Scottish Daily Mail
Reynolds is hoping for an end to his heartaches at Hampden
RAISED within a long throw of the old place in a family with a close association with Queen’s Park, Mark Reynolds’ childhood dreams began and ended at Hampden Park.
The fact he will return there in Dundee United’s colours today to play in a Scottish Cup semifinal in front of an empty house is, by equal turns, a source of frustration and pride. Once upon a time, it was all he knew.
‘I have been around Hampden since I was a wee boy because my dad (Brian) was involved with Queen’s Park,’ said the Tannadice defender.
‘I grew up there and got the chance to batter the ball about, so I’m used to an empty Hampden. I suppose that’s one of the benefits.
‘I’m used to a full Hampden as well and it’s great when it’s packed.
‘The last time I was involved was when I was on the bench for Scotland against England and we drew 2-2.
‘You could feel the noise. To do that from being a wee kid running about when you could hear yourself and all the echoes….’
In the colours of Aberdeen, there were moments which promised so much but delivered nothing but heartache.
He lost the 2012 Scottish Cup semi-final to Hibs and the 2017 final of the same competition to Celtic. It was the same theme in the League Cup — defeated by United in the 2015 League Cup semi-final and an unused sub as the Dons then lost to Celtic two years later.
‘Painful, if I am being honest,’ he said of his Hampden memories.
‘I have been lucky enough to play in a few semis and finals and it has just managed to elude me.
‘I have a great record in semis, managing to get to finals but I have never taken that final step and got the trophy.
‘Aberdeen’s League Cup win was at Celtic Park — the Commonwealth Games were that year.
‘So I still haven’t managed to break that hoodoo of lifting a trophy at Hampden.’
For those believing that unwanted sequence will end on May 22, the nation’s turf accountants will happily take your money.
Third in the league and with the unique experience of two dismal semi-final displays already behind them this season, Hibernian are hot favourites not only to win the day but the old trophy itself.
‘In terms of cup football, I think a lot of the favourites tags can often go out the window,’ Reynolds stressed.
‘We saw that in the round before and previous ones — it’s kind of who turns up on the day, who executes their game plan, who puts what they practised the week before into motion and gets it done.
‘Hibs have had a great season. But we’ll go in confident. We only really focus on ourselves and what we can affect on the pitch.
‘We’ve worked all week. We’ve got a game plan that we’ll try and execute and if we do that, we feel as if we’ve got more than enough to get to the final.’
This much they do know; play with the same speed, aggression and ruthlessness that dismantled the Dons in the quarter-final at Pittodrie and it will take a very good team to beat them.
‘That’s our mindset,’ explained Reynolds. ‘We know we’re capable of that and we spoke after that game and said it’s the benchmark which we need to try and hit every game.
‘The performance dipped again after that in the league (against Ross County) and we spoke about the reasons for it.
‘But we know there’s a performance like the one we had in Pittodrie in us and any team in Scotland would struggle against that.’
Since United were last on the winner’s podium in 2010, an ocean of water has passed under Scottish football’s bridge.
Ross County, Inverness, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, St Mirren and St Johnstone (twice) have all known glory.
And with Celtic’s relinquishing of their stranglehold on the cups coinciding with Rangers’ shortcomings in them, the door is wide open again.
‘It is a huge opportunity,’ admitted Reynolds. ‘One of the benefits from playing in Scotland is that you have a chance of getting silverware.
‘It’s good for Scottish football that it’s being contested by a lot more clubs and it keeps it fun for everybody.
‘It gives everybody that bit of hope that their team are going to win it. The only downside this season is that we’ve got no fans in.
‘To find ourselves in a semi-final with the Old Firm both gone, all four teams will feel they have a real chance of lifting silverware.
‘For us, we are just focusing on the semi-final. We know we are going into a tough game and if we turn up, like we did at Aberdeen, then we can do a job on anyone in Scotland. That is what we will focus on.’
He’ll confess to fleeting moments when the mind wanders back and forwards.
Out on the Hampden turf is a red-haired kid kicking the ball into an empty net, dreaming of what a life in football can bring. The 33-year-old present-day version still has the same vision. He’s the captain of Dundee United these days. There are only four teams left in the competition. He’s entitled to do so. ‘I think you always dream of lifting the cup. As a player, you always want that success,’ he said.
‘For me, the way I’ve always been, I don’t let myself get too far ahead.
‘You dream when you are a young boy. Once you start playing, it becomes a job and a reality that you might actually have the chance to do it.
‘Then you remember that you really need to focus on the next game.
‘Too many times I think teams and players have got caught up dream about lifting the trophy when they are so close and they fall at the last hurdle.
‘So while it is a dream of mine and something I’ve always wanted to do, my focus just now is only on performing in the semi-final.’