Mark Robins was acquainted with FA Cup glamour early in his career when, as a goal-poaching 20-year-old, he hammered home the extra-time replay winner which sent Manchester United through to the FA Cup final in 1990.
Robins was 'super sub', Alex Ferguson's secret weapon with bright blond hair and gold in his boots. He had already scored to sink Nottingham Forest in the third round and Newcastle in the fifth, and he deserved more than most the winners' medal which ended up in his trophy cabinet.
Robins, now 32, has earned another crack at FA Cup glamour tonight as Rotherham United seek the Premiership scalp of Southampton in their delayed third-round meeting. He may have trod a long and sometimes tortuous path from Old Trafford to the gritty realism of Millmoor but the father-of-four insisted he has never lost his hunger for the game nor his knack of scoring goals.
"There is only one way to go when you leave Manchester United and that's down, but for me it was the right decision and I moved to Norwich, who were a very good side," he said.
"Now it's all about Rotherham, pitting our wits against Southampton and seeing how far we've come."
Robins' revival with Ronnie Moore's Millers began when he signed for the then Second Division side in the summer of 2000 and ended three years of uncertainty. He was top scorer with 25 goals as Moore's men romped to their second consecutive promotion last season and has hit 11 during this campaign as the Millers clambered back from a bad start and towards the First Division safety zone.
"When I came here our goal was to finish fourth from bottom in the Second Division. Now we're surpassing everybody's expectations by doing well in the First," Robins said. "Now if we can survive this season and rebuild the stadium with the money that is filtering down, we're looking at a bright future."
Which is not exactly what Robins was looking at when, having left Norwich for Leicester in a £1m deal in January 1995, his Filbert Street career went off the boil and, following a loan spell at Reading, he opted to pursue a future abroad. Unfortunately for Robins, it was to be an experience ruined by false promises and unrealised dreams.
"I'd always wanted to play in Spain and my then agent came on the phone one day before the transfer deadline and said I had to go and play for a team called Ourense. I was told they were challenging for promotion and was given an hour to make the decision.
"They dressed it up and made it sound really appealing. But it was a backwater club and nobody spoke a word of English. I scored five goals in my first five games but the company who owned the club got rid of the president and the manager and all the staff and 13 new players came in. I just wanted to get out."
A short period with Panionios in Greece was equally disastrous – "we didn't get paid for 60 days" – and Robins' return to the English game with a loan spell at Manchester City ended after three matches when he required an operation on a long-standing double hernia problem.
But Walsall stepped in to end his misery and a season which yielded 36 appearances and eight goals ended with a free transfer switch to Millmoor. It may not be many players' idea of a football haven, not least one who has experienced FA Cup semi-finals in a Manchester United shirt, but the bustling South Yorkshire venue is one which has helped Robins rediscover his scoring boots, and which he hopes will spell the downfall of Gordon Strachan's Saints.
"There's no doubt about it – this is not a nice place to come as an opposing side. It can be quite intimidating, there's a big slope on the pitch, and the dressing room facilities aren't good. That's been a major weapon for us this season."Reuse content