THERE can’t be too many Dutch children called Kayleigh or Ryan. Nor many households in the Netherlands who tune in religiously to British soaps. Theo Snelders can put his hand up for both. Eleven years in Scottish football brought not only a raft of career highs and lows for the 52- year-old but life-defining moments, too. Now working as a youth goalkeeper coach at FC Twente in his native Holland, his wife’s television habits serve as a reminder of the decade they spent together in a foreign country. “She still watches Eastenders all the time,” he chuckles. “Since 1988 she has hardly missed an episode.”

There were other more significant developments for Snelders during his eight years with Aberdeen and three with Rangers, namely the birth of son Ryan and daughter Kayleigh. The latter recently turned 21 and as a present her dad took her back to Scotland for her first visit in 16 years. The memories forged in Aberdeen and Glasgow came flooding back.

“My daughter left Scotland when she was three, we went back when we she was five, and since then she had never been back,” Snelders says. “Over the last few years she kept asking to go back as she wanted to see it. And so we went back for five days to Scotland and spent some time in Aberdeen and Glasgow. It was very special to go back with her.

“She couldn’t remember a lot as she was so young when she left but there were photos she had looked at over the years and it was great to let her see those places in real life. And we had some beautiful weather too. It was 27C when we were in Aberdeen and it wasn’t like that too often when I played there! I always say to people if Scotland had the weather of Spain then 50 million people would live there.”

Snelders, though, would be given the warmest of receptions during eight years at Pittodrie. Signed in 1988 to replace a departing club legend in Jim Leighton, his performances soon led to the Aberdeen faithful hailing a new hero. The Scottish PFA made him their player of the year in his maiden campaign, while the next season he was celebrating double cup success.

“I have very happy memories from my time in Aberdeen,” he recalled. “I went there when I was 24 and looking for a new challenge. Of course I knew the name Jim Leighton but as a foreigner I didn’t really know him that well. Sometimes that’s better as you just focus on your own thing. The timing was good for me, too. We had a very good team and won two cups. Those are still special memories.”

After an almost five-year absence, Aberdeen will resume their often incendiary rivalry with Rangers this afternoon. Snelders’ first experience of the fixture came in perhaps the most infamous of the lot, the October 1988 game when Neil Simpson’s tackle on Ian Durrant left the Rangers midfielder with a knee injury so severe he didn’t play another competitive game for nearly three years. It was quite an eye-opener for the Dutchman, that game setting the tone for an enmity that has endured to this day.

“It was not the most pretty of games that one, no,” he said with a dollop of understatement. “You could really feel the rivalry that day. It was intense. And I soon learned all about it. At first I wasn’t sure why these two clubs were rivals. But when I learned some more about the history then it made more sense. Fans get jealous of their rivals and they start to hate them. And it builds from that. But these games, and the ones against Celtic, were the ones you looked forward to. Outside the ground when it was building up you could always hear the footsteps of the police horses. That’s what stays with me.”

Matches against Rangers would continue to define Snelders’ Aberdeen career, the highlight of which was the 1989 League Cup final at Hampden when two Paul Mason goals sealed an extra-time victory.

“In my first year at Aberdeen I had won the player of the year award but that is something you celebrate on your own. To win something as a team, to do it together, was even better. I had been a professional with Twente for eight years and didn’t play for a prize. And then I came to Aberdeen and in my second year won a trophy. That was a great, great feeling.”

Not all of his games against Rangers went so well. In one meeting at a sodden Pittodrie the following season, as Aberdeen chased the league title, Snelders smashed his cheekbone in a collision with Ally McCoist.

“I still think that it was a disgrace that the game went ahead,” he says. “Football is a contact sport so things can happen and the weather conditions didn’t help. So I can’t see that was deliberate from McCoist. The ball was there. He had to go for it and I had to go for it. My first operation in Aberdeen didn’t go well so I was allowed to go back to Holland. They put four metal plates in my cheek and six months later they got taken out. It was very painful.”

Another injury sustained later in the season would keep him out of the league title decider on the final day of the season at Ibrox. “You can never say for sure that if I had stayed fit we would have won the league. Maybe if we had scored the first goal in that game then it might have been different. But it was very disappointing to finish second having come so close.”

Five years later and Snelders would be playing at Ibrox for the home team. His three years at Rangers were largely uneventful – he couldn’t shift Andy Goram as the first-choice goalkeeper – but has no regrets about making the switch to Glasgow.

“As a player my best time was at Aberdeen but if I hadn’t gone to Rangers I would never have played in the Champions League and other European games,” he says. “So it was worth it for that. My time there for me personally was not successful but I still loved it. Now that I am coaching it is good that I have been to different clubs and learned different things.”

The Aberdeen fans seem to have forgiven him for making that move, too. Some 20 years since he left the north-east, Snelders remains as popular as ever whenever he returns as he has done with increasing regularity of late. He is still in touch with former team-mates Mason and Willem van der Ark and they have now made plans to get together for a long weekend in Aberdeen every year.

“The longer you’ve been away the more special it is to return. I went back to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Scottish Cup win and I ended up going to see an Elton John concert the next day. A couple behind me showed me a picture of their son who had met me when he was three and now he was 30. So I took a picture of their picture.

“Scotland is very special to me. I got married when I was there and both my kids were born in Aberdeen so it is a place that means so much to my family. Whenever I go back it just feels like yesterday. You remember the places and how to get around. It all comes flooding back.”