang Rangers), Billy McNeill (Blantyre Victoria), John Clark (Larkhall Thistle), Jimmy Johnstone (Blantyre Celtic), Willie Wallace (Kilsyth Rangers), Stevie Chalmers (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and Ashfield), Bertie Auld (Maryhill Harp) and Bobby Lennox (Ardeer Recreation). Indeed Stevie Chalmers played for both Junior Scotland and the "Big Team"; Willie Pettigrew (East Kilbride Thistle and Motherwell) incidentally was the last player to play for both national sides.
Nine of the 13 players in Scotland's first World Cup Finals squad, in Switzerland in 1954, were ex-juniors; four years later in Sweden, 12 of the 22 were ex-juniors. In West Germany in 1974 the number of ex-juniors had fallen to seven; it fell further, only five of Ally's Army in Argentina in 1978 were ex-juniors. Four years on, in Spain, we had six former juniors, but in each of our last three World Cup Finals squads, in Mexico in 1986, Italy in 1990 and France in 1998, there have only been three juniors in our squad.
Arguably the biggest future star to play in the juniors got away. A Bonnyrigg Rose winger of the late fifties turned down a trial with East Fife, changed his name from Tom Connery to Sean Connery and swapped Dundas Park for Elstree Studios – did he make the correct choice?
Today the Juniors is the last resting place of the not-quite-good-enough or the venue for a drink in football's last-chance saloon by a once big name – Alan Rough's rollercoaster five years with Glenafton Athletic: Junior Cup semi-final, final, winners, final, semi-final, was one such move that paid off; too often, it all ends in tears.
Several of the "Lost Boys" – the Scotland Under-16 team which reached 1989 World Youth Cup Final at Hampden – spent longer in the junior ranks than the seniors, while Andy McLaren, arguably the most gifted yet most frustrating of that group, was still strutting his stuff for Irvine Meadow last season.
The collapse of Scotland's heavy industries – the coalfields of Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Fife and the Lothians, the demise of the shipyards and engine works in Glasgow, Lanarkshire's steel industry – might have meant the death of the small town junior football teams who drew their players from these heavy industries. But it hasn't.
Particularly since the advent of the East, North and West Superleagues, interest in the grade has grown – 5 to get into a game offers value for money.
They have even in recent years finally managed to gain (albeit limited) entry to the Scottish Cup. As yet there have been no high-profile giant-killing acts to go along with such legendary FA Cup feats by non-League sides as Sutton United beating Coventry City in 1989 and Telford United taking nine league clubs' scalps in ten seasons from 1982-83. But, give them time.
POST-WAR SCOTLAND CAPS WHO STARTED IN JUNIORS
1940s - 23 players
Jimmy Delaney (Stoneyburn), Willie Miller (Maryhill Harp), Hugh Brown (Yoker Ath), Jackie Husband (Yoker Ath), Willie Waddell (Strathclyde), Billy Liddell (Lochgelly Violet), George Young (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy), Hugh Long (Maryhill Harp), Gordon Smith (Montrose Roselea and Dundee NE), George Hamilton (Irvine Meadow), Archie Macaulay (Camelon), Willie Woodburn (Musselburgh), Alex Forbes (Dundee NE), Andy McLaren (Larkhall Thistle), Bobby Flavell (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy), Willie McFarlane (Bathgate), Jimmy Watson (Armadale), Jock Govan (Larkhall), Leslie Johnston (Clydebank), David Duncan (Lochgelly Albert), Bobby Evans (St Anthony's), Willie Redpath (Polkemmet Juniors), Johnny Kelly (Arthurlie).
1950s - 49 players
Henry Morris (Dundee Violet), Alex Linwood (Muirkirk), Ian McColl (Vale of Leven), Willie Moir (Bucksburn), Willie Bauld (Musselburgh), Bobby Dougan (Shawfield), Bobby Johnstone (Newtongrange Star), Tommy Docherty (Shettleston), Hugh Kelly (Jeanfield Swifts), Andy Paton (Kello Rovers), George Farm (Armadale), Tommy Wright (Blairhall Colliery), Jimmy Logie (Lochore), Tommy Ring (Ashfield), Charlie Fleming (Blairhall Colliery), Johnny McKenzie (Petershill), Mike Haughney (Newtongrange), Fred Martin (Carnoustie Panmure), Willie Cunningham (Crossgates Primrose), Jock Aird (Jeanfield Swifts), Jimmy Davidson (Muirkirk Juniors), Paddy Buckley (Bo'ness), John Anderson (Arthurlie), Willie Fernie (Kinglassie Colliery), Willie Fraser (Cowie), Harry Haddock (Renfrew), John Cumming (Carluke Rovers), Alex Parker (Kello Rovers), Archie Robertson (Rutherglen Glencairn), Tommy Gemmell (St Mirren) (Irvine Meadow), Andy Kerr (Lugar Boswell Thistle), Joe McDonald (Bellshill Ath), Archie Glen (Annbank United), Hugh Baird (Dalry Thistle), Mike Cullen (Douglasdale), Alex Scott (Bo'ness), Sammy Baird (Rutherglen Glencairn), Eric Caldow (Muirkirk), Dave Mackay (Newtongrange), Tommy Ewing (Larkhall), Bill Brown (Carnoustie Panmure), Dunky McKay (Maryhill Harp), John Dick (Maryhill Harp), Bert McCann (Dundee North End), John White (Bonnyrigg Rose), Ian St John (Douglas Water Thistle), Andy Weir (Arthurlie), Eric Smith (Benburb), Bertie Auld (Maryhill Harp).
