DAVID Raven can be forgiven for thinking he had made it when he was handed his Liverpool debut at the age of just 19 and emerged as the man-of-the-match in a League Cup quarter-final win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in December 2004.
Two further appearances, against Burnley, in the FA Cup, and Southampton, in the Premier League, suggested that the future was bright for the West Kirby-born defender.
I knew I had to go and grind out a career elsewhere and leaving Liverpool was the best thing I could have done, the only thing. Being at Liverpool was a great experience, but it has taken me until 30 for this to come round and being in the final is such a big buzzDavid Raven
But although highly rated by the then manager, Rafael Benitez, and given the added responsibility of captaining the Anfield reserves, Raven was allowed to join Merseyside neighbours Tranmere Rovers on loan in the latter part of the 2005-06 season.
From there he moved to Carlisle United, on a free transfer, followed by Shrewsbury Town and Tranmere, for a second spell, before signing for Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2012.
Now, more than a decade on from his initial flirtation with fame, Raven is once again back in the spotlight after scoring the extra-time winner against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
It was only his third career goal following one for Carlisle against Leyton Orient and another for Inverness against local rivals Ross County. But, in terms of prestige and financial worth, the 30-year-old full-back’s strike three minutes from the end at Hampden Park last month could hardly have been more significant, also earning him a place in Highland football folklore.
However, can anything ever truly compensate for the disappointment of not making it big on Merseyside?
Raven is refreshingly candid in his assessment of his time at Anfield. “Initially, for six months when I was in and around the first team and Europe, I thought, ‘Here we go, this is me. I’ll be playing in big finals.’ But I quickly came to realise that I wasn’t good enough for that level.
“I knew I had to go and grind out a career elsewhere and leaving Liverpool was the best thing I could have done, the only thing. Being at Liverpool was a great experience, but it has taken me until 30 for this to come round and being in the final is such a big buzz.
“Scoring against Celtic is also something to look back on, but it will be emptier if in years to come I am telling my kids about it and they ask, ‘Did you win the cup, dad?’ and I have to tell them we didn’t.
“You try not to think negatively. But you’ve always got that devil on your shoulder telling you you’re not good enough, that you might lose a game. But fear of failure has to be put to one side. Otherwise that will drain you more than positive thoughts. I am a positive person and, if I get negative thoughts, I try to recognise it straight away and push them to one side, although it’s possibly harder to do that when you’re the favourites.”
Raven much prefers Caley Thistle being cast in the role of underdogs, as they were against Celtic who were expected to win the treble.
But fortune favoured the brave, and when Celtic were denied a penalty kick for Josh Meekings’ handball with the opposition trailing by a goal and then had goalkeeper Craig Gordon red-carded, Raven sensed that an upset was on the cards. “The sending-off changed the course of the match and when things started to go against them I got the feeling that it was our day,” he said. “Even the gaffer said so at half-time.
“But I said after the match that I thought we deserved to win and I stand by that belief. I still don’t think the handball was a penalty. Josh simply couldn’t get out of the way.
“Yes, the sending-off changed things, but you need that against Celtic sometimes. Now we are in the final and the roles are reversed, Falkirk are the supposed underdogs.”
While winning the Scottish Cup would perhaps not fully make up for his failure to make the grade with Liverpool, Raven will take that as compensation. He added: “It would be the best achievement of my career. It would be massive, possibly even bigger than Liverpool winning the FA Cup, given the difference in stature of the clubs.
“I will look back with pride at some point, I am sure. I still speak with friends who were with Liverpool at the same time as me and who have gone on to have good careers, some in the Premier League in England, but I am not sure any of them have won a cup. I lost three years of my career to injury from the ages of 24 to 27, but things happen for a reason and the last couple of years have probably been the best of my career when I have been at my peak.”