Scottish Cup: Romance and riches for Alexander gladtime band

Sugardaddy puts Gretna on threshold of dream
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The Independent Online

When Rowan Alexander was trying to get Gretna ready for their Scottish Football League baptism four years ago, he was a jack-of-all-trades. Back in August 2002, he played, picked the team and even helped to cut the grass at Raydale Park.

How things have changed. One look at the plethora of job titles on Gretna's impressive website shows how much the club from the tiny border town have grown. Even the groundsman has an assistant - and it's not Alexander - while there are name checks for merchandising people and even a diet and fitness coach.

The latter turns out to be David Holdsworth, who once cost Birmingham City £1.25m, and is now one of Alexander's impressive band of men behind the scenes who are pushing Gretna towards their dream of playing in the Scottish Premier League. Another is Viv Busby, youth academy director, who once played in an FA Cup final for Fulham.

They could be changing everyone's CV by a week on Saturday. Gretna FC, Scottish Cup finalists 2006. It has a nice ring to it. The romance of the cup could never be better illustrated than by the Second Division side from the town that made its name from attracting runaway couples to get married embracing the biggest day in Scottish football.

If Gretna beat Dundee in the semi-final at Hampden Park they will be back at the national stadium on 13 May to face either Hibernian or Hearts. It seems incredible, but it is possible. Gretna have already seen off three sides from the First Division in St Johnstone, Clyde (conquerors of Celtic) and St Mirren.

Before their admission to the League, Gretna held the unique distinction of being the only Scottish team to play their football in England. They were stalwarts of the Unibond League. But things in the wedding town have changed a great deal since a certain man walked into their life. Brooks Mileson is the millionaire who has turned Gretna's fantasy into a reality. More than 7,000 from around the Scottish Borders - Gretna has a population of just 3,000 - are going to Hampden.

Mileson's money has transformed Gretna. There are 57 full-time players to look after, including Holdsworth's reserve squad. Then there is the youth academy based at Penrith. A new 7,000 stadium is on the architects' drawing board. There are also a string of records - record points, record goals tally - that underline just how Alexander's side are striding through the SFL set-up en route to their undoubted destiny, playing Celtic and Rangers.

Without Mileson's money all of this would be a pipedream. Yet the 49th richest man in British football has not even begun to delve deeply into his personal fortune of £36m. Gretna won the Third Division last season by 20 points, thanks to a squad made up of SPL players who are still earning top-flight wages thanks to Mileson's largesse. But just like Jose Mourinho, Alexander knows that excess and success can spark envy. "When it is Gretna, people tag us as big-time Charlies and because we have Premier League players, every game is a cup final for the opposition. Yet there is no point in spending for the sake of it.

"I work very closely with Brooks Mileson. We both have the same vision. We are trying to install the mentality behind the scenes and off the pitch." Mileson was recently approached about taking over an English Premier League club. "Who who needs that sort of hassle?" said the pony-tailed millionaire, who emerged from a Sunderland housing estate and made his money from insurance. Glamour clubs are not for the man who stands on the terraces.

Gretna's clout on the field is delivered by Kenny Deuchar, a striker who equalled Jimmy Greaves' record of six hat-tricks in a season last year.

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