Douglas saves best to inspire Leicester on difficult journey back to big time

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The Independent Football

John Hartson had just sealed Celtic's victory at Anfield in the 2003 Uefa quarter-final. Douglas turned triumphantly towards a mountain of morose Merseyside faces. "You know how your eyes fix on one person?" says the 6ft 3in Scotland international. "Well, there was one guy decked out in green and white going bananas among all the Liverpool fans."

Until Celtic crashed out of the Champions' League on Tuesday - the result of a calamitous night in Slovakia last week when his successor, David Marshall, was beaten five times - Douglas was accustomed to being asked what possessed him to exchange the prospect of Champions' League nights in Milan and Barcelona for Championship trips to venues like Bramall Lane, where he makes his English debut against Sheffield United this lunchtime.

He replies that he is confident of returning to the bigger stage with Leicester in 12 months' time.

Besides, he points out, he is hardly a stranger to the less glamorous end of the sporting spectrum. How could he be when his first club was Symington Tinto? Named after a Lanarkshire farming village and a nearby hill, they played in the Caledonian League against Strathclyde Police and Glasgow University. "People say it was a Borstal team," jokes Douglas, 33, whose early role models were Bruce Grobbelaar and Neville Southall.

In his twenties, his potential was spotted by Meadowbank Thistle, who soon became Livingston. Douglas was working as a part-time fireman, and recalls telling his colleagues as they drove to tackle a blaze that it could be his last "shout" because Dundee had offered £30,000 plus a player for him. He finally became a full-time keeper at 25.

Celtic soon sent for his services. To be part of the Martin O'Neill era in Glasgow was "really special", says Douglas, echoing those who worked for the Northern Irishman at Leicester. "The big European nights were something else, games I'll always feel privileged to have shared in. The Old Firm atmosphere was more tense and bigoted."

He took the rap for more than one derby defeat. "One mistake against Rangers and you got incredible stick, as if you had committed a serious crime," says Douglas. "The outfield players can miss three or four chances but if you make one costly error, you get slaughtered. I got used to it and it made me mentally stronger. But I just didn't read the papers up there. Simple as that."

The phenomenon is not confined to the Old Firm, as Roy Carroll, Jens Lehmann and Jerzy Dudek have all learnt. "Keepers expect their mistakes to be pored over, especially since the ball became so much lighter and began swerving in the air. It's less about catching it now, more about getting it to safe areas. There's nothing worse than seeing a goalie suffer; you've been there and you'll be there again. Your heart goes out to them. It's the loneliest position on the planet."

A Bosman "free" to the Walkers Stadium gives Douglas a fresh challenge. Neil Lennon, the new Celtic captain and former Leicester stalwart, strongly recommended the club. Similar endorsements came from friends at Heart of Midlothian for Craig Levein, the former Hearts manager now in O'Neill's old job at Leicester, while the fact that Levein has assembled a colony of Scots and players with an SPL background helped him acclimatise.

"People say it's a big step down from Celtic. But if you see the set-up, you realise Leicester are a Premiership club temporarily exiled in the Championship. I know from talking to the Wolves and Preston boys in the Scottish squad that there are some great stadiums and big clubs in this league. The thing now is to get out of it."

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