Rangers-Celtic select help keep Gowans legacy strong

Former Celtic player Bobby Petta turned out in the charity match. Picture: Jane Barlow
Former Celtic player Bobby Petta turned out in the charity match. Picture: Jane Barlow
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FOR John Gowans, Father’s Day had added poignancy yesterday.

It is now almost eight years since his son Craig, a gifted young footballer, saw his life cruelly ended at the age of just 17.

Carrying a six-metre high net for catching stray footballs at Falkirk’s training ground in Grangemouth on 8 July 2005, one of the metal poles struck an overhead power cable with horrific and tragic consequences.

A popular and talented straight-A student at Stewart’s Melville College, the untimely passing of Craig Gowans deeply affected many people. None more so, of course, than his parents John and Sheila, brothers Darren and Dean and sister Lyndsay.

But in keeping Craig’s memory alive and creating a fitting legacy for a fine young man, the family have shown remarkable strength of character. The formation of the Craig Gowans Memorial Fund, of which the main beneficiaries are the Sick Kids Friends Foundation, has proved to be both a rewarding and cathartic experience.

Yesterday saw the highlight of the fundraising efforts with the fifth annual Craig Gowans Memorial Trophy charity match at Saughton Enclosure, the home of Hutchison Vale, with whom he started his all-too-brief career as a footballer.

But amid the sadness which will always be in the background, this was an appropriately joyous occasion as his family and friends celebrate the life of someone who made such a lasting impression upon them.

A Hutchison Vale side, for which Craig’s brothers Darren and Dean featured, took on a Celtic/Rangers Select side featuring former players from both of the Old Firm clubs.

“It does help the family to cope,” said dad John. “We are gradually getting some peace back into our lives. This week has been very emotional for us. It always is in the days leading up to the game, or to any of the other events we have for Craig during the year.

“It’s fantastic that we are taking Craig’s name forward. I’m delighted with the amount of people who have come along to pay their respects again. To see those guys wearing Celtic and Rangers strips together in the same team today is amazing. It’s a touching tribute to Craig.”

Those strips, which were donated for the occasion by Celtic and Rangers, fitted some of the ex-professionals better than others. But, regardless of conditioning, the enthusiasm and competitive instinct of the former Parkhead and Ibrox men has been undiluted by time.

In a full 90 minute fixture, refereed by former Fifa official Kenny Clark, they had to accept defeat by a Hutchison Vale outfit whose younger legs had a more telling effect as the afternoon progressed. It was entertaining fare for the sizeable crowd who contributed to a gala-day type of atmosphere.

Livingston player-coach Mark Burchill was the star turn for the Old Firm select, the former striker netting a hat-trick. A double from Blackpool assistant manager Alex Rae, the first a thunderous strike from the ex-Rangers midfielder, made up the visitors’ tally in a 6-5 defeat.

The Rangers-Celtic combination was put together by Darren Jackson. The ex-Celts included Dundee United manager Jackie McNamara, his assistant Simon Donnelly, former Hibs boss John Hughes, Dutchman Bobby Petta and David Elliot. Other former Rangers on show were Dave McPherson, Bobby Russell, John MacDonald, Dougie Bell, Ronnie Yule and Scott Nisbet. “I’ve been coming along to this for a few years and it’s great,” said McPherson, who has also turned out for a Scotland select and a Hibs-Hearts select in previous matches for the charity.

“It was a tragic event with Craig, one that everyone remembers, and it’s just nice that people are raising money for a good cause, remembering the boy and his family. I don’t play football any more, but I do play a bit of tennis and golf, so I’m still pretty fit. I’m more than happy to take part in an occasion like this and I know the rest of the former pros feel the same way.”

Among the guest players for Hutchison Vale was Tommy Sheridan, the firebrand socialist and football enthusiast proving eye-catchingly effective in a right wing role for once.

The Celtic-Rangers select, meanwhile, had to field a ringer in goal. Ian Robertson, son of Hearts legend John, stepped between the posts and despite the scoreline made a series of fine saves.

He could not be faulted for any of the six he conceded, especially not a spectacular own goal from Scott Nisbet which the Ibrox cult hero will hope the Sky Sports News crew who were on hand did not capture for posterity.

But this is a day when the winners are the Sick Kids Friends Foundation who have now purchased two people carriers for children with complex nursing needs. The second bus was recently delivered to the Calareidh respite and residential care house in Bingham in Edinburgh.

“It means a lot to us when you see the buses for the sick kids,” said John Gowans. “It’s a fabulous cause and a wonderful way for us to remember Craig. This annual match has become a great event and seems to get better every year.

“Craig started out in the under-11s for Hutchison Vale and, after he passed away, we were approached by the club to see if we wanted to run a charity match in his memory and it has just gone on from there.

“It has gathered momentum every year and has become a great event. A lot of the former players enjoy the chance to get their boots back on. We can’t thank them enough for keeping his memory going.”