RYAN Esson has waited 15 years to play in a Scottish Cup final after being denied the opportunity to do so in 2000 when a bizarre set of circumstances conspired against him.
Esson was second choice to Scotland goalkeeper Jim Leighton when Aberdeen met Rangers at Hampden Park. But the 35-year-old Aberdonian was deprived of a place on the substitutes’ bench when Dons boss Ebbe Skovdahl chose to nominate three outfield players.
“I don’t believe in fate or anything like that. What has happened has happened”Ryan Esson
However, the gamble backfired when Leighton was injured after just three minutes and striker Robbie Winters had to take over between the sticks wearing Esson’s jersey with the ’keeper’s name emblazoned across the back.
In the event, Rangers romped to a four-goal victory and Esson was left to reflect on what might have been.
But Esson’s patience will be rewarded today when he lines up for Inverness against Falkirk, ironically at the expense of first-choice Dean Brill, who dislocated his knee in Caledonian Thistle’s home Premiership draw with Celtic last month.
“You always dream of getting another chance in a cup final,” said Esson. “But when I moved to England and then came back, I didn’t ever think I would get the opportunity again. You always hope but you don’t expect it.
“What happened in 2000 makes for a great pub quiz question. Which player’s strip made it onto the park in a Scottish Cup final but they didn’t?
“Back then teams were still only allowed three substitutes and Ebbe decided he wanted three outfield players, so that meant we did not have a stand-in ’keeper on the bench when Jim was injured.
“It was a decision the manager had to make. After all, what are the chances of the ’keeper getting injured? With hindsight you can look back and say it was the wrong decision, but at the time he probably made the right call.
“It was just one of those things and it ruined the cup final because, really, there was no chance of it being a close match after that.
“They changed the rule afterwards and goalkeepers have been on the bench ever since, but it was not a great day, to be fair. But you learn from those situations.
“My first reaction when Jim got injured was to worry about him and thinking about how he was, and I went in to see him when he came off because I was just behind the dugout.
“There wasn’t any advice I could give Robbie. He was one of the guys who used to go into goal and mess about in training, so he put his hand up and volunteered. But there’s not much advice you can give an outfield player in those circumstances. They are pretty much out there on their own.
“I remember he had a decent save onto the bar during the first half, but he was really up against it, and I just remember thinking that I hoped it would not be a cricket score because nobody wants to see that. It was just a case of the boys trying to stick in as much as they could, but when you don’t have a proper goalkeeper for 87 minutes it’s tough.”
There is an obvious temptation to suggest that fate intervened on Esson’s behalf when Brill was injured, but he scoffed at the notion.
“I don’t believe in fate or anything like that,” he stressed. “What’s happened has happened. I will be playing and I have to just focus on the match.
“You look back on things, defeats and injuries, and learn more from bad experiences than you do from the good ones and find out about yourself.
“If everything is nice and rosy, it’s easy to become complacent. The bad experiences are what mould you to become the player you are.
“But I don’t tend to look back too much. You can end up having too many regrets in any walk of life, so you have to keep moving on and that’s what I have tried to do my whole career.
“But now I’ve got a second chance to win a cup final, it’s a dream.”