A FEW months ago, Iain Thomson was worried he was going to lose his eye but now he has his sights fixed on a piece of history.
The Spartans midfielder will take to the pitch against Berwick Rangers for today’s Scottish Cup tie in Edgar Davids-style sports goggles after an allergic reaction to some eye drops sidelined him for months and left him fearing the worst.
The gloom of that period has been lifted by a return to action and the awareness that victory would see him and his team-mates write their names into the record books as the first non-league side in 55 years to progress to the quarter-finals of the nation’s most prestigious cup competition.
For a local lad, who is in his second stint at the club having previously revelled in the cup upsets which helped put the former East of Scotland league side on the map, the chance to add to the list of conquests is something he is relishing.
“I was initially told I was losing my eye so, at that point, I thought ‘that it’s, my career is over’,” said the 33-year-old PE teacher, who dropped down to the Lowland League after a successful few years helping this afternoon’s opponents to the old Third Division title in 2007, before switching to Stenhousemuir where he wrapped up promotion via the Second Division play-offs in 2009. He then had a spell at East Stirlingshire before returning to the club that initially gave him the platform to impress.
He is now recapturing his form and revisiting the glory days but the eye problems mean it has been a tricky period. “It was basically an eye infection but the big thing was when I took the drops for it I was allergic to it. I didn’t have a clue at the time because I had never had that type of drop before. But my face just ballooned. I didn’t know what was happening, I kept putting the drops in. Obviously, it was doing damage and I was oblivious to it. I ended up going to see a specialist and he was like ‘mayday, mayday – we need to get you in and sort this’.
“Fortunately, they managed to do quite a bit of work to stabilise it. It was an interesting time but it could have been worse. I am still playing. And if it means I have to wear a bit of protection, I’ll just deal with that.”
It has opened him up to a bit of ribbing with opponents calling him Edgar Davids.
“It’s all good banter – there are worse players to be compared with. It’s just one of these things and I have just got to put up with it. It’s a very unfortunate and rare thing that happened but it could have been worse, I could have lost an eye. So you have just got to look at the positive side of it.”
The highs of his football career have been plentiful for a lad who has seen out his time in non-league and lower league teams and the past cup runs at Spartans featuring prominently.
“There is the famous footage of when we went away to Arbroath [and won 4-1] and then watched the draw for the next round in the clubroom there. The big games against St Mirren and Livingston at City Park were incredible occasions to be a part of, especially given how Livingston were doing at the time. They went on to win the CIS Cup that season, so to hold them 0-0 at half-time was huge. Unfortunately we ran out of steam in the second half.
“But it was a really good occasion to be a part of and to hold St Mirren to 0-0 a couple of years later was great as well and we were actually a little unlucky not to sneak that. Those games stick out as do the nights out, the build-up, everything. It was all very special to be part of.
“And it’s a wee bit surreal but great to be part of it again. I’m excited. I was probably thinking it wouldn’t come around again. But, all of a sudden, we are one game away from the last eight which is crazy.
“The boys deserve it, in the two Scottish Cup games we have played against league opposition we have acquitted ourselves well [defeating Clyde and then Morton] and we fully deserve to be where we are.”
The absence of experienced players like the suspended Keith MacLeod will make things more difficult and place a greater burden of leadership on Thomson’s shoulders. As a former captain, he won’t shy away from that.
“This will be a different game, a tough game and, with all these games against higher opposition, if they bring their ‘A’ game then they should win. If they don’t and they have an off day and we bring ours then we’ll be in with a shout. So here’s hoping.”
And he believes they will have their lucky charm in the shape of his five-year-old son Jack, who is part of the club’s youth coaching programme, and will lead the teams out this afternoon.
“It’s great for him to be a part of it. He was the mascot for the last game as well, so they see him as a lucky charm! He was also a mascot when Hearts beat Livingston earlier in the season as well so, hopefully, he can do the same with us. He’s buzzing about it.”
That family ethos at Spartans was one of the major draws when he returned to Ainslie Park but there was also the lure of games like this.