Peterhead want Scottish Cup clash with Celtic to provide pure theatre

PETERHEAD are out to produce a bit of theatre this afternoon, says Gavin Mundie, whose roles at the club are merely confined to director, stadium manager, safety officer. Oh, and programme editor.

Not to mention the day job as senior well integrity engineer at BP. Scotland’s most easterly football club have gone to lengths befitting a dazzling West End production to make their Scottish Cup tie against Celtic memorable.

“We want to showcase our club, our town and community in a way that has people talking for years, and has the locals who will be here as a one-off keen to come back regularly,” says Mundie. “It is our day in the limelight. Since the Christmas period ended people have talked about nothing else but this tie in the town. We believe we are one of the best run clubs in the senior game and want to project to a wider audience that we are professional and we mean business.”

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They mean to bring a bit of razzmatazz to the occasion, a bit of show business, certainly. There will be a pipe band playing before kick-off and at half-time. A marquee erected outside the Balmoor Stadium will dish out hospitality for 300 guests. The guest list could run from “Hollywood to Holyrood”, Mundie hopes. Actor Gerald Butler is a definite attendee, while First Minister Alex Salmond, whose constituency covers the area, is a possible.

And that is all before the givens. As the Sky cameras pan round the ground as a game involving Peterhead is screened live for the first time, the Third Division club’s home since 1997 will be populated as never before. A lengthy consultation process with council and police, coupled with extensive stadium upgrades, have allowed the club to increase their normal capacity by 50 per cent. In all, 4,465 tickets have long been sold for the club’s first competitive encounter against the current cup holders.

The previous record crowd at the ground was 3,700 for the second leg of a First Division play-off final against Partick Thistle in 2006 which they led before eventually losing. The club are still struggling to come to terms with that outcome and, despite healthy investment and a mini-revival lately under new manager Jim McInally, they sit second bottom of a fourth tier they considered their squad was good enough to win.

The glamour and the television and gate receipts may ultimately prove more important than the game itself, though. And with the wind, rain and tightness of the terraces all favouring his team, Peterhead have a “punter’s chance”, says Mundie. “We are under no illusions, though,” adds the 43-year-old. “To beat Celtic would be like a Champions League final victory for us.”

A lasting impression need not require the right result, Mundie judges from his days as a young Peterhead supporter. His most treasured memory is of the then Highland club – they stepped up to the Scottish Football League in 2000 – playing Raith Rovers in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. They eventually lost to the First Division opponents after earning a replay at their old Recreation Park ground that brought a 3-3 draw in front of a crowd of 6,000. “In 25 years, I hope my son will still be speaking about this Celtic game as I do that tie against Raith Rovers,” he says.

But Mundie and his board are determined to be recognised for more than playing the role of plucky underdogs in the odd cup-tie. It was why they put together a “good package” for in-demand striker Rory McAllister in the summer, the freescoring Brechin City player then having offers from Aberdeen, St Mirren and “several English clubs” according to Mundie. “Because of our location we find it difficult to attract players but that was one time [because McAllister was keen to complete his plumbing apprenticeship in the area] it worked for us,” the Peterhead director says. “But Rory wouldn’t have signed if he didn’t see us as a club who could match his ambitions.

“We have a great infrastructure but the football side has been a real let-down this season. But with the money we will bring in from this tie we can plan ahead and possibly bring in a couple of players that might yet allow us to push for one of the play-off places.”

McInally is in no doubt that in McAllister he has a player who can give Celtic grief. The Peterhead manager has done his homework, albeit unwittingly. The Monifieth resident spent his time out of the game between leaving East Stirlingshire and his October appointment by the Balmoor side watching his local team, Arbroath, and his favourite team, Celtic.

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“The way Rory can drop his shoulder and go past people, he could cause any defenders problems and certainly Celtic defenders are no different, I can say with certainty from watching them so often,” says McInally, who is a friend of his opposite number this afternoon, Neil Lennon. The two became acquainted when McInally was a youth coach at the club, a job he left to become Morton manager in 2004.

It is weeks like the one he has just gone through that make him wish he was somewhere in between that sort of backroom role and frontline management. “It has been pandemonium this week with all the media stuff,” McInally says. “Everyone wants to speak to us this week, probably no one will next week, and that side of it is not my cup of tea. I’d ideally like to be an assistant because you take a back seat when it comes to the spotlight. But it is an important duty from the point of view of promoting Peterhead. It has struck me as a go-ahead club and the fact they are talking about using the proceeds from the Celtic tie to create an academy along the lines of the one at Ross County speaks of a vision.”

McInally will have a go this afternoon, he says, because it makes sense to play three strikers when your squad has a whole raft of them. In such as former Inverness Caledonian Thistle players Martin Bavidge and Dennis Wyness he has forwards who know what it is like to play in cup shocks with Celtic the victim and McInally believes his players should be able to play with “aggression, without apprehension and bravery” to give themselves a chance. “I don’t know if it is because of referees or rule changes but teams don’t always get in the faces and put their foot into tackles when they have nothing to lose in these cup ties so much these days.”

If that sounds like a gripe about officialdom from a man once notorious for his run-ins with the men in black, McInally says he is a changed man after four months watching other coaches harangue fourth officials.

“I don’t talk to them at all now, just ignore them. They probably think I’m being ignorant, but I don’t see the point,” he says. “I used to think they just gave me heavy treatment, that they hated me and were after me, but now I know it is not personal. They make the same mistakes whatever teams and managers are involved.”

Celtic, in losing to Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Airdrie, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Clyde and Ross County, have made the same sort of mistakes in cup ties against lower division opponents these past 18 years. Never, though, against a team from three tiers below them.

Now that would be theatre that would run and run.