The Scottish Cup has always eluded Alex Rae.
From a young age, the former Falkirk and Rangers midfielder has tasted success. As his career flourished he won the Scottish Premiership and League Cup, but never got his hands on the famous old trophy he dreamed of lifting.
The now 50-year-old reflected on his memories of the tournament, both from his playing and management days.
‘A truly special occasion’
Rae’s career began at Rangers but he left at a young age before signing for Falkirk. The midfielder’s career then took him to England, where he went on to become Milwall’s joint-ninth all-time leading goalscorer with 71 goals in all competitions.
When reflecting on his experiences in the Scottish Cup, Rae honestly assesses the competition he admits was the one that got away.
“The Scottish Cup is a special tournament,” he said. “My early memories of playing in the competition were with Falkirk and when you go up against some of the big guns it makes it hard to have a sustained run, but the magic is that anyone can beat anyone in this tournament.
“I had a couple of cracks at the Scottish Cup but it was a trophy that always eluded me and I’m even going back to my youth when I say that. As a kid I couldn’t win it, later in my career I won the league and I won the league cup, but I couldn’t get my hands on the Scottish Cup, but 14-years of my career were down South.”
He added: “When I was manager at Dundee we got to the quarter-finals where we faced Queen of the South and that in a sense goes to showcase what the cup is about because that was the year they made it to the final, knocking out sides like Aberdeen and falling narrowly short in the final against my former team, Rangers.
“But that was a frustrating one for me personally because I was missing a large number of key players at a time when you’re creeping towards the latter stages and thinking to yourself, ‘this could be here’, because missing out as a player added something extra for it to me as a manager.
“When you watch the final, the showcase and everything that comes with it, you could fill Hampden three times over with the demand for tickets, so it’s a truly special occasion.”
‘Fans love to dream’
The 2018/19 competition saw a record number of supporters turn out for Scottish Cup football. Rae is no stranger to plying his trade in front of large crowds, which is something he believes makes the cup different from the rest.
“The great thing about the Scottish Cup for me is the fans," he said. "Look at the Fourth Round, for example, you see over 38,000 turn up for Rangers v Stranraer, Broxburn took 1,600 to Paisley, Motherwell sold out their allocation and took over 2,000 awa to St Mirren in miserable conditions in the Fifth Round. When you see those numbers it’s clear fans love to dream. There can't be a better feeling than seeing your side progress and progress deep in to the Scottish Cup.”
He added: “There has been a pattern over the last few years though of course, there’s no getting away from that and from the incredible achievements of Celtic, so they’ll be favourites again this year. Rangers and all the other teams in the competition will be looking to end that dominance.
“Hearts made it to the final last season of course and when they took the lead against Celtic in the final it showed that no matter the title of favourite or underdog, it’s always going to be competitive in the Scottish Cup.”