Last Saturday, Greg Docherty fulfilled a childhood dream by stepping out at Ibrox.
But this time, unlike his four previous visits to the home of Rangers Football Club, he was stepping out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a home player following his January switch over to Glasgow.
Docherty’s home debut might not have gone exactly to plan – with Rangers falling to a narrow loss against Hibernian – but nevertheless, it was an afternoon that he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.
His move from Hamilton Academical, a Scottish Premiership side where he had plied his trade since joining their youth academy as nothing more than a nine-year-old with dreams, was perhaps as anticipated as it was justified considering his head-turning performances during the past 18 months.
For lifelong Rangers supporter Docherty it’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, and talking to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview he recounted the moment he discovered the transfer was in motion.
“Believe it or not I was actually on my way to the Hamilton game against Hearts [on January 24] and I received a phone call to say that the deal had been done and that I was now a Rangers player.
“It was all a bit mad. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be playing that night but after the phone call I quickly had a chat with […] who said obviously you won’t play because we’ve signed all of the forms, and it’s up to Rangers now to do their stuff.”
The confirmation of a completed deal before the end of the transfer window would have come almost as a relief for the 21-year-old, who admitted that he first heard of Rangers’ interest courtesy of speculation across social media platforms.
“To be honest that’s where you first find out most of it, because social media is so popular these days for breaking news. You hear something then ask around a bit to see if it’s true or not but it’s quite funny how you read news about yourself.”
Fortunately for Docherty this proved to be one social media rumour that came to fruition, and little more than three days after being officially announced as a Rangers player he was taking his place in caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s squad, coming off the bench in the 74th minute in a 2-1 win at Ross County.
A winning start in a Gers shirt was undeniably the perfect way for Docherty to settle any lingering nerves following his well-documented winter transfer, and reflecting on his debut he praised the supporters who immediately back him that night.
“It was special. The reaction I got from the crowd was great – it was an incredible following considering the distance from Glasgow – and even when I was warming up the whole stand and a half that Rangers had been allocated were clapping and saying my name.
“It’s something I have dreamt of for a long time and for that to actually happen was incredible.”
But when one door opens, another one has to close, and Docherty’s move to Rangers signalled the end of his 14-year spell at Hamilton.
The Scotland Under-21 international spent the young days of his career working through the ranks at Hamilton’s esteemed academy – an academy that has seen the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur graduate and switch to the Premier League – before making his first-team bow at just 17.
After getting a feel for first-team football in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Docherty fully broke into the Hamilton side a year later and it’s fair to say that, from that moment, he never looked back.
He became a stalwart in the Accies’ midfield, going on to make over 100 appearances for them across all competitions, and he insisted that his decision to leave the Club was one that was ultimately made with a heavy heart.
“[I’ll miss] the people. I made a lot of close friends – some of my best friends are still there – and I’ll miss seeing them every day. It was a great place to be, a great place to work, and a great place to play football.
It was a joy for me, it was never a chore or anything like that, and I enjoyed every minute. It gave me a chance. I’ll just miss being in and around the dressing room, because it was a great dressing room, but it was time to move on and push on to the next challenge.”
There’s little doubt that Docherty will always be held in high regard by the home supporters for his efforts during his tenure at the Club, not least for his crucial goal that helped Hamilton edge past Dundee United in the two-legged Scottish Premiership relegation play-off in 2017.
It’s a moment that Docherty himself looks back on with fond memories, too.
“Scoring the goal to keep them in the league, that was it for me.
“Hamilton had shown a lot of faith in me through the years so for me to repay them with that goal to keep them in the league, that was special. Football’s funny sometimes with how it works and for me to score the goal after coming through the youth system was nice for Hamilton.”
It won’t be long before he’s back in familiar territory though, as Docherty and Rangers travel to New Douglas Park on February 18 in a match that’ll be rife with emotion for the academy product.
Football is often known to be an ironic sport at times, and there’s a certain amount of irony about the fact that the youngster from Milngavie all-but sealed the deal when playing against Rangers for Hamilton earlier in the Premiership season.
