The first thing I learn about Darvel is there are only two pubs.

There’s The Black Bull, where an amiable barman suggests that, for talking football, the neighbouring Railway Inn is where to be. I receive the parting instruction to ‘ask for Stacey’, a request met with some understandable, albeit brief, suspicion across the road. But within a few moments, I’m shaking hands with this mystery character, who then introduces her dad.

Clad in blue club polo is Jim Wylie, for whom Darvel FC has always been a family affair.

“My dad, Jim Wylie Sr, played with Darvel, so did my brother for nine years,” he said. “My dad was the manager, and took them to the only Junior Cup final they’ve ever been in, back in 1976. They didn’t win right enough, they got beat 3-0!

“The connection has just always been there. I never, ever thought we would see a day like this. My dad passed away six years ago in February. John Somerville, who ran the team with him, they’ve both passed away. It would have been great for them to see something like this, but that’s just the way it is.”

HeraldScotland: Darvel fan Jim WylieDarvel fan Jim Wylie (Image: Liam Bryce)

His is a story no doubt echoed by so many about to descend on the grandest occasion this town of less than 4000 people has ever hosted. Most will know the current Darvel as the West of Scotland League’s sleek upstarts with boundless ambition and a few quid to spend. But up and down the streets strewn with blue and white bunting, or in this living room sized pub, they will always be the club of this community, long after the TV cameras have packed up and gone home.

"I think Aberdeen will have a bit too much for us," is the sentiment from Wylie and a few others.

If only they knew what was about to unfold.

Read more: Romance of the cup? Spare a thought for the Dons who went to Darvel

As the Scottish Cup fourth round ambled towards Monday night, it was casually noted it had done so without a significant upset to speak of. Aberdeen and Jim Goodwin departed for East Ayrshire still bristling from a 5-0 humbling at Tynecastle which had seriously shaken the travelling support’s faith in their manager. There was little rebuilding to be achieved against a team 56 places below his team in the Scottish football pyramid, leaving getting in and out of here without that trust being completely obliterated as the best Goodwin could hope for.

The claustrophobic, bumpy track from Darvel’s main street down to their destination felt ominously symbolic. Its immediate vicinity cloaked in darkness, Recreation Park looked ethereal under the high floodlights, bringing an immediate sense that something special might just be on the cards. Everything about this was uncomfortable for Aberdeen – from the no-win situation, to the only route to the dressing room being through mud and the partisan home support.

READ MORE: Jim Goodwin 'embarrassed and humiliated' after Aberdeen defeat to Darvel

Well, almost everything. Darvel’s pitch is immaculate, and an embodiment of the standards being aspired to. They began turning heads around June 2020, announcing the capture of midfielder Ian McShane, who had offers to remain in League One after leaving Falkirk. Also in their ranks are seasoned SPFL campaigners in Daryl Meggat, Jordan Kirkpatrick and Jordan Allan, all of them convinced to abandon the nomadic existence of life in the third and fourth tiers to put down roots at a club hellbent on going places.

There is, of course, a financial element. It is obvious Darvel have been aided with relatively significant investment, leading some to rather cynically suggest theirs is not a true underdog story. However, their primary backer is John Gall of Brownings the Bakers, famous for the Killie pie and a far cry from being owned by a shadowy petro-state famous for its questionable human rights record. Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, this is not.

Under manager Michael Kennedy, himself the owner of fast food chain Black Rooster, they have risen rapidly. Declared joint winners of the former West Region First Division in Covid-hit 2019/20 before a raft of clubs migrated to the new West of Scotland League, Darvel then won the Premier Division. They missed out on promotion to the Lowland League only via an increasingly controversial play-off system, which allows just one of the West, East and South of Scotland champions to progress further into the pyramid.

For context, the year before Kennedy arrived, Darvel’s sixth-placed finish in the old West Region’s second tier was described as exceeding expectations. Such days are already long gone.

Speaking to Kennedy in the days before Aberdeen’s visit, his insistence was his team would not deviate from their attacking principles in fear of their more illustrious opponents. Watching the two sides engage in identical keep-ball exercises yards from each other pre-kick-off, it’s clear why. Darvel pop the ball around with a speed and technicality every bit as proficient as their Premiership guests, and it’s a subtle pre-cursor to what follows.

