FOR a short while last year it looked as if Dumbarton had pulled off a major coup when news broke that Craig Gordon was among their travelling party for a league game against Livingston.
Britain's most expensive goalkeeper had left Sunderland the previous summer after struggling with a serious knee problem and rumours quickly spread that manager Ian Murray had managed to talk the £9m man into a short-term contract that would let him work on his fitness. Gordon, though, would never play a single game for the team.
In fact, Jack Ross, the Dumbarton assistant manager, cannot even recall the 31-year-old as much as kicking a ball during his three-month stay at the club. Gordon would prove a very a useful addition to the coaching set-up for the remainder of that season, passing on his expertise and experience to a group of very grateful part-time players. The only restriction, however, was that Gordon would help out only through word rather than deed.
The former Hearts player had admitted at the start of his time with Dumbarton that he did not expect to play again that season and would possibly have to retire from football entirely. But while there was even the slimmest chance of him making a full recovery, he would dedicate everything he had to make it happen and do so in a proper manner. Hence there would be no jumping around in the mud diving to save shots from Dumbarton strikers or hoofing in crosses for the goalkeepers to come out to catch.
Instead, there has been the most patient and professional of rehabilitation periods. Where some would have rushed back into playing when only half-fit and others retired out of exasperation, Gordon has bided his time. More than two years after his last competitive appearance, he is on the brink of earning a contract with Celtic and Ross cannot think of anyone who would deserve it more.
"I think when Craig came to us he always harboured the belief that he could return to playing," the former St Mirren defender told Herald Sport. "That was very much still his focus, even if he knew it might be difficult. He always said he was going to exhaust every single possibility. For him to have got himself to the point where he's fully fit and available again is an achievement in itself.
"He wanted to get himself into best possible position he could to be available to play, rather than just settling for being 75% or the likes. He seems to have managed that given the calibre of clubs that are now considering him. He's had to be incredibly patient to go through that process which I think is indicative of his personality. And he's had to be incredibly motivated as well because he's obviously done okay [financially] throughout his career but he's still had that drive to push himself through such a lengthy rehabilitation so he could come back and play again.
"He's a very single-minded when it comes to doing what he feels is right for his career. It's hugely encouraging for everybody that it now looks he's going to return to play at a very good level again as undoubtedly he's one of the best goalkeepers this country has produced for a number of years."
There won't ever be a book written about "Gordon: The Dumbarton Months" but it proved to be a worthwhile venture for all involved. The club got to pick the brains of a 40-capped Scotland internationalist who had played at the highest level in England, while the player got a chance to see first-hand the work of a young management duo taking their first steps in the coaching game.
"Craig was popular with the players," added Ross. "I know the players were surprised by how down-to-earth he was and how respectful he was of what they do. He also gave us an extra pair of eyes in the dug-out and that was invaluable."
Despite Murray and Ross' best efforts, however, there would be no sighting of Gordon in a Dumbarton goalkeeper's jersey. "I don't think I saw him as much as kick a football as he was at that stage of his rehabilitation where he was still trying to work out the next best step.
"To be around players training and balls rolling all over the place, I don't remember him as much as flicking one back to the group. We did try every week to see if he might fancy a game but I don't think that was ever going to happen! It was all about returning to fitness and I'm really pleased to see he seems to have finally got there."