Going forward, 1 April, 2017 will forever be known as April Dool’s Day in one corner of Glasgow. All around Maryhill, in the Woodside Inn, all along Firhill Road and the surrounding environs of Firhill Stadium it will remain a special day
Kids, donned in their Partick Thistle replica kit, kicking the ball around in parks and on the roads of Glasgow will be shouting the name KRIS DOOLAN as they score past their Rangers and Celtic supporting mates. Dads will continue to secretly and not-so-secretly wish they were 10, 20, 30 years younger, five, six, seven stone lighter and that they were Kris Doolan.
At 16.23 on Saturday, Doolan collected an exquisitely improvised back-heeled pass from Liam Lindsay. There was the velcro touch which left Ross County’s Marcus Fraser on the turf. There was the natural balletic spin to turn towards goal. Then there was the emphatic finish past former team-mate Scott Fox. He was then off, Iain Wright-like, unveiling the top which announced his milestone: 100 AND COUNTING.
It was a special day for all those connected with Partick Thistle Football Club. For the fans it was a truly ‘I was there moment’.
It was a special day for Scottish football. One of the moments of the season, up there with Jim Duffy’s ‘square go’, up there with Gavin Gunning’s return. And even up there with Mark McGhee’s fan altercation.
But most of all it was a special day for Kris Doolan.
In fact it may just be the most special day in Doolan’s career. He has a tangible reward in the medal won when his 12 goals helped Thistle to the second tier title. But it is his story, his career trajectory, his progress, his longevity, his goals that make this the apex of a career which started in the juniors where he was unearthed, sculpted and refined by the Jags.
Players are quick to play down personal achievements, paying homage to the team. Ironic in that players are quicker to abandon their team-mates when offered with an escape route to earn more money or win trophies. That’s understandable and that’s football. All it does is make moments like Saturday that bit more memorable.
He told Partick Thistle’s official website: “It’s a dream come true, especially to do it here at Firhill. To do it in front of these home fans makes it even more special, to then go on and win the game just makes it even more memorable. To do it wearing the captain’s armband was even more perfect. It’s a day I will never forget.”
The 30-year-old revealed after the game that the vest announcing his goal had been worn on a couple of occasions and would have been ruined if the goal was a redundant one in a dispiriting defeat. Instead it was one which could prove crucial in Thistle’s season. The spin and finish brought the Jags level with Ross County before Doolan got to work on the second century a little before 16.40.
The three points extended Thistle’s lead in sixth to four points with three games of the pre-split season remaining. If Alan Archibald’s men are to hold off Kilmarnock they will have achieved their highest finish since 1981. It would be the moment which endorses the fine work Archibald, his staff and the club as a whole have carried out since earning promotion.
But that was of secondary importance to Doolan’s moment.
The double strike took him into eighth-place in the list of the club’s all-time competitive goalscorers, while he is now out in front on his own at the top of the all-time league goals with 92.
In 2009, when he was signed from Auchinleck Talbot, even the most optimistic and delusional of fans would have scoffed at the idea of the striker breaking the three-figure mark for the club. He is a player who did not have a natural progression in football. There was no academy, no hype, just toil and sacrifice. His rise from the juniors ranks into the second tier, a brief loan spell in the third tier, and now a regular goal scorer in Scotland’s top tier belongs to another era.
As does staying at a club in this day and age for so long. It only adds to the significance of the goal. Fans have been waiting for the moment all season, the urge to see it come to fruition growing and growing. The celebrations and the reaction are not quite that of winning a trophy, only a step down. These moments are becoming less common because of the wanderlust of players and the finances which prevent long-term deals. The feeling has been strengthened after every Doolan goal. After Saturday, the connection between fans and player will never be broken.
Following his debut against Inverness Caledonian Thistle during a 3-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup he used his first 18 months of professional football to adapt to his new surroundings; full-time training, the step-up in quality. Seven goals was a moderate return, his first coming in a 2-2 draw with Queen of the South, but in the last seven seasons he has hit double figures every campaign, becoming the only player in the club’s history to manage such a feat.
What it does is show is the professionalism of an intelligent striker who has constantly worked at his game to earn his place at the top-level. Only Leigh Griffiths and Adam Rooney have scored more goals in the top-flight of the SPFL era.
He has seen off the ‘threat’ of a number of strikers who have come and gone. Each season Thistle have pursued either an improvement on Doolan or someone to complement him. An array of strikers have passed through the club unable to lace his boots. He’s had his time on the bench, in and out of the team, but he has seen them all off and always found his way back into the line-up.
It’s simple, he’s an effective top-flight striker.
He’s not going to drop deep, collect the ball and power past or through defenders. He’s rarely going to out-jump or out-sprint defenders. He’s not the striker to run the channels, dragging defenders away for midfielders to thrive. He knows his limitations but more importantly he knows his strengths.
It was fitting then that they were on show with both goals. There was the spin and finish to get Thistle back on level terms before a crafty one-two with Adam Barton to get a yard of space before a composed and confident finish. This is a player who lives for getting the ball in dangerous areas. This a player who comes alive in and around the box. He has that visceral quality which can’t be taught: the striker’s instinct. Where the ball will land, bobble or emerge. Which run to make. Which defender to target.
There is no better example than his quartet of goals in a rout of Hamilton Academical at a snowy Firhill in January 2015. There was a tap-in from two yards. There was a wonderful touch, turn and finish not too dissimilar to his 100th goal. There was a header getting in between two defenders. And then there was a devious back-heel. The performance had everything.
But he is more than a goal scorer. His touch is excellent allowing him to combine with team-mates, help build up play. He is not the strongest or quickest – wearing white boots because they make him feel faster – but he is one of the most bright and resourceful strikers in the league.
He is a focal point and a goalscorer. And all goals that follow will only continue to cement his legendary status in Maryhill, for April Fool’s Day is no more.
• Thanks to Thistle fan Marc Wallace for assistance with researching this article.