For Lewis Connolly 1997 was a once in a lifetime experience. It was for many Falkirk fans, or so they thought.
For the first time in 50 years the team, their team, had reached the Scottish Cup final.
In doings so they had beaten Celtic, in exhilarating circumstances and faced Kilmarnock in the final – just like in 1957.
The town was at fever pitch, the team were legends and Ibrox was packed.
Even now, the class of 1997 are Falkirk FC luminaries.
That’s why Connolly has been travelling the length of the country to have his two 1997 shirts signed by the beaten Bairns. With varying degrees of success.
“I’m a regular traveller with the Tartan Army, and on the way to an away match in Macedonia had a stop-over in Vienna.
“I chanced my luck messaging Gerhard Fellner online and ended up meeting him one afternoon.
“The perfect host, he and his friends took us out in the evening too. I never ever thought I’d be dining out with a 1997 Cup hero in Vienna.
“I always knew Gerhard and Andy Gray would be hardest to find.”
Undeterred Lewis made further online contact and managed to track Gray down in London, and flew down for what he thought was a mutually agreeable Saturday.
“I got there and called him to arrange a meeting point and it was a foreign dial tone. He had gone to Barcelona.
“He often visits Glasgow so I am still hopeful of completing the set. I’d hoped to do it before the final, but it wasn’t to be.”
The quest for the signatures started with 1997 club captain Jamie McGowan who was acting as a radio pundit with Lewis at the time.
“Jamie being Jamie happily signed my shirt, but when I suggested adding to it he doubted it since he too had lost contact with many of his old team-mates.
“That was all the challenge I needed. It’s been really interesting seeing where they have ended up, and we even managed to re-unite Jamie, Andy Seaton and Davie Hagen for FalkirkTV special this week. That was really nice to see.”
Connolly is also owner of the famous ‘Hope Street’ sign, auctioned off after the closure of Brockville and which he paid “the best part of £800 for once it was framed” after a bidding war with well-known Bairns fan and journalist Gordon Waddell.
“It was pretty much the must-have piece of memorabilia,” he added.
“It’s still on my wall to this day and probably the easiest answer to the question about what I’d save if the house ever went on fire.”
The shirts though could soon join it.
After London, Gray remains on the to-do list and so too does someone closer to home – Kevin McAllister – but sadly Lewis’s ambition will never be complete.
“Only Crunchie and Andy Gray are left to get. The aim was always 15 – 11 players, three subs and the manager Alex Totten – but with the tragedy of Paul McGrillen’s death it’s only ever going to be 14.
“Finishing the challenge with Kevin McAllister would be perfect because, as every Bairn knows, no team list is complete without Crunchie, and my shirts wouldn’t be either.”