There are just a few days until the biggest occasion in his club's short history, but for a moment John Black’s mind wanders.

"It's unfortunate," the chairman shakes his head. "Our U18 girls have a league decider tonight, but obviously we had to be here to prepare for the Scottish Cup. We gave them a wee phone to say good luck."

It's a passing comment, yet one that epitomises Drumchapel United - a community club to the very core but with ambition that knows no bounds.

And why not? Formed in 2001 as an amateur team, there are now over 700 players, aged from two all the way to 70 plus, and more than 130 coaches.

On Saturday, manager Adam Hopes will lead the men's senior team - competing in the Scottish Cup for the first time ever - as they face League One's FC Edinburgh for a place in the fourth round.

"We know we’re up against it but we’ve nothing to lose," Hopes says. "We’re a non-licensed, non-league club, semi-pro. They’re third in League One. It’s got the makings of an interesting afternoon.”

It's Tuesday night and Drumchapel have decanted to Hamilton Accies’ New Douglas Park for some video analysis and a training session brimming with energy and purpose.

The Herald: Drumchapel are competing in the Scottish Cup for the first timeDrumchapel are competing in the Scottish Cup for the first time (Image: Colin Mearns, Newsquest)

While Hopes oversees matters on the pitch, Black sits down for a trip back in time.

“We were in the scheme and there wasn’t much happening," he recalls. "We basically got boys together and started a team. We’re now up at, I think, 40 clubs. It’s massive.

“As we added age groups, believe it or not we ended up having too many players, we were going to have to fold some of the teams. We spoke to parents and said: ‘Look, unfortunately, this is the situation. Are any of you interested in going through your coaching badges?’

“You put them through their basic badges and they became part of that team - manager, coach or whatever. It’s a total community thing we’ve built here."

Community crops up continually throughout the evening, with emphasis the club is about more than just football. Drumchapel has one of the highest rates of deprivation in the UK, with a child poverty rate of 48 per cent, and much of the club's work is focused on making a difference in people's lives. From a mental health project and youth ambassador programme, to care home visits and litter picks, they have already been recognised as a force for good in the area, being named the SFA's Community Club of the Year in 2017.

The Herald: The club formed as an amateur team in 2001The club formed as an amateur team in 2001 (Image: Colin Mearns, Newsquest)

But as the youth operation continued to grow, so did the amateur team.

"I ran the team and we'd won everything at that level," Black said. "We got a chance to come into the new West of Scotland League and it was a case of ‘let’s give this a go’.”

Joining a raft of Junior clubs who migrated from the SJFA West Region in 2020, this new opportunity also presented an unforeseen problem. "If we were going into this league," Black says. "We were going to have to pay players."

So, they took the only logical next step.

"We bought a pub," he reveals. "Four of us came together, it was even more daunting because none of us really drink! It was either a good idea or a mad one, I wasn’t too sure. We did a lot of work to it and once the community knew who was running it, they backed us. I can't fault them.

"The regulars who went to the pub now support the team. There’s about 25 hardcore who come with us on away days. They’ve bought into what we’re doing, they’ve got the hats, the scarves – everything down to the wee badges. The teams within the club use the function suite, that keeps money ticking over, so the players get paid."

Hopes has since assembled a squad that includes former Rangers and Hearts winger David Templeton who, after a chance meeting, accepted an offer to come out of retirement after initially calling time on his career due to injury in November 2021.

“When I retired, I believed my injury was worse than it actually was," Templeton says. "I was told I had a chronic hamstring tendon, and it could just keep tearing.
The Herald: Hopes' squad has a mix of youth and experienceHopes' squad has a mix of youth and experience (Image: Colin Mearns, Newsquest)

“It must have been about March or April this year; I still had the same pain. I went to see my old physio at Rangers, and it turned out it was scar tissue from a groin operation causing the issue, which he helped treat.