It was in Hamilton’s 2-0 win at Ibrox back in November – a match that gave the Accies their first victory at Rangers since 1926 – where the youngster excelled, earning an assist and generally catching the eye with a powerful midfield display, and it’s this that could have swayed the board of directors at Rangers into signing on the dotted line.
“In a way I hope so. I wanted to play well because it was against the team I support – it’s funny like that – but I wanted to prove that if I was to play for Rangers then I’d be more then capable.
“After that game I received a lot of nice messages from the fans congratulating me so I knew right away that they had taken to me a little bit. Then once the news came in that Rangers were interested in me the amount of support I received was incredible, and that was another factor in me signing.”
For now, though, Docherty’s time at New Douglas Park is a chapter of the past, and his firm focus remains on pastures new at Rangers – and more predominantly, getting them back to the very top.
Their return to the summit of Scottish football last season after four years of climbing back up the ladder has seen the club back where it belongs, and considering the plight that they have been recovering from since entering into administration in 2012, a third-place finish was an impressive feat on their return to Premiership football last season.
And whilst it seems that Celtic are once again set to reign supreme come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Docherty is confident that Rangers will be right back on their heels again before too long.
At just 21 years of age Docherty has arguably already reached the pinnacle of the Scottish game by virtue of playing for one of the two notorious Glaswegian giants, and he admitted that he could already see himself spending the majority of his footballing career at Ibrox, aiding the club’s revival.
“You never know. If that was to be the case then I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all.
“Rangers need to get back to the top, and one of my aims is to get them back there and competing at the highest level – and I’m sure the Rangers fans do too. There’s every chance of that happening over the next few years, I don’t see why not, you’ve just got to believe.
“If I was to stay here for the rest of my career then that would be brilliant but you never know in football and you want to play at the highest level possible.”
After achieving his dream move by the time he even turns 22 it’s clear to see that there’s a long and successful career there for the taking should Docherty avoid serious injury, and there is already growing talks that he could be in contention for a berth in the Scotland squad as the year progresses.
It is a testing time for the Scotland national squad at present, currently without a manager and with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary looming in March, but with three Under-21 caps to his name – and with a big move under his belt – Docherty is well-placed to push for a first senior call-up.
Asked about his national team aspirations, Docherty replied:
“Absolutely, I don’t see why not.
“Obviously I’ll take each game as they come but I think that if I start off playing well for Rangers I can’t see why I can’t push into the international team. I’ve already completed one of my targets to get signed by Rangers – but first and foremost I need to establish myself in the Rangers team.”
And this could begin with a first start in a Rangers jersey when they travel to Scottish League One outfit Ayr United in the fifth-round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday, with a quarter-final spot at stake.
It would be a full debut that would no doubt be received well by Rangers fans if social media talk is anything to go by, with Gers supporters urging their new signing to be given the chance to impress in midfield.
If anything, that shows just how highly-rated Docherty is – he’s something of a hot commodity right now.
But he insisted that he’s aware of the competition for places and strength in depth at Ibrox, adding that he feels he is at the right club in order to develop as a young footballer.
“I feel like I need to score more goals, and I need to contribute more. I need to be a more all-round box-to-box midfielder. I think I’ve got the fitness and the strength to do it but I just need to be a bit more aware when I’m on the ball and speed up the play.
“I think that’ll come at Rangers though and I think that’s something they are good at – they’re a very fast-flowing team – and that’s why I’m excited to be playing with them and see what it’s like to play in a game with such high intensity.
“It’s always been difficult to play against Rangers. The movement is always good and they’re always very switched on with what they do – that was another factor in joining, as I wanted to be a part of that. They’re a great side that are building momentum at the moment.”
It is this concept of building momentum that couldn’t be truer on the blue side of Glasgow at this moment in time, with their current position a far cry from the desperate predicament of late 2012.
With Docherty and fellow midfielder Sean Goss arriving in January there’s real potential for a partnership to be grown – one that could be the backbone of this Rangers side for years to come.
The signs are good for the Gers as they strive to compete for a 54th league title, combining energy and youth with some seasoned heads that lends itself to some pleasing football.
As for the immediate future, it may just take another few games for the enormity of the move to fully sink in for boyhood fan Docherty, but it is a scenario that just goes to prove the old-school cliché that dreams can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough for them.