It was once considered unrealistic to expect Stephen Dobbie to overhaul all-time record goalscorer Jim Patterson’s total of 251 for Queen of the South.
Not so now. Dobbie’s latest hat-trick, his fifth of the season, dumped Dundee out of the Scottish Cup on Tuesday night. It took him on to 37 goals for the season – a goal more than his age. Remarkably, he could easily have had more. Two missed penalties are slight blemishes on another excellent season. He is now eyeing hitting 50 goals at least in the current campaign.
Contracted until the end of next season, Dobbie stands on 145 goals in total for the club where his heart clearly lies. It would surprise nobody if he signs another extension. He is talking about playing as long as Kenny Miller, who, at the age of 39, had to bow to the younger assassin’s prowess in midweek.
Miller, hamstrung by abject Dundee team-mates, looked on as Dobbie helped himself to another three goals, two of which came as a result of defensive howlers.
No-one is surprised by Miller’s longevity. From his early days at Hibs he has always looked after himself. Dobbie admits this was not always the case with him. He is amused to recollect those who felt he was guilty of wasting his talents at Rangers, then Hibs. If he did, and he doesn’t dispute it, he was able to re-boot his career in the lower leagues, first with Dumbarton, where he went on loan from St Johnstone, and then Queen of the South. Other team-mates, perhaps more lauded than Dobbie at the time, have since fallen by the wayside.
“It always makes me laugh because people always say, ‘when you were younger you could have done this, or you were a bit overweight’,” he said. “But now I look at players that I played with at that time – guys like Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor and Stevie Hughes – and I see none of them playing now. But now I’ve got a new lease of life.
“Yeah, I wish I had been this shape before, and dedicated myself the same way earlier in my career. But you never know what might have happened back then. I might not have been playing at this age, you can’t say.”
Riordan, who, like Dobbie, is 36, scored more than 100 goals in the top flight during three spells at Hibs. However, he has long been out of action, present whereabouts unconfirmed. O’Connor, meanwhile, last played senior football nearly five years ago at Morton. Hughes is another whose career ebbed away after initial promise and undoubted success with Rangers.
Dobbie has outlasted them all. But it’s not as if he is eking out the remnants of a career in the lower reaches, content to come on for the last few minutes to try to nick a goal. He says he feels as fit as he has ever been. He certainly looks it. The way he anticipated Genseric Kunsunga’s short backpass against Dundee to complete his hat-trick highlighted his experience. The nimble-footed way he actually executed the goal suggested someone 15 years younger. It was, after all, the late stages of a rugged cup encounter on a freezing night in Dumfries. Dobbie, who lives in Lancashire, stayed with his mum in Glasgow afterwards before reporting for a massage at the club’s training centre in Hamilton the next morning. The arrangement by which he travels north twice a week to train and has every Monday off suits him and Queens.
“I’m just enjoying my football,” he said. “I went through a period at Bolton when I was sitting on the bench and not coming on and thinking ‘what is the point of this?’ Then, when I came back here, I started scoring goals and I just started enjoying it again. What is the point in me going anywhere else, to go through all that again?” He is committed to Queens. Why go elsewhere? He revealed he has regular chats with Brendan Rodgers, who was manager when his goals helped Swansea into the Premier League. With Leigh Griffiths currently on a period of leave, Celtic might have done worse than consider Dobbie as a short-term replacement. The striker won’t say whether this was ever discussed. Chances are he would have turned Rodgers down.
“I think this will be my last club,” he said with a smile. “I’ve signed until next year, and when people say, ‘are you close to retiring?’ well, when I get to January I think I’ll know if my legs have given enough. That’s how players see it. But right now I’m enjoying it.” After this weekend’s trip to Falkirk thoughts turn to the reward for beating Dundee – a fifth-round televised Scottish Cup encounter at Aberdeen, the team who Queens, plus Dobbie, at least initially, defeated to reach the final in 2008. The striker has mixed memories of the 4-3 win over Jimmy Calderwood’s side.
“I got injured really early – I think it was Jackie McNamara who smashed me and I had to come off,” he said. “So that day was a bit bittersweet for myself but it was crazy for the boys, a one-off game. Hopefully we can go up there in two weeks’ time and show the same fight and determination and we’ll see what happens.”