THE resigned laughter on the other end of the line tells me straight away that Gordon Marshall knows why I’m calling.

Given that I am hoping the former Celtic and Motherwell goalkeeper will soon rake over the two worst moments of his professional career, he would have been well within his rights to make his excuses and terminate the call. Instead, being the gentleman that he is, the 53-year-old dutifully and gracefully relives two League Cup finals he was involved in while in the colours of the sides who will do battle today at Hampden in the climax to this year’s tournament.

In 1994, a relatively fresh-faced Marshall went into his first national final for Celtic, with Raith Rovers standing in the way of Tommy Burns’s side and their first piece of silverware since lifting the Scottish Cup in 1989.

When Charlie Nicholas moved odds-on favourites Celtic 2-1 ahead with six minutes to go at Ibrox, the Coca-Cola Cup – as it was then – seemed destined to be hoisted skywards by Celtic captain Paul McStay. Then, disaster struck.

An awkward effort in the dying seconds from Jason Dair bounced just in front of the keeper, popping up out of his grasp and perfectly onto the head of Rovers striker Gordon Dalziel. The rest, is history. McStay was the only man to miss with the 12th penalty of the resultant shootout, and they were dancing in the streets of Raith.

“Having to deal with that afterwards was difficult,” Marshall admits. “It was such a shock, and it probably still is talked about as one of the major shocks in a final.

“Normally, the team who are the favourites tend to win finals, there aren’t that many shocks if you look back over the records. You feel as if you have let down, and you have let down, a lot of people.

“There are things you look back on in the game that you would want to change, but football comes and goes in an instant, and sometimes games are won and lost by mistakes.

“The hardest thing is the mental side, trying to put it to one side and still believing that you can do your job and do it properly.

“You have to try to learn from the mistakes you made and hope that they don’t come around again, and that’s how you probably move on.

“You can’t dwell, but you can certainly learn from the past.”

And Marshall did get back on track, going on to reach a century of appearances for Celtic before a successful stint at Kilmarnock. In the twilight of his career, Terry Butcher brought him to Fir Park, where at the age of 41, he helped Motherwell to the final of the competition with a stunning display against Hearts in a 3-2 semi-final win at Easter Road, a game remembered mainly for Marc Fitzpatrick’s stunning winner in the last minute of extra-time.

The final against a rampant Rangers side, unfortunately for Marshall, did not go quite as well. He shipped five goals, including two in the first 10 minutes that he feels culpable for, and that effectively ended the game as a contest. He was so bruised by the experience, he couldn’t face the walk up the Hampden steps to collect his runners-up medal.

“Prior to the final I had a virus and I was ill for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I wasn’t around at the club.

“I had a conversation with Terry Butcher at the end of the season, and I admitted that I had probably made a big mistake declaring myself fit for the final.

“That’s not a cop-out, it’s just looking back on it. I’d only maybe had an hour’s worth of training before the final.

“I don’t actually remember too much about the final. I was in a kind of a trance with the whole thing because of my health, but I don’t look at that as an excuse.

“I made a poor decision with the first goal, and that’s what sticks in my head most about the game. I came for it and that made Maurice Ross’s mind up, and he knocked it over me.

“When you go into the final as underdogs, if you can get in front it gives you something to hold onto. That didn’t help our chances of coming out on top on the day. The memories aren’t very positive.

“I don’t know where my medal is, I never went to collect it. I didn’t deserve the medal, so I wasn’t going to take it. I think you’ve got to earn things, I’ve always been a great believer that you have to earn it, and if you don’t earn it, you shouldn’t get it.

“I don’t take any comfort in the semi-final performance either. Yes, it’s great to play your part to get the club to the final, but you’ve got to see it through in the end, and that didn’t happen.”

Now a goalkeeping coach at Aberdeen, Marshall’s job is to pass on his experiences, good and bad, in order to best prepare the likes of Joe Lewis for what he may face in the course of any game. For this particular match, his advice to the Motherwell players is simple; make the most of it.

“When you’re at Celtic you make finals, when you’re at Motherwell it doesn’t happen so often, so it’s important that you try to enjoy the day,” he said.

“But the only time you do enjoy it is when you are sitting back having won the game. Going through it as a loser, it can chew you up. Trust me, I know.

“Obviously, Celtic will be firm favourites to win, but Motherwell are an entirely different team this year, as we have found out at Aberdeen this season to our cost.

“They are a team in the truest sense of the word, and they are a difficult team to play against, therefore I think it will be close.”

Given his experiences of the tournament, Marshall could be forgiven for closing the curtains and unplugging the television as today’s final is played out, but he is planning on watching the game with his old teammate and current head of the Motherwell academy, Scott Leitch.

The two will share a laugh, maybe a beer, and no doubt a tale or two about their old captain, Phil O’Donnell, who will be remembered by both sets of fans this afternoon.

“It’s not exactly been a great tournament for me playing-wise with either club,” he said. “Neither of the finals were fond memories.

“I would like to think that through all the games I did play, it all didn’t come down to two games. Yes, they were important games, but my career was not defined around two games. Certainly, though they were two games that hurt.

“But finals in general are unbelievable things, and great things to be involved in. Yes, we all want to be winners, but there’s losers as well, and you have to deal with that if you want to carry on playing.

“Fortunately enough, I managed to carry on and play afterwards and I dealt with it in my own way. Now, hopefully as a coach, I can maybe prepare my goalkeepers to win finals.

“I was part of the Hibs team that won the League Cup, and Andy McNeil picked up a winner’s medal, so hopefully my poor experiences can maybe give others a different outlook on finals.

“Either way though, they are there to be enjoyed. On the day, hopefully you’re the one that plays well, and that’s all you can hope for.

“I just hope it’s a good game,” he added. “I’m a bit of a neutral with the whole thing. I’m just looking to enjoy the game. Hopefully I’ll be watching it with Scott Leitch, the two of us are trying to organise something, so that will be nice.

“And anything to do with Phil, if it’s positive, is thoroughly deserved. He was the nicest guy in the world.

“Whatever they do, I’m sure they will do it well, and he deserves it. He was a wonderful person and a quality, quality player.

“He had a gorgeous family, and I just hope they can enjoy the day.

“It’s a nice tribute, it’s wonderful. He was a top, top guy and I think it’s a nice touch.”