Falkirk teenager Jay Fulton has already done something every Hibs player can currently only dream of – ride aboard an open-top bus Scottish Cup victory parade through the streets of Edinburgh.
Aged four, Fulton and his brothers Dale and Tyler – both also on Falkirk’s books – joined their father Steve in the after-match celebrations after he had captained Hearts to glory against Rangers in the 1998 final.
Although he can’t remember anything of it, Fulton, now 19, believes inadvertently being part of one of the greatest days in Hearts’ history has helped imbue him with the drive to achieve great things in his own career.
“I can’t remember it,” he admits, “but I was on the pitch at the end of the ’98 final. Me and my brothers were all on the pitch after the game and then we went on the open-top bus through Edinburgh.
“I’ve seen pictures of it and it looked a special moment. It would be incredible if we could do something similar with Falkirk, with me and my two brothers both playing here.
“I think every footballer, regardless of their background, wants to enjoy days like that themselves but it does help inspire you when your dad’s already done stuff like that. He has told me really good things about winning the cup and how it felt and even when you’re walking down the street, it’s pretty special when you get people coming up to him and saying ‘well done’ and stuff like that.”
Dad Steve and the rest of the Fulton family will be in the crowd hoping to see Jay and, possibly, Dale – young Tyler won’t be involved – get the better of Hibs in tomorrow’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden. Aside from Hearts, Steve, now 42, enjoyed a fruitful career with the likes of Celtic, Falkirk and Kilmarnock, as well as a season at Bolton.
Jay, who, incidentally, was born during that short spell in Lancashire, admits having a role model who operated at the highest level of Scottish football can only be a positive as he and his brothers bid to make hay themselves.
“My dad keeps his distance,” he said. “He’ll remind me about bits and pieces before a game, but I think he has got a lot of belief in me so he’ll generally let me do my own thing. He’ll be on my back if I’m slack with things, but he’s also the first one to praise me. It’s good both ways.
“I think it’s a good thing when your dad’s played at the level he has. He has played in finals and semi-finals before so his experiences – good or bad – can help me. My dad prefers to focus on us, rather than talk about his own playing days, but we’ve got old DVDs and stuff like that lying about the house. It’s always good to watch them and look back and see what his time was like. There’s a DVD of the whole season when he won the Scottish Cup with Hearts. That was a special season for him.”
Jay knows he is potentially only 180 minutes away from savouring his own “special season”. He helped Falkirk see off SPL pair Rangers and Dundee United to reach last year’s League Cup semi-final, where they ultimately fell 3-1 to Celtic despite a spirited display in which Fulton netted an equaliser.
Last season’s fearless exploits, allied to a run of four successive victories in the First Division of late, ensure the Bairns are full of belief that they can oust stuttering Hibs tomorrow and perhaps even go on to win the whole competition for the first time since 1957.
“This is the biggest game of my career so far, and that’s probably the case for most of the other boys as well,” said Fulton. “The biggest one so far was the League Cup semi-final against Celtic last year, but if we can win this one it will easily be the biggest moment of my career. We’ve won our last four games and I think it has been in the back of our minds that we’ve got a semi-final at Hampden coming up.
“That’s what we’ve been playing towards. Now that it’s nearly here, there’s an extra buzz about training because everybody’s fighting for a place.
“We were there last year and experienced a defeat, so this time we want to experience a win. The way we played against Celtic will give us confidence. If we can play as well as that again, we’d be hopeful of getting a win. We beat Rangers and Dundee United last year on that run to the semi-final, so we know what it takes to beat SPL teams.
“We’re not really looking at Hibs’ current form; it’s a one-off cup game. It will come down to what happens on the day. There will be a bit of nerves because you’re at Hampden in front of a big crowd with the TV cameras there, but that’s the stage everyone wants to play on.
“They’re an SPL team and they’ll probably be physically stronger than us, but we won’t go into it thinking they’ve got better players than us. We’re thinking we’ll be a match for them, if not better than them. You’ve got to be confident.”
Fulton senior wasn’t exactly Mr Popular in the eyes of the Hibs fans, but Jay isn’t expecting any special treatment from the Easter Road faithful.
“I’m not expecting much stick – to be honest, I don’t think too many people recognise me in relation to my dad,” he said. “It wouldn’t bother me too much if I get a bit abuse, though.”
Having only turned 19 last week and already made almost 50 first-team appearances, Jay knows he is further on than most of his contemporaries at other Scottish clubs. The Bairns made the decision to place their faith in youth when they slipped out of the SPL and it is an approach that is reaping dividends, with some talented kids being sold on and others making up the core of the team that will take the field tomorrow.
With solid former SPL professionals like Steven Pressley, Lee Bullen, Neil MacFarlane, Steve Crawford, Robbie Neilson and now new manager Gary Holt coaching the Bairns over the past few years under the watchful eye of the wily Alex Smith, Fulton knows he and his fellow youngsters are at the perfect place to develop themselves.
“Every young player at Falkirk is privileged because they’re a club that gives youth a chance,” he declared. “But although the club have given us the chance, most of us have grasped it which is the important bit. I think the fact so many of us have gone into the first team at such a young age and done well has shown that other clubs should be doing the same. It’s always going to be this way at Falkirk which is a great thing for all the other young boys coming through.
“Often you’ll get young boys who look great in the youths, but then can’t handle the step up to the first team, but here at Falkirk most of us seem to have handled it.
“I think that’s down to the coaching you get here from a young age. I joined the club at under-17 level, but some of the boys have been here since under-10s and worked their way up to the first team, so a lot of it is down to the coaches and how well you’re looked after here.
“It’s pretty much the same philosophy right through all the age levels up to the first team. There’s a lot of focus on your technique and how you pass the ball, but they also make sure you work hard at every level.
“Most of the boys here had played together for a good few years before we made it into the first team so that’s helped add a bit more team spirit and togetherness. Hopefully we can show that against Hibs.”