Galabank was an intoxicating place to be on Saturday evening as little Annan Athletic savoured their greatest-ever result.
“I need to keep the heid noo,” smiled Rabin Omar, the Dutch-born Iraqi winger with a strong Glaswegian accent. The 18-year-old had just scored a double in a ruthless savaging of Premiership side Hamilton Academical and was trying desperately to avoid getting carried away as he picked over the bones of a match which had brought his previously unheralded name to significantly greater prominence. He was fighting a losing battle. “If you told me before the game we’d beat Hamilton 4-1, I’d have told you to ‘get tae...’,” he laughed.
He then explained how Annan genuinely fear no-one and will fancy their chances against whoever they are paired with in tonight’s draw, especially if they land a home tie. “We’ll take anybody in the next round – we could probably beat anybody!” Omar said. “I’ve just beaten a supposedly big team 4-1 and it could have been more, so any team that comes here, we’ll not be scared of them.”
This sense of giddiness was in plentiful supply around the Annan clubhouse, located directly behind the goal into which Jim Chapman’s fearless team scored three times in the second half. Henry McClelland, the 57-year-old chairman, stepped outside, leaving his celebratory gin and tonic – temporarily at least – on the table, as he took time to reflect on a landmark occasion in his upwardly-mobile club’s history.
“I’m quite humbled at seeing the effect it’s had on everyone,” he said, clearly a touch overwhelmed at how a club he first knew in the Carlisle and District League was now scalping a Scottish Premiership side. “The clubhouse has been absolutely heaving and everyone’s been really enjoying it. I looked around, and it was mostly people who have been about the club for years and years. This success is as much about them as it is the guys on the field.”
Although it sent shockwaves round the Scottish football scene, McClelland, usually bullish about his side’s prospects, insisted it didn’t come as a great surprise to him that his team – 11/1 to win the match with bookmakers – were able to pull off such a result. He has unflinching faith in his tireless management team of Chapman and John Joyce and believes their work ethic has seeped into a group of players who have spent most of the season atop League 2.
“It’s certainly one of the biggest shocks in Scottish football, in recent years at least,” he said. “Albion Rovers beat Motherwell a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t as emphatic as this.
“It didn’t come as a big shock to me though because I know what we are capable of. We’ve had some great results down here in the past and we should have beaten Queen of the South earlier in the season and could have beaten St Mirren as well.
“Our basic wage budget is just £85,000 a year, so to beat a Premiership side with a budget like that takes a bit of doing. I know the way our manager, Jim Chapman, sets the team out and he’s proved to be spot on once again. I think the result reflected the way we prepared.
“Jim and Joycey deserve all the plaudits because they put in work that goes way beyond what we actually pay them. Those extra hours that they put in have now given us our best-ever result. It’s vindication for all the days they get a bit of stick off the supporters.”
Goals early in each half by Matty Flynn and Josh Todd set Annan on their way before Greg Docherty pulled one back as Hamilton threatened to halt the party. Omar was having none of it, though, and lashed in a brace to kill the tie. It left Hamilton’s players cutting a sorry sight for the last 20 minutes although manager Martin Canning, who has now overseen a run of one win in 13 games, bore the brunt of it as supporters called for his head.
Asked if the squad were still behind Canning, midfielder Darian MacKinnon said: “Of course we are. It’s only natural that fans will react like that after an embarrassing result like this but we’re all behind him. He knows what he’s doing. It’s not his fault we’ve given away four goals – it’s the players that gave them away.”