The players of Gretna are unlikely to forget where they were when they heard they would be playing in Europe next season. They were already there - Spain, to be exact. Rowan Alexander's side were lounging around the harbour in Puerto Banus last Wednesday when they learned that Heart of Midlothian had secured Champions' League football by finishing second in the Scottish Premier League. That presented Gretna with a passport into the Uefa Cup before they even kick a ball next Saturday at Hampden Park.
The winners of the Scottish Cup go straight into the Uefa Cup but with Hearts already earmarked for more glamorous European duty, Gretna have been assigned their place in the competition instead. Just four years after entering the Scottish League, via the Unibond League across the border, the club are now flying the flag for Scotland.
Not surprisingly, Alexander's players would be quite happy for a return to Spain. The break on the Costa del Sol to prepare for the Scottish Cup final - paid for by the Second Division side's millionaire owner, Brooks Mileson - has merely whetted their appetites for travel.
All of that, however, would be getting ahead of oneself. And if there is one thing that Gretna have managed to do on their remarkable four-year journey from English non-League obscurity to European football, it is keep their eyes on the road. Two successive promotions, with record points totals, are testimony to the clever band of professionals that Alexander has assembled at Raydale Park, thanks to Mileson's money.
Gretna's wage bill is already equal to that of a smaller SPL side. It encouraged the likes of Steve Tosh to abandon Aberdeen while James Grady's colleagues at Dundee United looked at him as if he was mad when he announced after last season Scottish Cup final that he was eschewing their Uefa Cup campaign to drop down to the Second Division.
Yet it has paid off for both Grady and Gretna. The tiny striker is a perfect foil for his taller partner, Kenny Deuchar. The pair have hit 49 goals together this term and if the 50 comes up against Hearts at Hampden it might give the over-excitable Mileson a heart attack. Don't be too alarmed, though, because Gretna have their own on-field medical expert in Deuchar.
The prolific striker has earned a slice of fame because he is a qualified doctor, who still has a surgery and sees patients one morning a week on his day off. He has been known, throughout Britain, as The Good Doctor, thanks to Jeff Stelling's research on Sky Sports' results programme which allowed a more colourful namecheck when Deuchar was breaking all sorts of scoring records last season. His seven hat-tricks beat Jimmy Greaves' record as Deuchar hit 41 goals in 40 appearances in his first-ever professional season. That helped Gretna stroll out of the Scottish Third Division but this season he has had no problems with altitude: another 25 en route to the Second Division title.
"Kenny was raw when he came to us from East Fife a couple of years ago," said the assistant manager, David Irons. "However, he had a natural talent for finishing. We have worked very hard on his game."
At 25, Deuchar still has time on his side to rise even higher. He began his career at Falkirk - where his father, Robert, is club doctor, naturally - and had dreams of the NBA rather than the SPL. Deuchar was Scotland's Young Basketball Player of the Year in 1998 and then studied medicine at Dundee University. At East Fife, he discovered goals - 31 in 60 appearances, which might have been more had he not been also in his first year as a junior doctor. On his first week of night shifts he had to deal with a heart-attack patient minutes before the end of his shift one Saturday morning.
"It was difficult to fit it all in, and I wasn't enjoying it as much as I should have been," Deuchar recalls. "It was mainly down to tiredness, I wasn't doing myself justice in what I could produce."
Deuchar, though, has produced ever since he packed his little black bag and headed for Gretna. Medicine was put on the back burner and football given priority. But Deuchar has yet to embrace the footballer's lifestyle. He was loaned Mileson's £156,000 Aston Martin last season as a reward for his goals but rarely drove it. "At 12 miles to the gallon, it was a bit of a drain on the bank balance," he said.Reuse content