HeraldScotland: Smoke billows across Recreation ParkSmoke billows across Recreation Park (Image: SNS)

Anticipation builds as room on the terraces quickly shrinks, and the close proximity between a BBC gantry hosting Willie Miller and the noisiest section of Darvel’s support is about to become ever-more unfortunate for the Aberdeen legend. There are no VIP lanes here, and everyone from James McFadden to Pittodrie chairman Dave Cormack are forced to navigate their way through the sea of blue and white that lies before Recreation Park’s only seated area.

Cormack wears a look that screams apprehension at what awaits. That you can barely hear the line of Aberdeen fans stationed high on a hill to the right hints the feeling is mutual.

Goodwin’s precarious position prevents him from making too many personnel changes, but the inclusion of 19-year-old Ryan Duncan on the right flank initially appears a shrewd decision. The teenager glides past Darvel left-back Chris McGowan as though he isn’t there twice in the opening minutes, lashing a shot against the side-netting which briefly deceives the home crowd into a hush.

The home side struggle to get up the pitch early on and it’s suggested this could end up being a long night. Forget budgets, European honours or chasms in league placings, the true hallmark of a cup mismatch is when only one side bears names on the back of their shirts and, for a short time, it appears Aberdeen might just live up to their billing.

But number six in blue is McShane, and his willingness to take the ball and play in tight areas begins to rub off on his team-mates, who steadily grow into proceedings. Still, what happens next is a seismic shock.

From nowhere, Kirkpatrick has apparently put Darvel in front. I say apparently because a good quarter of Recreation Park is a complete unknown from my vantage point, blocked from view unless you can force yourself all the way to the front. The magic of the cup is being present for one of the most iconic goals in its history and not being able to see any of it.

But the bedlam erupting all around is enough to relay what has just transpired. Strangers hug strangers, thick blue smoke wafts over from the left, an inflatable sheep brushes the top of my head before being punted high into the air again, the inference of which I could not possibly speculate on, and pleas for Willie Miller to ‘gies a wave’ fall on deaf ears.

HeraldScotland: Bedlam erupts as Jordan Kirkpatrick scores the winnerBedlam erupts as Jordan Kirkpatrick scores the winner (Image: SNS)

The rest of the half passes in a flash and not even a shortage of Killie pies at the break can dull the excitement. There’s a dash to social media for a glimpse of Kirkpatrick’s goal, the sound of the Dave Clark Five filling the night air and a handful of requests for selfies with a watching Tam Cowan. What’s doubly remarkable is Darvel’s half-time advantage is no smash and grab, some of their football has been sumptuous and a vindication of Kennedy’s refusal to dig in for a siege. Goodwin, meanwhile, trudges the long walk to the tunnel knowing the result as it stands simply cannot remain.

The following 45 minutes are arduous for all involved. Perhaps not used to seeing his team cede territory and possession, one Darvel fan breaks the second-half tension with an exasperated cry of ‘this is f*****g s***e!’ which is met with roaring laughter and a call for some perspective.

Aberdeen’s superior fitness does begin to show as time marches wearily on, but they cannot break Darvel’s resistance. A succession of Chris Truesdale saves and, admittedly, one of the worst offside calls you will ever see confirm the Dons are on a hiding to nothing. The truth is, they are desperately poor and fully deserve the humiliation about to hit them like a train.

READ MORE: Darvel manager Mick Kennedy lauds 'dream' shock win over Aberdeen

The final whistle takes an age to arrive, though, and for those last few minutes the run of play becomes secondary to all eyes being fixed on referee David Munro, seconds turning to hours for the home fans. At last, he gives them what they crave and the agonising tension gives way to unbridled joy. Strangers are hugging strangers again, and the shock in the eyes of Darvel’s heroes suggest they cannot quite comprehend what has just happened. Some look to the sky, others search for familiar faces in the crowd, all of it surely a blur.

I think back to Jim Wylie in the pub earlier and that sincere admission of how he ‘never, ever thought we would see a day like this’. But that’s football - it sweeps you up and takes you places nothing else can. And when, or if, Darvel come down from the euphoria of one of Scottish football’s greatest ever nights, they will get to go there all over again.