COWDENBEATH’S chances of causing an upset in their William Hill Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Rangers on Friday night were slim before their opponents’ headline-grabbing transfer activity last week.
The arrival of both Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe, renowned players with extensive Premier League and international experience, at Ibrox have increased the challenge facing the part-time outfit immeasurably.
Central Park will certainly be full to its 4000 capacity as away supporters cram on to its tumbledown terraces to catch their first glimpse of their famous new recruits in action.
Yet, Gary Bollan, the Ladbrokes League Two club’s manager, is undeterred by the prospect. He has been through far more difficult experiences, both as a player and as a manager, in a football career that is now in its 30th year. He will approach the tie with a sense of excitement, not trepidation.
The former defender’s time at Rangers – who he signed for from Dundee United along with his team-mate Alec Cleland in a joint £750,000 deal in the January of 1995 – prepared him for much of what the game has thrown at him since.
He suffered a knee injury in a Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund in Germany in December and spent more time on the treatment table than the park in the following two-and-a-half seasons. He only managed to make a handful of first-team appearances before departing for St Johnstone.
“It was a proud moment for me to sign for such a big club,” he said. “But I didn’t do as well as I could have because of injuries. I just couldn’t recover fully and get back into the team. There was a good squad of players there. I didn’t achieve what I wanted to. It was unfortunate.”
Still, he has fond memories. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Rangers,” he said. “I was there before the training ground was built and so I basically went in to my work every day at Ibrox. I mixed with great players and met some fantastic people, some of whom I still keep in touch with to this day. I don’t regret going there.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who would love to pull that light blue jersey on. It was something I was proud to do. I can look back on and say: ‘You know what? I managed to do that’.”
Bollan will be doing his utmost to ensure Cowdenbeath give their famous rivals a difficult game on Friday evening. However, he admitted the resurgence enjoyed by Rangers under Liverpool and England great Steven Gerrard this season had pleased him.
“Having gone through everything they have, it has been good to see them moving forward,” he said. “He has got them up challenging at the top of the league in a very short period of time. Steven has brought some fantastic players in and they are making big steps. I have no doubt he is going to be a top, top manager.”
Bollan would certainly know what it takes to excel in the profession. He worked under, among others, Jim McLean, Walter Smith, Paul Sturrock, Jim Leishman and Davie Hay during his playing days. He learned from all of them, but doesn’t hesitate when asked who was his greatest influence.
“Jim McLean was a football genius,” he said. “Much is made of the new formations managers are coming up with today. Jim was doing that 30 years ago. He could have managed anywhere in the world and won trophies.
“Walter had worked under Jim at United and his football philosophies were the same. But his man management was totally different. He was more of a people person. Even when I was out injured I was always made to feel part of things.”
Bollan enjoyed considerable early success after moving into management in 2009. He led Livingston to the Third Division and Second Division titles in successive campaigns. Being sacked with the Almondvale club well placed in the First Division the following season left him shellshocked.
“The Livingston debacle was a hard one to take,” he said. “We were sitting fourth when it happened. I didn’t see it coming. It was disappointing and I was angry about it. My win ratio was about 55 per cent. That isn’t too bad. It was hard one to deal with and it took me a long time to get over it. For whatever reason, it took me some time to get back into the game too. I was disillusioned. But it has gone, is in the past. I have moved on.”
After spells in the dugout at Airdrieonians and Forfar Athletic he joined Cowdenbeath midway through last season. Keeping the Fife club in senior football courtesy of a win over Highland League champions Cove Rangers in the League Two play-off last May was a considerable achievement.
“It was stressful,” he said. “Where would the club have gone if we’d failed? I really don’t know.”
Bollan has enjoyed working with Cowdenbeath chairman Donald Findlay QC, the former Rangers vice-chairman who he knew from his spell at Ibrox, and is optimistic better times lie ahead.
“All he wants is for his club to win football matches,” he said. “It is great to see him with a smile on his face and enjoying his glass of red wine on a Saturday night.”
The Scottish Cup gave Bollan one of the best days of his life, never mind football career, in 1994. He was an unused substitute on the day Dundee United defeated Rangers, who were bidding to become the first club to win a double treble, 1-0. But just to be involved in the historic occasion was sweet for the boyhood supporter of the Tannadice club.
“I didn’t get on the pitch,” he said. “There were only 13 stripped players. But I had been a Dundee United supporter as a child. I was forever going home from Hampden with tears running down my cheeks because they had lost cup finals. So to be part of the squad when the club won the cup for the first time was incredible.”
There is little prospect of Cowdenbeath producing a shock result against Rangers in the same competition this week, but Bollan will savour trying to get one over on his former club all the same.