Oil City swank met Glasgow East End opportunism down a bleak side-street. A stretch Hummer bedecked in Aberdeen’s red and white was prowling around the stadium, looking for a place to draw up. The driver of this enomo-car thought his luck was in when he saw a hastily-painted sign: “Celtic Park – Parking”.
This probably wasn’t an official spot, maybe one commandeered on the fly, but no matter. No mention of price, but surely that wouldn’t be a problem for the fans from the prosperous north-east. But turning into the entrance when you’ve hired such a big hulking beast definitely was.
A metaphor for the final? For 40,000 Dons, as they like to sing, steaming in? Invading Celtic’s home, taking over three sides of the stadium, changing the colour scheme and threatening to challenge the natural order once again? Would Aberdeen, with that sort of backing, that sort of hope, end up looking just a wee bit daft?
Not quite. Not at all given that they won, eventually. A disappointing match will quickly be forgotten, indeed was cast to the wind the second Adam Rooney’s clinching penalty zinged into the back of net. And the great Reds renaissance? Well, the glory years kind of began with an unsilky, non-classic League Cup triumph such as this. For those without parking issues, unlike that Hummer, there was a difficult choice.The Thistle Tavern offered a “special” of sausages, gravy and chips for £2.95. At the Springfield Vaults there was an all-day breakfast with the promise of “ten items”. Both pubs boasted long queues but you had to search long and hard for supporters of Inverness.
Three Sides Red – wasn’t that a deep and meaningful art-house movie? Anyway, this was quite a sight. Flags, banners, balloons, plastic sheep, heifer-headdresses. The Caley Thistle fans finally showed themselves, filling the bottom tier of the Lisbon Lions stand. The top half was left empty for safety reasons, with Aberdeen claiming they could have sold a few thousand more tickets, though not to their old idol Stevie Archibald, who tweeted from Barcleona that he’d be in front of the TV for the big game: the north London derby.
Before the start, Derek McInnes maybe looked the more nervous. But that was always going to be the case when the other guy was John Hughes, firing off Simon Cowell-type salutes and grinning madly. In any event, it was Aberdeen who settled first as Willo Flood and Barry Robson strove for rhythm and domination. The midfield battle was engrossing. The Aberdeen pair, in fine form all season, against Richie Foran and Ross Draper. Less celebrated the latter guys may be, but Draper, when ICT went down to nine men in the semi, was a titan. Early on yesterday, his first passes went awry, but he sound found his feet and became man-of-the-match. Draper has a lolloping gait, just like Robson. The Aberdeen midfielder didn’t get the chance to ask his Inverness counterpart he was taking the mickey because mostly it was Foran snapping at him, to the upset of the Dons fans. This stopped the “One man went to mow …” song at the 37th verse.
Slowly but surely Inverness found their feet. Graeme Shinnie was tenacious and Billy McKay was content to work off the tiniest of scraps. They were growing into the game and you started to wonder what their dressing-room looked like. You imagined the walls covered with bits of paper. More bits of paper than a useless police force’s incident-room with identikits of multiple suspects. More bits of paper than a Primary 1 classroom after their first day with the paint-pots. And each one containing words to incense and inspire.
The double sending-off in the semi-final. The double sending-off in the Scottish Cup last week. The semi-final venue favouring the opposition. The semi-final kick-off time not favouring a team from the Highlands. The Highlands being the subject of smirking among the football sophisticates of Glasgow, Edinburgh and, yes, Aberdeen. ICT having to play a game midweek; Aberdeen not having to play midweek. Aberdeen relaxing on the golf course. Aberdeen enjoying Roman-emperor decadence (“Peel me a grape!”). Okay, that’s a joke but Yogi was in full-on, grumpy, nobody-likes-us mode in the build-up, so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he’d gone super-motivational with the Blu-Tack.
Second half, and this time Inverness started the better. For Aberdeen, passes were going astray. Shots were being snatched. The 40,000 were growing restless. “We love Armageddon,” read one of the Dons’ banners, a reference to SFA chief executive Stewart Regan’s dire prophesy about a Rangers-less world. They would have loved a goal more, though, but the shooting – from both teams – was getting wilder. Audaciously, Robson tried one from just outside the centre-circle. Actually, it was one of the game’s better efforts.
You couldn’t fault the endeavour as Shinnie stayed vibrant, Draper chased down Flood, Robson found a spare fuel tank from somewhere and Rooney, in normal time, thought he was about to win it before he eventually did.
The Inverness man who set off on a surging run, cut in from the wing to create an opening for a left-foot wonder strike won’t need reminding of his fresh-air shot given the outcome and I’m not going to name him here. At that, extra-time was being predicted, and penalties. One wag reckoned it would still be nil-nil after ten spot-kicks, but Aberdeen, with thunderous backing from the 40,000, held their nerve. Inverness seemed to shrivel in the shootout then steady themselves, but too late.
It was Aberdeen’s day, but you had to feel sorry for Inverness’s small band, smaller by the time of the wild celebrations, who stayed to applaud the winners. Aberdeen have found success after taking their fondness for sheep and celebrating it, leaving their critics with nothing left to say. Maybe Inverness should do the same with all the teuchter stuff and perhaps one day they’ll be back to claim the prize.