SCARS from the past mean that Russell Anderson does not want to take anything for granted. While many in the Granite City envisage him raising the League Cup aloft tomorrow afternoon, the Aberdeen captain is refusing to get ahead of himself.
If the Pittodrie side overcome Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Celtic Park in the first major final of the season, it will be the club’s first silverware since a triumph over Dundee in the same competition in 1995. Anderson was a youngster, coming through the ranks in those days. This time around, he is the club captain, well aware that his playing days are closer to an end than a beginning. But there has been no indulgent day-dreaming and he hasn’t visualised himself being presented with the trophy.
“And I don’t want to!” he said. The priority has been preparing himself mentally and physically for the chance to do something few in the city would ever forget after such a lengthy drought. He has also had the onerous task of satisfying family and friends’ demands for tickets.
“It is usually 40,000 booing you at Parkhead!” Instead the backing from the Red Army is likely to be vociferous, with thousands of season ticket holders queuing to snap up the briefs as soon as they went on sale, negating any need for a public sale and leaving acquaintances scrambling for his help. “There were a few worried people who had originally assumed they would be okay, so it has been manic.”
Aberdeen fans will account for well over two thirds of the 60,000 capacity crowd, giving a good impression of a home fixture, and Anderson knows how important it will be for all the team to remain focused and professional to ensure the fans don’t have to troop out of the stadium devastated by another of the cup disappointments that have dogged the club over the past couple of decades.
“It will mean a lot to me and an awful lot to a lot of people associated with the club, including the players who are picked or are on the bench, the supporters and all the people behind the scenes, who have been working tirelessly, selling tickets and doing this and that. Hopefully, they will enjoy the day out.”
The quest for silverware is one that Anderson failed in during his previous stint at the club. He was part of the 1999/00 side who lost to Celtic in the League Cup final and then Rangers in the Scottish Cup final. This season, a cup double is again an opportunity and it is Inverness, not one of the Glasgow giants, who stand between them and the first trophy.
Having returned for his second spell at the club just over two years ago, Anderson is relishing the chance to make up for the medals which eluded him during his first stint, admitting they will be all the more cherished as his children will be old enough to share in the occasion with him. “My eldest was only three weeks old when we lost to Celtic 2-0 in the League Cup final and he didn’t come to the Scottish Cup final,” says the 35-year-old. “So, the boys are looking forward to it. This is the first one they will remember.”
Capped 11 times for Scotland, a cup-winner’s medal would help top off his playing days but Anderson says it would also make it tougher to hang up his boots. Having overcome hamstring injuries which blighted the latter part of his time down south, the qualified financial adviser says that, with so much to play for and having devised a way to keep his body ticking over, he would happily leave his new career aside for one more season in the game.
“I have been working one day a week but I would like to play as long as I can. That depends on my performances and, hopefully, I can keep contributing to the team,” said Anderson.
“I have to come in a lot earlier and go home a lot later than other people. But it makes it so much easier when you are playing and training regularly because your body does get back into the way of it.
“When you have been out for a long time, it takes a while to get the confidence and the timing back. That is the best part of two years that I have been back and feeling good.”
Out of contract at the end of the current campaign, while some may think a cup double would be the perfect way to bow out, Anderson doesn’t agree.
“It would make it all the more difficult if this was my last season because I have enjoyed it that much. Coming back from the injury I had, I wasn’t sure how it would pan out and if I was going to be able to get back to any sort of form that would get me a place in the team. This season, so far, has gone better than even I expected and I would love another one but I appreciate that there are an awful lot of more important things to think about with the cup final.
“Now we have a strong squad and the manager has enough players to mix it up when he needs to. That showed when we beat Celtic and I was sat on the sidelines watching and then against St Johnstone.
“It is good for the squad that we have players you can count on and, with the manager changing things, he keeps everyone on their toes.
“It will work itself out but I would love to stay for another year – I certainly don’t think I would get any more than that – and, if it happens, then great, but we will see.”