Lowland League Cup: Edinburgh Uni’s Mark Gair reveals debt of gratitude to Spartans chief Dougie Samuel
Mark Gair was set to hang up his boots for good three years ago before an intervention from current Spartans boss and former Edinburgh University head coach Dougie Samuel prompted a change of mind.
After spending four seasons working under Samuel at the Uni between 2008 and 2012, of which two were as club captain, the 28-year-old seemed destined to call it quits after sustaining a nasty ankle injury during his spell with Spartans’ now-defunct East of Scotland League team.
However, after nursing his way back to full fitness, aided by Samuel’s support, Gair was talked out of retirement and admits he hasn’t looked back since returning to the University to complete a master’s degree.
Now the head of Physical Education at the Royal High School, he is eager to get one over Samuel by booking the Students a place in the Lowland League Cup semi-finals at the expense of Spartans.
Ahead of tomorrow’s clash at Ainslie Park, Gair admitted: “I’ll always be grateful for what Dougie did. My entire time at University during my first spell was spent working under him, so we’ve built up quite a close relationship over the years.
“I more or less called time on my football career after Spartans’ EOS team folded and I picked up the injury, but Dougie was very supportive and helped me through it.
“I think the only club that could tempt me to change my mind and get back into playing again was the Uni, having already had that close affinity and sentimental link with them.
“So, I rejoined as a non-student at the start of last season but have recently gone back to study on a part-time basis, which means although I’m one of the more experienced boys I can now play in a few of the midweek BUCS university games as well. I’ve had a few challenges with availability this year due to work commitments and the birth of my first son last November, so that led to me missing the odd training session and matchday.
“But it’s good to be back involved a bit more now and luckily I don’t have any exams for a few months unlike many of the other boys, so hopefully I can focus on having a good end to the season.”
Gair, who has featured at left-back and in a more attacking midfield role, believes Dorian Ogunro’s men having nothing to fear against Spartans, with the winners set to play either Cumbernauld Colts or East Stirlingshire in the last four.
“Some of our best performances this season have been against the top four or five teams in the league and the football we’ve played over the last few weeks proves we can be a match for any team on our day,” Gair added.
“We didn’t really lay a glove on Spartans when we lost 3-0 to them last month but, prior to that, we picked up a few draws, so hopefully we can push them a bit closer this time round.
“It’s always a game I look forward to and we’re certainly going into the tie with a view to winning. The boys appeared to come through the Vale of Leithen game last weekend unscathed, so we’ll be at full strength.
“We played some really nice stuff, had a lot of the ball and moved it well from side to side but just struggled to translate that into more goals.”
The remaining two quarter-finals are Gala Fairydean Rovers v BSC Glasgow and Stirling University v Edusport Academy on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Whitehill Welfare boss Ian Little has left the club to take up the position of assistant to new manager John Brownlie at relegation-threatened Berwick Rangers.