1960s - 42 players
George Mulhall (Kilsyth Rangers), Frank Haffey (Maryhill Harp), Alex Young (Newtongrange), Lawrie Leslie (Newtongrange), Jimmy Gabriel (Dundee NE), John Martis (Royal Albert), Davie Wilson (Baillieston), Jackie Plenderleith (Armadale Thistle), Jim Baxter (Crossgates Primrose), Ralph Brand (Broxburn), Pat Crerand (Duntocher Hibs), Billy McNeill (Blantyre Victoria), Johnny McLeod (Armadale), Pat Quinn (Bridgeton Waverley), Ian Ure (Dalry Thistle), Eddie Connachan (Dalkeith Thistle), Hugh Robertson (Auchinleck), Billy Ritchie (Bathgate), Davie Gibson (Livingston United), Frank McLintock (Shawfield), Alan Gilzean (Dundee Violet), Jim Kennedy (Duntocher Hibs), Campbell Forsyth (Shettleston), Stevie Chalmers (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, Ashfield), Jimmy Johnstone (Blantyre Celtic), Willie Wallace (Kilsyth Rangers), John Hughes (Shotts Bon Accord), Willie Johnston (Lochore Welfare), Bobby Murdoch (Cambuslang Rangers), Ron McKinnon (Benburn and Dunipace), Charlie Cooke (Port Glasgow and Renfrew), Tommy Gemmell (Celtic) (Coltness United), Jim Scott (Bo'ness United), Pat Stanton (Bonnyrigg Rose), Willie Bell (Neilston), Jackie Sinclair (Blairhall Colliery), John Clark (Larkhall), Joe McBride (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy), Bobby Lennox (Ardeer Recreation), Doug Fraser (Blantyre Celtic), Jimmy Smith (Benburb), Colin Stein (Armadale).
1970s - 26 players
Willie Callaghan (Crossgates Primrose), Ernie McGarr (Kilbirnie Ladeside), Tony Green (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy), Jim Brogan (St Roch's), Drew Jarvie (Kilsyth Rangers), Davie Robb (Newburgh), Kenny Dalglish (Cumbernauld United), John Hansen (Sauchie), Ally Hunter (Johnstone Burgh), Lou Macari (Kilwinning), Joe Jordan (Blantyre Victoria), Tommy Hutchison (Dundonald Bluebell), Donald Ford (Bo'ness United), Bobby Robinson (Newtongrange), Gordon McQueen (Largs Thistle), Paul Wilson (Maryhill), Stewart Kennedy (goalkeeper) (Camelon), Bobby McKean (Blantyre Vic), Willie Pettigrew (East Kilbride Thistle), Joe Craig (Sauchie), Jim Stewart (Troon), Arthur Graham (Cambuslang R), Davie Stewart (Kilsyth Rangers), Ian Wallace (Yoker), Frank McGarvey (Kilsyth R), Alan Hansen (Sauchie).
1980s - 10 players
Davie Provan (Port Glasgow), Peter Weir (Neilston), Paul Sturrock (Bankfoot), Tommy Burns (Maryhill), Jim Leighton (Dalry Thistle), Frank McAvennie (Johnstone Burgh), Stevie Clarke (Beith), Gordon Durie (Hill o' Beath), Andy Walker (Baillieston), Stewart McKimmie (Banks O' Dee).
1990s - 6 players
Colin Hendry (Islavale), Rob McKinnon (Rutherglen Glencairn), Brian Martin (Shotts Bon Accord), Stevie Crawford (Rosyth Recreation), Stephen Glass (Crombie Sports), Colin Cameron (Lochore).
2000s - 3 players
Lee Wilkie (Downfield), Russell Anderson (Dyce), Lee McCulloch (Cumbernauld Utd).