THE 2001/02 season was not typical in the history of Ayr United Football Club.

One week they were in a League Cup final at Hampden against a Rangers side littered with famous names and the next week, or six days to be exact, it was a Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic who had even more stars.

And when not punching so far above their weight - it was the equivalent of Jim Watt knocking 10 bells out of Mike Tyson - Ayr were fighting for promotion into a league which didn’t really want them while away from the actual football, discussion, debate and argument raged about them moving away from Somerset Park.

The season after that, Ayr made Rangers sweat in a Scottish Cup tie at their own place and only a goal by Ronald de Boer settled the match.

There is nobody close to the class of De Boer in the Rangers side which will head to Ayrshire today. Perhaps Scottish football’s honest men stand a chance.

Most would say not and, 16 years ago they did lose 4-0 to Rangers in what is still the club’s only appearance in a major final, and Celtic won by three.

It is not as if Ayr are in the habit of creating cup shocks.

But as that local lad made good Robert Burns wrote: “There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”

James Grady was one of the heroes of the 2001/02 campaign. Now a well-respected coach with the SFA’s youth teams, the former striker and man of many clubs has only fond memories of his two-and-a-bit years at Somerset. And in particular that season when Hibernian, Dundee United, Dunfermline and, best of all, Kilmarnock, all from the Premier League, were defeated.

“Ayr are a club close to my heart and I look back to my time there as one of the best of my career,” Grady said. “It was the people inside the club more than anything. We as players were hired hands but it was those behind the scenes who made the place what it was. And in Bill Barr, Ayr had a chairman who was prepared to invest. We were full time and were it not for him we would have never have done what we did. When he left, they became a yo-yo club, going from the Championship to League One, as it is now.

“Pat McGinlay, Paul Lovering, big Yogi [John Hughes] and myself moved from the Premier League. Gary Teale was already there. Brian McLaughlin, who had been at Celtic, joined us from Wigan. So we had good professionals, good players and a great spirit.”

Gordon Dalziel was manager and, strange as it may sound, it could be argued that the Ayr side under achieved by not winning promotion.

Not that finishing on top of the second tier would have guaranteed them that.

“We finished third and, to be honest, weren’t helped by all the talk which constantly went on about the ground,” Grady said. “The story we heard was that Somerset was not going to be deemed fit to be a Premier League ground and so we would have to move in order to go up.

“Bill was keen to build a new stadium, but it never got off the ground. Knowing that we probably weren’t going to be allowed promotion, had we won the league, hardly helped. That was and is a disappointment.

“However, we played at Hampden three times. I was in the only Ayr team to have made it to a final. That gives me a lot of pride.”

Last summer, Ayr went full-time again. Ian McCall, the wily boss, is something of an expert in managing teams at this level; indeed, there have been few better over the last 15 years.

Yes, Rangers are not the team they once were, but they will of course be favourites. Grady, however, has a feeling that something strange could happen this afternoon. He would be delighted if this good club were able to pull off a famous win.

“I still have close links with Ayr and I can tell you they are doing the right thing with regards to bringing young players through the academy,” Grady said. “They have a good team, there are goals there. What I will say is that while they’ll give Rangers chances, there is no doubt in my mind that they will create opportunities of their own.

“I wouldn’t dream of second-guessing Graeme Murty but it will be interesting to see which team he goes with. What is more important to Rangers? Winning a cup or finishing second? He might start with a few of the fringe players.

“They are a noisy bunch down there. Ayr aren’t the biggest football club, but the fans are loyal and were a huge help to us.

“Rangers do blow hot and cold. Somerset is not an easy ground if you are a visitor. All I will say is this game will be very watchable.”