THERE are many reasons for Partick Thistle keeper Scott Fox to be mighty chuffed when he takes to the pitch for the Ramsdens Cup final this afternoon. In pitting the Maryhill club against Queen of the South, the occasion feels much bigger than recent finals in the competition.
That can be put down to the quality and stature of the combatants: Queens having walked the Second Division title while Thistle are odds-on to clinch the First. And the fact Livingston’s 10,000-capacity stadium has proved sufficiently roomy to satisfy demand for an event that sold-out long ago – making it the best attended Challenge Cup showpiece in 19 years.
Frankly, though, if the final were being staged in his garden, with only his dog watching, against the tiniest team in the senior set-up, Fox would be still be imbued with the sense of satisfaction that salves the survivor. “I had a few years of turmoil in my career and now I’m looking at a double. It just shows how weird football can be,” the 25-year-old says.
“I’m playing every week and we’re winning. That makes all the hard days worthwhile and I’m glad I’ve come through it. There were a few points in my career where I thought I’d never play in a cup final or big games.”
The formative years of the keeper made him something of a Lemony Snicket figure. Starting his career with Celtic, he played for Scotland under-20s in the Canadian World Cup finals of 2007. In season 2008-9, he was often back-up to Artur Boruc. Then Gordon Strachan departed the club and Fox was encouraged to do likewise. And so began a series of unfortunate events.
Celtic wanted a training compensation payment for the player, who was under the impression he would be freed, having never appeared in a senior game. A number of English clubs liked the look of him but couldn’t afford the fee Celtic could claim as the keeper was under 23. Fox took his case to FIFA to no avail and spent six months without a club.
Eventually he signed on at Queens as an amateur. When the man who recruited him, Gordon Chisholm, was enticed away by Dundee in the summer, Fox followed him…only to be released when the club slid into administration that October. He rebuilt his career with Thistle but along the way has had to deal with fitness concerns he feared would curse him even more than the contractual calamities.
“There was a period, when I was out injured, when I thought I’d have to get a job,” says the Bellshill-born goalie.
“That’s why, the way things are just now, I’m enjoying my football again. I wake up happy every morning, ready to go into battle. I would have probably tried to be a tiler. I actually completed a tiling course last month so I’m qualified now. I even finished my first job last week – I tiled a kitchen. But all I’ve done my whole life is play football and that’s what I’ve always wanted. So I’ve stuck in at it.” Without the need for adhesive and grout, indeed.
A bond with today’s final opponents’ Queens remains. “I really enjoyed playing there,” he says. “It was my first proper club after Celtic and they looked after me. People have said they’re now going places as a club. But when I was there, they’d already been to the Scottish Cup final. Unfortunately they were relegated last season but they were unlucky. That’s been proven by how dominant they’ve been in the Second Division and they’re coming straight back up.”
Thistle now provide Fox with the opportunity not only to help deliver the club a first notable cup success in 42 years – “it’s only really the fans who bring that up,” he says – but also to put in place a promotion that would ensure some tiling in the form of celebratory pictures for the Firhill walls. As much as today’s final could be a career highlight, then, the visit of Morton to Glasgow’s west end on Wednesday eclipses it in potential importance. With a five-point lead over their Cappielow rivals and only six games remaining, a home victory in midweek would as good as seal Partick’s return to the top flight after an eight-year absence – and put Fox on course to face his first club Celtic.
“It would be massive for me to play in the SPL,” he says. “I told all my friends my goal was to win this league and get back there. I worked really hard in the summer and it has paid off. The lads have been brilliant and that is still our main aim. To play against Celtic next season would be huge for me. I want to play in big games and that’s why this is a big week for me. The young boys feel lucky that we have this opportunity and we want to grasp it. We don’t want to look back in years to come asking ‘what if?’”