One of the most romantic tales football has ever known reached a climax yesterday at Hampden Park when Gretna embraced the Scottish Cup final just four years after swapping the backwaters of English football for a place at home.
The Second Division champions from the tiny town just inside the Scottish border swept Dundee aside just as they had four other First Division opponents on their remarkable run. When the final takes place on 13 May, Celtic and Rangers will be watching on television while Gretna - population 2,800 - will be centre stage.
A place better known by runaway couples is now truly on the map. "It does not matter what happens now, this achievement is incredible," said their manager, Rowan Alexander. "Just five years ago we were playing in the Unibond League and now we're in the Scottish Cup final. You could not write this story."
Actually, Alexander's band may still have further to travel. They could be in Europe next season. That, however, is for another day. Alexander was locked in a hug at full-time with Brooks Mileson, the millionaire who has bankrolled Gretna and changed their fortunes not long after they were admitted to the Scottish League in 2002.
A squad of top-flight players, whose presence requires a wage bill of almost £1 million, celebrated with the 5,000 fans who travelled to Hampden. "It's probably a field day for housebreakers in Gretna," joked Kenny Deuchar, the prolific striker, whose goal in first-half stoppage time was his 100th for the club in just three seasons and set Gretna on their way.
A fortuitous penalty just before the hour, won and converted by Ryan McGuffie, killed the contest, and an own goal from Dundee's captain, Barry Smith, completed a sad day for the Dens Park club, who were bidding to return to the final they reached in 2003.
Gretna were kitted out, appropriately for the wedding town, in all white. However, clichés aside, Alexander's vision and Mileson's money have created a very professional organisation.
Their goalkeeper, Alan Main, who played in the 1991 final with Dundee United, soaked up everything that Dundee threw at him in the first half. Then, in the dying seconds of that period, Deuchar pounced on a misdirected back-header by Stuart McCluskey, went wide of the goalkeeper, Kelvin Jack, and rolled the ball in from a tight angle; it crept over the line before Bobby Mann's clearance.
The day was to get worse for Mann. In the 57th minute, he tried to get out of the way of McGuffie's advance into the box but was harshly punished with the award of a penalty for what was a dive.
McGuffie squeezed his kick beyond Jack to made it 2-0, and when Jamie McQuilken's low cross was backheeled by John O'Neill against the shins of the unfortunate Smith eight minutes from the end, the border celebrations were uncorked.Reuse content