Spartans boss Dougie Samuel living the dream as he plots Hearts giant-killing act

The good times just keep rolling under Spartans manager Dougie Samuel.
Spartans manager Dougie SamuelSpartans manager Dougie Samuel
Spartans manager Dougie Samuel

Promotion to the SPFL in May, a memorable League Cup victory over Championship league leaders Dundee United followed soon after. A first-ever League Two triumph over Elgin then kick-started a remarkable maiden campaign that sees the club occupy third in the table and within a real shout of the play-offs.

And that's all within the space of eight months. Samuel has been at Ainslie Park since June 2012. Under his stewardship the former Edinburgh University boss has guided the club to three Lowland League titles, not to mention adding a plethora of cups to the Pilton ground's silverware cabinet.

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And tomorrow Samuel will oversee his next challenge when Capital rivals and Scottish football giants Hearts make the short journey across the city for a mouthwatering Scottish Cup fourth-round clash.

"It's a fantastic occasion for everyone part of the Spartans family," the affable Samuel said. "I think the most pleasing thing for me is to just see the happiness and joy it has brought. There have been so many smiling faces in and around the academy now since the draw was made.

"It's a day for us to embrace. When you're in the play-offs, it's riddled with stress and anxiety where tomorrow is genuinely a tie we can approach and enjoy it. Let's be honest, nobody expects us to win. We're part of something special so why wouldn't you be smiling when you arrive at the ground.

"Winning the play-offs against Brechin and Albion Rovers in May, nothing will ever be more important than that because, to use some other people's words, we delivered the Holy Grail. Nothing is going to top that. But, in some ways this weekend almost feels like a reward for a lot of hard work for a lot of people over a long period of time.

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"There was an old photo circulating on Twitter (Now X) earlier this week of Ainslie Park where you can see the old wasteland next to the pitch and the chimney of the old high school, so it's a reminder that we didn't always have turnstiles, a gantry or a new stand - we didn't have a synthetic pitch because it was grass when we first moved in in 2008. So a lot has changed and unrecognisable. I think that's why this game is so special. I'm absolutely delighted for our chairman Craig Graham for the work he's put in.

"There will be a moment before kick off where I'll definitely stand and look around the facility and think 'wow'. But to be perfectly honest with you most Saturdays, particularly in the morning on the balcony when I look across both pitches which are full, I do think to myself, 'we did it'. We've been able to create this social home and that's always been the aspiration."

So what are the chances of causing the mother of all cup shocks in sending Steven Naismith's men back to Gorgie with their tail between their legs? Highland League outfit Brora ended the Jambos' dreams in 2021 and Spartans will be hoping history repeats itself.

"There are enough examples in the record books to show that these results do happen," Samuel said. "One thing for sure is that if you don't go into the game daring to believe then you've certainly got no chance of winning. I'm not going to pour cold water over anybody's hopes or aspirations for this game but, equally, I'm realistic that 95 times out of 100 Hearts win on Saturday.

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"What you don't know is if January 20, 2024 might be one of those five and that's the beauty of cup football. We'll go in as best prepared as we can with a game-plan and we'll do our best to execute it. But Hearts, right now, are the third best team in the country so let's not pretend they're coming here with any fear or nervousness.

"I have a group of players here who have already made history at this football club and they deserve this day in the sun. It wasn't easy beating Brechin and Arbroath in the previous rounds so we finally got our dream draw. The players have been exceptional this season and whatever happens it's going to be such a special day."