JIM Leighton had hoped to be carried shoulder high out of Hampden after the final match of his glorious 23-year career. Instead, he was carted out of the place on a stretcher after just three minutes. Rather than a goalkeeping colossus with more than 600 appearances, 91 caps and four World Cup finals appearances under his belt, Aberdeen's fate for the remaining 87 minutes of their last Scottish Cup final before this Saturday was in the hands of a man who hadn't played between the sticks since he was primary school age and down the swing park with his pals. That man was Robbie Winters, and his was the most unlikely goalkeeping cameo from an outfield player in Scottish football this side of Ryan Stevenson actually getting the start for Raith Rovers against Ayr this season.

Winters is now defying the years as a 42-year-old striker for Junior grandees Pollok but the memories all came flooding back about his bizarre piece of Scottish football history when Herald Sport caught up with him this week. This was back in May 2000, when cup final managers had just three subs to play with, and not the luxury of seven which Brendan Rodgers and Derek McInnes will have up their sleeves on Saturday. In FA Cup matches this season, managers are even permitted to make four substitutions should a match go to extra time.

Aberdeen manager Ebbe Skovdahl liked the odds of his goalkeeper remaining unscathed - his opposite number Dick Advocaat at Rangers also named three outfield players on his bench - but his gamble backfired when Rod Wallace, attempting, eye on the ball, to get onto a low cross, caught him flush on the jaw with a sweep of his right boot. The task facing the Dons was hard enough on a day which expectant, orange-clad Rangers fans had christened Oranje day in honour of their Dutch manager, but for half an hour Winters gamely succeeded in keeping vicious strikes from the likes of Jorg Albertz and Lorenzo Amoruso at bay. His clean sheet duly went to a Giovanni van Bronckhorst strike, thought, before Tony Vidmar, Billy Dodds and Albertz killed the game off before the hour mark.

"It had been mentioned by Ebbe a couple of weeks before to everybody," Winters recalled. "'Would anyone like to go in if something happened?'. There were only three subs at the time so I put my hand up no problem. It is one of those things that you just do, but you never thought it would come true.

"I had never played in goal, other than at the swing park when I was nine, ten, eleven years old and playing with my mates. I always liked to go in goals and dive about, just when we are messing about. But obviously not in one of the most important games in the club's history.

"We had started the game pretty well," recalled Winters, "but you just can't account for what happened. It was a bad injury. Jim would obviously have pictured leaving the scene with a winners medal, but instead after just three minutes he was carried off.

"Rod Wallace was a great professional, and he just wanted to win the ball. I don't think there are any players in the Scottish game who would set out to hurt somebody like that. To be fair, I made one good save at nil-nil which I touched onto the bar and one or two in the second half but obviously Rangers were a very strong team at that time. It was hard enough to play against them if you had 11 fit men, almost impossible if you don't have a goalkeeper."

If 17 years feels like a long time for Aberdeen to return to the showpiece match of Scottish football, 27 years is an even longer time since their last win. Once again the Dons are major underdogs for a match which could see an invincible Celtic side complete only the fourth treble in the club's history, but Winters feels that they too should be confident - even if they could do with a bit more luck than he got back in 2000.

"At the end of the day, I think the Aberdeen fans accepted it," said Winters. "They knew it was going to have to be a miracle for us to win the cup that day, just because of the circumstances. I spoke to a lot of them after the game, we had a big dinner that night up in Aberdeen and I was star man. It was a good laugh afterwards but you wanted to do well for the club and obviously win the cup but it wasn't to be. The circumstances kind of spoiled it.

"We were confident going into it, we knew that if everybody had a very good game we had a chance of winning it," he added. "You go with purpose and the attitude of winning it, as Aberdeen will do when they go into this cup final against Celtic. Celtic are unbeaten, very strong, having a fantastic season. They are coming down with a good team this year, everyone will have to play to their best of their ability and they need a wee rub of the green but why not?"