Spartans boss long wait to face Barry Ferguson

Dougie Samuel faced Celtic while at Whitehill Welfare but missed facing Barry Ferguson. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Dougie Samuel faced Celtic while at Whitehill Welfare but missed facing Barry Ferguson. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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DOUGIE Samuel never came up against Barry Ferguson in the heat of midfield battle but he will hope his managerial experience is brought to bear over the former Rangers player tomorrow at Ainslie Park.

Now at Clyde, Ferguson is preparing to face a second Scottish Cup test as manager when his side travel to face Spartans. Samuel led Edinburgh University into the third round of the Scottish Cup in 2006 for the first time in the team’s 125-year history.

Now 48, he ranks as an experienced manager after a long playing career for East Fife, Meadowbank and Whitehill Welfare, among other clubs. Although Samuel played in several Scottish Cup encounters, including one against Celtic for Whitehill Welfare, he never played against Ferguson and Rangers. He did, though, once appear in a trial match at Ibrox, when he was 15 years old, alongside Derek Ferguson – Barry’s brother – and Ian Durrant.

Would it have been his dream to play for Rangers? “No, my dream was to play for Hibs,” Samuel answered yesterday. He has a good way with words. After playing in a Scottish Cup second-round tie for Whitehill Welfare against Stenhousemuir in 1999, I remember him 
pondering the end of their cup campaign.

Whitehill had played well. Indeed, it might have been a different story were it not for a missed penalty when they were 1-0 down. A young striker on loan from Hibs called Kenny Miller – whatever happened to him? – then scored his second goal of the afternoon to make the tie safe for Terry Christie’s side.

Asked what was next for him and his team-mates, man of the match Samuel replied: “We’ll just sit and do what we do at this level, we’ll dream.” The regret had been intensified by the knowledge they had missed out on a third-round tie at Ibrox against Rangers, who were awaiting the winners.

Instead it was Stenhousemuir who banked the bumper pay cheque from the trip to Govan. Samuel and Whitehill Welfare returned to their East of Scotland league endeavours. He missed out on the chance to take on Ferguson, who was just breaking into the Rangers side at the time.

“The first game that sticks in the memory would be the Whitehill v Stenhousemuir game,” said Samuel, when asked for his Scottish Cup memories. “We played really well in the first game, drawing 1-1, but lost the replay 2-0 at Ochilview.

“Kenny Miller scored two goals and announced himself in the senior game, but we will always wonder what would have happened if we had scored the penalty that day. Especially as the reward was Rangers at Ibrox – that would have been an amazing experience for the boys to be a part of.

“I think Colin Hendry would have been the captain of that Rangers team back in 1999. We would have actually come up against Barry Ferguson if we had gone through. You had guys like Albertz and [Andrei] Kanchelskis in there too.

“That game would have been worth £200,000 to Whitehill Welfare. And the experience for the players would have been priceless.

“I was also lucky enough to play against Celtic at Hampden when Parkhead was being redeveloped while coming through as a player at Meadowbank. Pierre [van Hooijdonk] scored two and I got to chase John Collins and Phil O’Donnell, God bless him, around the pitch for 90 minutes. That was a great learning curve.

“But these games show that, if you can get past this stage, then a dream tie is always a possibility.”

Getting past Clyde and into the fourth round – a stage Spartans have reached twice before, in the glory days of the mid 2000s – is the current dream for the Lowland League side. There are some survivors from that memorable era, when Spartans’ march was finally stopped by top-tier opposition in Livingston and St Mirren.

Samuel described long-serving players such as Keith McLeod, the club record goalscorer, and Donal Henretty as being Spartans’ version of Manchester United’s class of ’92.

“They have been blessed to be involved in phenomenal success,” he said. “But, yes, we are working toward a new era. You take confidence from still having people like Keith and Donal around. They have reached the fourth round twice in their careers, and back when it was much tougher to do so.

“No-one should underestimate the achievement of this club to get to the fourth round twice in three years – although we don’t have the advantage of the slope at City Park,” he added, with reference to the club’s old ground. “Those Scottish Cup runs are part of folklore here.”