“Darian MacKinnon, who I played with at Hamilton, was a coach at Drumchapel. It was literally him saying to me: ‘Why don’t you come back and play here to keep fit?’"

Templeton was undoubtedly a coup. Not only because of his CV, but in Hopes' quest to instil professional standards across the board.

"Temps has been great for bringing up levels around the place," says Hopes. "He's great in the changing room and has adapted to this level of football. Last season we signed our captain Andy Geggan from Dumbarton, he's into his last year but we're hoping to sort something.

"Jack Breen came through the academy here, he’s ambitious and wants to go up again. Our left-back, Jamie Mills, came from Stenhousemuir and went through the ranks at Rangers.

"We’ve got Martin Orr, one of the best right-backs at our level of football. I don’t know how he’s never had a senior club. We’re fortunate to have him. There's Martin Grechan, another seasoned pro. He’s been about the lower leagues and was a great signing."

What makes this run all the more remarkable is the club were only afforded the chance at all by winning last season's Strathclyde Cup, which allows teams without an SFA pro license to compete for a place in the Scottish Cup. A 13-1 victory in the final just about made sure of a preliminary qualifier against Easthouses Lily and wins over Nairn County and Gretna 2008 followed.

Repeat the trick on Saturday and there are some incredible possibilities.

“I don't think we've had the credit we deserve," Hopes said. "We’re representing the West as a non-licensed club in the Scottish, one round away from potentially playing Rangers or Celtic. That’s something I’ll be reiterating to the players – everything you can do to benefit us in this game, it has to happen. Then you don’t know what could happen in the next round.”

The club's long-term ambition is to make competing at this level the norm. But considering this is only their second season in the West of Scotland League - they're aiming for promotion to the Premier Division next term - this adventure has probably arrived ahead of schedule.

The Herald: 'Our ambition is through the roof''Our ambition is through the roof' (Image: Colin Mearns)

They are, therefore, facing a scenario where, come Saturday evening, they could be in the hat for the Scottish Cup fourth round draw but with the knowledge they won't get anywhere near next year’s competition. Hopes' side have already been knocked out of the tournament that catapulted them into this season's qualifiers and, without that all important professional license, the door for 2023/24 will stay closed.

"That’s frustrating for me, trying to get our license," Hopes admits. "We've almost got everything in place."

Having already acquired a lease to run the football operations, Drumchapel want to take full control of their current base at the Donald Dewar Centre. Key to satisfying SFA criteria is installing two stands to house 140 spectators; criteria which must be met by January.

But while the club are hopeful the facility will be become theirs to implement a raft of ambitious plans, it's a lengthy process and one set to leave the senior team on the sideline when the road to Hampden starts up all over again next year.

It's one of a few growing pains Hopes is keen to overcome. Running an operation with 700-plus players on the books is no small feat, and perhaps some conflicts of interest become inevitable.

"Our ambition is through the roof," he insists. "There are wee things that need fixed for us to progress through the pyramid and give our boys the best facilities. For example, guys like Templeton, Geggan and Grechan coming to Blairdardie Primary School to train, which isn’t our facility but we have the lets, and there’s kids training at the Donald Dewar who don’t shower or need changing facilities.

“We have guys travelling from all over to Blairdardie - grown men who have played the game at a level - then driving home with no shower. It’s not ideal, if they aren't good guys, it becomes a problem for me.

"Maybe some people need to realise the main goal for the club needs to be the senior team. If the kids aren't moving on to the Celtic, Rangers or Hearts of the world, they need to be striving to come to us."

It's indicative of Drumchapel's rapid growth that such things are even an issue. They are, however, for another day. This is a club - from top to bottom - which deserves to savour a moment in the spotlight.

I ask Black what such an occasion means, considering where it all started for 'the Drum'.

"Well..." he pauses. "It's just another tale, isn't it?"

Whatever happens at Maryhill's Lochburn Park on Saturday, it feels like one that's only getting started.