HIS day job is focused on helping deliver a memorable Commonwealth Games. But if he and his Albion Rovers team-mates can defy the odds this afternoon, 2014 could live long in Scott Chaplain’s memory for another reason.
Through to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup courtesy of wins over Spartans, Deveronvale, Motherwell and Stenhousemuir, the next obstacle is Rangers today at Ibrox.
“It’s my third spell with the club and I’ve seen it through different times,” says Chaplain, who is the Commonwealth Games sports competition co-ordinator for badminton as well as a vital cog in the Rovers midfield. “Back in 2005 when I first came they had to strip things back and make ridiculous cuts due to people overspending. So I experienced those times, but the way this club is gradually progressing and to have a day out like this, it is absolutely fantastic.”
Logic would suggest that the Cliftonhill side shouldn’t have a chance. But being a lowly League Two side hasn’t stopped their progress thus far. Rovers provided the biggest shock of this year’s tournament when they ousted Motherwell in the fourth round in November.
“Motherwell are an established Premier League side who are always at the top end of the table,” says Chaplain, 30. “Stuart McCall has done a superb job, so for us to beat them on the day was a phenomenal result. On Sunday, no one apart from us will give us a hope, but they didn’t give us any hope of winning that game either.”
In current circumstances, claiming Rangers’ scalp would seem an easier proposition, despite the fact Ally McCoist’s men have only lost one match this term, to Forfar in the League Cup. But regardless of their fall from grace in recent years, Chaplain recognises the scale of the task facing Rovers at Ibrox today.
“It all depends what theory you believe in. Yes, in terms of league positions [Motherwell would seem the tougher opponents], but I wouldn’t like to say. It’s a totally different occasion. You’re playing at Ibrox, in a big arena, and Rangers are expected to win the game. We’ll see what happens.”
There’s no doubting that Rangers aren’t the force they were when Chaplain was coming through the Ibrox youth ranks with the likes of Charlie Adam and Chris Burke.
“I was there in my schoolboy days, from the age of about ten through to 16. That was a good experience, a good education, although it was pre-Murray Park. We trained across the road from Ibrox.”
But, in those days, Rangers had money available to buy in ready-made class and he found the route into the first team blocked. He opted for a greater shot at competitive action with Ayr United. “Ayr were an ambitious First Division club at the time with a good youth set up. Campbell Money was heading that up but it was funny because within 18 months I found myself on the bench against Rangers’ first team in the [League] cup final.
“I was only 18 but I came off the bench. I think I got a few touches. I was only a young player, I wasn’t established but they had great names. It was Tore Andre Flo, [Ronald] De Boer, [Claudio] Caniggia, Barry Ferguson.”
Rangers won that 2002 League Cup final 4-0. But things were a lot closer when he met up with them again, this time as a Partick Thistle player, in the Scottish Cup.
“It was 2008, the year they got to the UEFA Cup final. It was 1-1 at Ibrox, but they beat us 2-0 in the replay at Firhill. [The first game] was a great night and a great occasion under the floodlights. We took a great support. We scored what we thought would be the winner and then two seconds later Kris Boyd equalised! If we had held on, you never know, it could have been a famous result.
“Cup football is cup football. You always have a chance in a one-off game. There’s a different mentality going into it. You’ve got 90 minutes where anything could happen. So we’ll definitely take heart from previous experiences and I will definitely take heart from my previous experiences.”
In amongst them is one win over Rangers at Ibrox. It wasn’t in the cup but in the league and it came last season while he was playing for Annan Athletic.
“Winning at Ibrox was a great achievement,” says Chaplain, who also has a first class honours degree in sport development as he looks towards a career in coaching, sports management or administration when he eventually retires from playing. “I had a great night there with Thistle getting a draw but winning there is something to remember. It’s a memory to tell the grandkids if I ever have any.
“On the day we were outstanding. We weren’t going into that game on a run of good form but we got on the ball in the early part of the game, the boys took belief from that, and we ended up getting a ridiculous result. So that is another positive experience I can take into Sunday.
“But this is a different occasion. Back then Rangers had the league sewn up, they were comfortable, but Sunday is different. It’s a cup game, motivation will be high for both sets of players. Rangers will see it as a chance to get to the semis, but we’re wanting to give a great account of ourselves, and you never know what’ll happen.”