While most of his primary school friends aspired to be fire fighters, policemen and train drivers, Finlay Allan had somewhat different ambitions.

For as long as he can remember, Allan always wanted to become a professional judo player.

Such an ambition will have ensured, it’s safe to assume, he was very much in the minority when it came to five-year-old boys in Scotland but almost two decades on, Allan has been fully justified in having such a niche career plan.

Now, at the age of 22, Allan has confirmed himself to be one of Scotland’s brightest judo talents having had the best year of his career to date.

It was in 2022 that Allan first came to the attention of the wider Scottish public by winning silver at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham but this year has proven to be even more fruitful for the Cupar native.

He won his first-ever European Cup medal in Slovenia in June with a third place finish before quickly following that up with two more European Cup podium places; silver and bronze in Portugal and Spain in August and October respectively. And with a top-8 place at the higher-level event, the Prague European Open, also in the bag, it’s hardly surprising that the Scot goes into the British Championships, which begin today, brimming with confidence.

Allan heads to this weekend’s event in Sheffield with every intention of improving upon the silver medal he won at last year’s British Championships and having had the year he’s enjoyed, he’s optimistic he can end 2023 on a high.

“I’m looking to win it,” the -66kgs fighter says of the British Championships. 

“I’d like to think I’d always go in with that mentality and I have more belief in myself this year than I ever have in the past.

“My weight category is pretty stacked with guys who’ve been doing well  - there’s five of us who have won medals on the international circuit either this year or last year and there’s only four medals this weekend so if everyone’s fit, it should be a pretty competitive event.”

It’s something of a stroke of luck that Allan is a judo player at all.

His home town of Cupar is perhaps not the first place that leaps to mind when being asked to name a judo hotspot but when, encouraged by their father who himself was interested in the sport, a young Allan and his elder brother went along to their local judo club, the head coach was a well-known face in Scottish judo circles.

With their local club headed-up by former British champion and World and Commonwealth Games medallist, John Buchanan, Allan soon hatched a plan to follow in Buchanan’s footsteps and pursue a career in judo himself.

“Being coached by John, who’d trained full-time and had made judo his career, I knew it was possible so for as long as I can remember, I’d tell everyone I wanted to be a judo player when I grew up,” says Allan, who’s now based at Camberley Judo Club near London. 

“I didn’t necessarily know if I would manage to make it my career but I always wanted to so I’m very lucky it’s all worked out and I’m now doing what I always wanted to do as a kid.”

Allan progressed steadily through the ranks before finally making his breakthrough in recent seasons. 

The catalyst for his recent impressive results on the international stage has, at least in part, been his Commonwealth Games silver medal which he won last summer.

Having been something of a last-minute addition to Team Scotland last summer, Allan headed to Birmingham with his sights set on stepping onto the podium and he duly delivered, winning silver in impressive fashion.

The Herald: Allan won silver at the 2022 Commonwealth GamesAllan won silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games

And it was that medal-winning performance that provided the boost in confidence that’s helped drive his 2023 season onto such heights.

“My initial goal had just been to get to Birmingham – I was only 20 which in judo, is still pretty young. But once I was selected, I’m not a cocky person but I did have that confidence that I could get a medal,” he says.

“A lot of pressure comes with the Commonwealth Games so being able to deal with that was a learning experience in itself and it did give me the confidence to believe in myself that bit more going into this year.

“Having that self-belief this season is what’s made the difference – that’s maybe been lacking in the past. I’ve always had the ability, I’ve just not backed myself as much as I should have.

“So hopefully I can build on my recent form at the British Championships and then into next year.”