IT turns out that Andy Robertson wasn’t the only kid from the south side of Glasgow with an unlikely dream about appearing in a European final.

As a sports-daft lad at Merrylee Primary and Williamwood High School, Neil Gourley’s school days saw him line up on a football field against the future Liverpool full-back and Scotland captain, then a pupil at nearby St Ninian’s in Giffnock.

On Friday, it may only be a short hop from his mum and dad’s house on Newlands Road to the Emirates Arena, where he will make his maiden major GB appearance at the European Indoor Athletics championships, but the journey the 1500m runner has taken to get there is as outlandish as any of the nine local heroes in the 48-strong GB team, and maybe even more improbable than the path his one-time adversary took from Queen’s Park to gracing the biggest match in world football.

But then, this runner with a tendency to time his finish perfectly in the final straight likes to make a virtue out of stealth. Even his Twitter profile goes with the rather modest description "semi decent runner".

“I guess I have sneaked up on people a little bit,” Gourley said. “As a youngster, I did the sport purely because someone had spotted I maybe had a little bit of talent in a cross country race at primary school. It was Mrs Thomson, my teacher at Merrylee Primary, whose husband is Croy Thomson, still a coach at Giffnock North. She said ‘why don’t you go along there and give that a try’.

“I had grown up around those who had been scouted for youth football teams and thought ‘great, this is my piece of the action’. I’m not sure any of those guys went on to make it in football, although a few rugby players I played with went on to do decent things and in school football I played against Andy Robertson, who is doing alright for himself now!

“I pretty much do still have to pinch myself about what is happening. It is the first time I have ever made a major team at international level and for it to be in Glasgow is special. Going to the Emirates Arena or in the old days the Kelvin Hall used to be pretty much a staple for me. I’m absolutely hell bent to make that European final a reality, in front of all my family and friends.”

He might have been in the system at a young age, but in his mid-teens he was a young man unsure whether he would ever be more than a talented club runner. He still wasn’t physically mature which was not ideal considering he was still dallying with playing rugby, where his dad is attached to west end club GHK.

“There were some years, early to mid-teenage years, where I thought I am never going to get to the top level in my sport,” Gourley said. “But I was running for my club, I was enjoying it, I was happy, so I stuck with it.”

The epiphany came with a first-place finish in the Under-17 category at the Lindsays Cross Country Championships, the 2019 version of which took place yesterday. Suddenly he became obsessed with the cycle of training, recovery and performance. And reaping the benefits.

"I had the goal of winning that race all winter and it seemed so unrealistic at the beginning but I kept working away," he said. "I realised that if you set a goal, you might just get there."

Like so many of Scotland’s athletics fraternity, a spell in the US collegiate system was also a game changer. Five years at Virginia Tech University saw him earn a useful degree in Mechanical Engineering and gain a valuable apprenticeship in the sport. Now he is based in the hub of athletics excellence which is Portland Oregon, working under the tutelage of his old university coach at Oregon Track Club Elite.

"It is such a brilliant intermediate step between the junior and senior ranks, because you are racing high level competition routinely and learning everything you need to know about tactics. The ones who have do well are often the ones who maybe didn’t have the results, and didn’t quite have the support of the governing bodies when they were younger."

Recently turned 24, Gourley may have surprised a few when he won the British trials in Birmingham a fortnight ago, but he is no longer surprising himself. Fuelled by his omission for the Great British selectors for last year’s outdoor European Championships in Berlin, and perhaps a few other slights along the way, he was determined to leave nothing to chance this time around. Get the qualifying standard in the bag, and win the trials, and no-one could keep him from Glasgow.

“I was incredibly disappointed to miss out on that team,” said Gourlay. “I thought I had done enough to warrant selection for that and I felt let down by the selection committee. But that is part of the sport, things are not always going to go your way. And from that point on, it has been so easy to be motivated. I train to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I never want to be in the position where I am banking on the selectors to make my case. So this indoor season I knew I had already taken care of the time and I won the trial so I left no room for doubt there. It made all the difficult days worthwhile.”

Gourley has had to work hard for everything he has achieved to come through in a remarkable era for Scottish middle-distance running.

“I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a chip on my shoulder, not just from this past year, but from other selections which haven’t gone my way. But my motivation isn’t about proving people wrong; it is about proving those people who did support me right. I think that is more powerful, when you are standing at that start line thinking about the people who are willing you on and have been doing that for years. That is what I use when the going gets tough.”

One of the themes of the week has been Scotland's top athletes scrabbling around for tickets for the three-day showpiece for family and friends. Gourlay’s dad Ronnie, mother Wilma and brother Rob just went ahead and booked anyway. The heats are Friday morning at 10am, with the final hopefully to come on Sunday.

“Thankfully they had faith in me and got tickets a while back, for both the heats and the final,” he said. “I think they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I believe my aunts and uncles are coming too and I’m trying to scrape together a few more tickets for my friends who maybe didn’t have quite so much faith in me but are now excited and desperate to go!”

Gourley could have his hands full chasing Norwegian wonderkid Jakob Ingebritsen, and his brother Filip with brother Henrik just competing in the 3000m.

“They were talking about all doing the same event and trying to sweeping it,” said Gourley. “But I will be hell-bent on stopping them.”

His last tune-up race, at last weekend's Muller Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham, saw Gourley finish a fair way behind Samuel Tefera's indoor world record, and also behind Scots Josh Kerr and Chris O'Hare. But he was training straight through the race and this weekend could play more to his strengths.

"That was more of a time trial style race when you get behind a pace maker and try to hang on," says Gourley. "But my strength in this sport has always been tactical races, and that is how it often tends to go in these championship races.

"I am not someone who will quite be on the radar yet of the top guys in Europe – the Ingebritsen brothers, Marcin Lewandowski and all the other big names. But hopefully they will know all about me by the end of these championships."