Forfar and the 20-year hitch

Today, the chance to avenge a 1982 cup insult arrives
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The Independent Football

Station Park is a bit of a misnomer. There are no trains near Forfar Athletic's trim little ground these days: the nearest railway station, thanks to Dr Beeching, is 14 miles away in Dundee.

The cruellest cut of all, though, is the one which will force Dave Bowman to be condemned to a seat in the stand for today's Scottish Cup quarter-final with Rangers as the big time slips slowly into the distance.

With six caps for Scotland, Bowman ought to have been the kind of experienced old head the Second Division side would have relied on. However, the man who played in four Scottish Cup finals and a Uefa Cup final for Dundee United has been shunted into a siding, if not simply terminated.

The 37-year-old is serving a record 17-game ban by the Scottish League for picking up a total of five red cards in the one game against Stranraer last September. His crime was swearing at a referee, but the draconian punishment has robbed him of possibly the last top-class occasion of his career. Bowman still has three League games of his ban left, and though that does not affect the Scottish Cup, manager Neil Cooper is not likely to select a man who has not kicked a ball for five months to face Claudio Caniggia and Tore Andre Flo.

"We were shocked at the time, but we've had to cope," said Cooper. Bowman's wait for justice to take its course, though, is not quite as long as Forfar's.

In 1982 this remarkable little club came close to reaching the Scottish Cup final itself. They held Rangers to a stalemate semi-final draw before going down 3-1 in the replay, but had the underdogs been awarded a late penalty in the first match then Forfar could have been celebrating a famous slice of giant-killing.

"People in town still talk about that penalty incident," recalls David McGregor, Forfar's chairman, who has served the club for over 20 years. "But I think the gulf between the clubs has grown enormously since then, when you look at how much Rangers have spent on their squad." The Ibrox club have racked up £84 million in transfer fees in the last three years, but Flo, Caniggia and Co will be required to get over the culture shock of Feyenoord to Forfar in three short days, and come down from the rarefied heights of the Uefa Cup in a way they failed to do against Berwick Rangers earlier in the competition.

"On paper, we should have no chance," acknowledged Cooper, "but Berwick have already proved what can happen through sheer hard work, by taking Rangers to a replay. We have worked so hard to get here, it's a big reward for the Forfar players to test themselves against a top club. We will be compact and cause them a few problems and we will not stand back and admire Rangers."

However, that is the attitude Forfar have shown since beating First Division side Clyde in the fourth round to earn this tie. McGregor and his board eschewed proposals to cash in by taking the game to Dundee, sticking with Station Park, where the all-ticket 4,600 crowd will be breathing down the neck of Alex McLeish's cosmopolitan squad.

"The town has been buzzing since the draw," Cooper said. "The local shops are all decked out in our sky-blue colours and we've been selling the match programme all week at several newsagents. We've sold thousands instead of the usual 200."

Cooper has seen all this, and more, before. He was part of the St Mirren side who won the trophy in 1987, shocking a Dundee United who were fresh from defeating Barcelona en route to that Uefa Cup final. "I won't be showing the players my medal," Cooper insisted. "I have had my time and now it's theirs. They have an opportunity to pull off what would be one of the biggest shocks in the entire history of the Scottish Cup."

And as for that dodgy semi-final penalty 20 years ago, Rangers paid a heavy price: they lost 4-1 in the final to Aberdeen, with someone called McLeish scoring the opening goal.

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