Gretna’s Scottish Cup fairytale ended today as the team from the small border town lost the final to hot favourites Heart of Midlothian following a thrilling penalty shoot-out.
The runaway winners of the Bell’s Second Division had defeated four First Division teams to make it to Glasgow’s Hampden Park and today pushed Hearts to the limit with a 1-1 score at 90- minutes to take the game to extra time.
But the Edinburgh side, who squeezed out Rangers to come second to Celtic in the Bank of Scotland Premier League, were in seventh heaven after winning 4-2 on penalties.
Hearts, who have had a turbulent season on and off the pitch, are expected to parade through the streets of Edinburgh tomorrow, carrying the trophy which they have now won seven times.
With Hearts’ SPL runners-up spot qualifying them for Europe’s Champions League, Gretna were guaranteed a place in the Uefa Cup regardless of today’s result.
But with hopes of silverware, most of Gretna residents – estimated to number between 2,700 and 3,500 – headed north, prompting Dumfries & Galloway Police to advise travelling supporters to secure their doors and windows at home.
The team were cheered on at the stadium by an estimated 12,000 supporters from the wider Dumfries and Galloway region and reportedly even from some other parts of the world.
Gretna switched from playing in England to the Scottish league four years ago and, with the financial backing of self-made millionaire and managing director Brooks Mileson, have seen their fortunes transformed.
The club secured the Third Division championship with a record 98 points before winning their second consecutive title this season to book their place in the First Division.
Mileson told PA Sport: “It’s an emotional time for me and I’m so proud of the players.
“It was a great game but what a terrible way to lose a final.
“I knew we could play as well as we could, especially in the second half.
“It was a fantastic achievement to take them all the way to penalties, we certainly gave them a game.”
Local councillor and season ticket holder Allan Graham said it was “disappointing” to lose the final but insisted he was “not downhearted”.
He said: “Most people in Gretna will be quite delighted we’ve come so far and also because we’re representing Scotland in Europe next season.
“The support for the team has been great throughout the region, on both sides of the border – a lot of people have been coming up from Carlisle.
“So it’s been a great season and we’re looking forward to the next one.”
Dumfries MSP Elaine Murray, who made her first visit to Hampden today, praised the team for an “excellent” season.
She said: “Obviously I’m disappointed they lost, particularly after coming so close.
“But people are so proud of how they played, not just today, but throughout the season.
“They’ve brought great excitement to Gretna and the wider area, and based on today’s performance they can do really well next season.”