Livingston ready for the Betfred Cup climax that Netflix missed out on
Tinsel Town, meet roundabout city.
Hampden is a closed set this afternoon, but the protagonists are all there, and this afternoon’s prize is the fitting finale – if all goes to plan on the West Lothian side’s script.
In David Martindale there’s the obvious lead role – turning his life around and leading Livingston to the brink of glory – ready to repeat the feat of the club’s finest hour when he was at his lowest ebb.
His backstory is well documented. In 2004 when Livingston picked up their first national trophy, Martindale was arrested for drug offences and later sentenced to six years in prison. Now with a second trophy at stake, Martindale is at the helm of his hometown team after successful rehabilitation and with a carefully constructed crew of players each aiming for a credit in club history.
"2004 was a changing point in my life, one of the blackest moments and deepest holes I’ve been in was 2004,” he admitted. “But it was 2004 that Livingston last won the League Cup so there’s a wee bit of history there."
It seems a finale fit for any tale of redemption and rehabilitation, but a cup win could be a turning point for his players too. He’s constructed an on-field cast with varying football backgrounds, applying his checklist of four key qualities for any new recruits – his four A’s – ability, application, attitude and appetite.
Assembling a team whose sum is greater than their individual parts, they embarked on a 14-game unbeaten run which contributed to fifth place in the Scottish Premiership table and this afternoon’s shot at silverware against the team which ended that particular streak, St Johnstone.
“The players could go down in club history and be club legends. Since I’ve come into the club I’ve heard a lot of talk of Stuart Lovell and the 2004 team and they can go down in the history of Livingston football club too. That can only be a good thing,” the manager added.
“I believe I have four or five players in that changing room who could play at a higher level. This could be a massive turning point in their careers with teams down south maybe looking at them.”
Future success and glory all fits into a remarkable story arc, and one where only the trophy is missing to conclude this Betfred Cup chapter.
"I think Netflix probably missed a trick with Livingston, but saying that they probably didn't expect us to go 14 games unbeaten,” defender Nicky Devlin admitted. His is another worthy sub-plot and a player who fits in with the manager’s four-A criteria after the turning point in his own career.
Pulling pints and dreaming of the big-time, the down-on-his-luck defender looked to be dropping out of the game for good when he was released by lower league Stenhousemuir in 2014. But a rapid resurgence and ascent through the divisions had some even suggesting an unlikely Scotland call-up earlier this season during the Lions’ remarkable run. Now he's on the brink of being a cup winner and, as Martindale says, a club legend at Livingston.
"I was working in the Pond Hotel in the west-end of Glasgow,” explained Devlin. “I enjoyed it but it’s not something I wanted to do forever.
"There were a few times where I would be playing on the Saturday and if they were short staffed I was going straight from the game and working an 18th or 21st birthday party.
"Stenhousemuir was a great club and they did well for me but when you get released from there you do think where do I go now? Could I be like so many and fall out of the game?”
Some good fortune and that key quality of application saw Devlin through and after a spell captaining Ayr United – the turning point in his career he says – he tested himself in England with Walsall before returning to another challenge in the Scottish Premiership with Livingston, where those attributes slot in so well.
"At Livingston everyone has been released from somewhere at some point and I think the manager does target players who have a point to prove and it has worked for us so far,” the right-back explained.
“One of our main qualities is we don't have any superstars in our squad. We are all very hard-working and very good players - we don't have a team full of superstars or big egos. We do work hard and get on well with each other and that's maybe why it's been successful so far. The manager epitomises that.
“You dream about playing cup finals when you are a wee boy growing up and with the kind of journey that I have had in football in terms of being released when I was at Stenhousemuir and stuff, you maybe think those days are not going to happen for you.
"Thankfully I've maybe tried to turn that around a bit from where my career could have been going and hopefully come [this afternoon] I'm sitting with a winners medal – there has been a lot of better players before me who have finished their careers without one so it would be a massive opportunity.”
The cameras roll for kick off at 2pm this afternoon for the Betfred Cup final at Hampden.