Bittersweet occasion as Hay puts penury aside

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The Independent Online

The summer of 1974 was a strange one for David Hay. He had just returned from a World Cup finals that enhanced his reputation enough for Chelsea to tempt him away from Celtic, but before he could even get to Stamford Bridge his holiday in Cyprus took a sinister turn as civil conflict broke out.

The summer of 1974 was a strange one for David Hay. He had just returned from a World Cup finals that enhanced his reputation enough for Chelsea to tempt him away from Celtic, but before he could even get to Stamford Bridge his holiday in Cyprus took a sinister turn as civil conflict broke out.

Those events conspired to squeeze out the news that the Scottish League had admitted a new club to the fold. Meadowbank Thistle began life on 9 August, 1974, with a League Cup tie against Albion Rovers, a far cry from events six weeks before when a crossbar had denied Hay the winner against Brazil. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

However, 30 years on and the man and the club are now in each other's orbit. Things have changed: Slade are no longer No 1 in the charts; Hay is now a general manager instead of a midfielder, while Meadowbank are now called Livingston. Today, the club will experience their first-ever final but like the summer of '74, it is almost a bittersweet occasion for Hay.

He had no sooner guided Livingston to the CIS Insurance Cup final last month, than the club were put into administration the very next day by the Bank of Scotland over debts of just £3.5m. Seven players swapped champagne for redundancy.

That penury will be put to one side today as Livingston face Hibernian at Hampden Park to duel for the first piece of silverware in the Scottish season. The club were not even on Hay's radar all those years ago. He was not alone. Very few people took Meadowbank Thistle to their heart as they spent the first two decades in Edinburgh playing to indifference: a crowd of 236 watched their last game in the Commonwealth Stadium nine years ago, they will have 9,000 of their own fans at Hampden.

The move 15 miles down the M8 to Livingston in 1995 brought a change of name - and fortune. The West Lothian town gave its new club an all-seated stadium as Livingston went from the Second Division to the Uefa Cup in just five years. The man responsible for the rise, Dominic Keane, was ousted by the bank last month, though Hay will sit alongside the former owner today.

Thoughts of debt and administration will be pushed into the background as 50,000 witnesses get ready to see the latest chapter of their remarkable tale. "In my experience, if you go into any game thinking about money, you will fail," declared Hay. "I am not concerned about cash problems; my players only have thoughts about the game."

Hay's calm approach is appreciated by his team. Six players took pay cuts just to stay on at Livingston, including Oscar Rubio, a central defender who began his career at Real Madrid. "We showed a lot of spirit to beat Dundee in the semi-final," explained the 27-year-old, who joined Livingston in 2001 from Farense in Portugal. "Even before the club went into administration, the players had a good relationship with each other. That is why it was hard when some had to leave.

"But what has happened has made the players even closer. Hopefully that will be a help at Hampden. This will be my first final, the chance to win a trophy. It will be the biggest game of my career. There are not many times you have an opportunity like this."

That philosophy could equally apply to Hibernian's success-starved support. There will be almost 40,000 of them at Hampden, with exiles from Australia and Canada flying home to see if they can emulate their success in the 1991 League Cup final.

For Bobby Williamson, it is as much proof of Hibernian's status as the defeats of Celtic and Rangers to reach this final. "Big crowds prove you are a big club," the manager said. "The size of our following has taken me by surprise but fans have been inspired by our presence in the final."

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