Leading East Kilbride into SPFL would top beating Aberdeen with Darvel says man behind greatest ever Scottish Cup shock

Kilby boss Mick Kennedy is delighted to be working with the striker again, having managed him at Darvel
Kilby boss Mick Kennedy -Credit:SNS Group

He masterminded the greatest Scottish Cup shock of all time. Indeed Mick Kennedy is still known to quizzical strangers as “that Darvel manager” - even though 16 months on from the Ayrshire minnows’ giant killing of Aberdeen he is now in charge of East Kilbride.

That was a monumental 90 minutes which gave the chicken restaurant chain owner’s football management career wings. It saw his and his players’ faces plastered across the front and back pages of national newspapers for days and TV cameras descending on the tiny village in their droves.

Yet, incredibly, it’s an achievement Kennedy is adamant he is now just 90 minutes away from topping. And in a game which is likely to get just a fraction of the coverage. Kennedy and his co-boss Simon Ferry are preparing their EK side for the second leg of their SPFL play-off against Stranraer with the tie on a knife-edge after a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Lowland league champions’ K-Park last Saturday.

It’s the third time of trying through the play-offs for the club who won their league in 2017 and again in 2019 only to lose to Cowdenbeath and Cove Rangers for a shot at life in the SPFL. But Kennedy is confident they can take the final step this time - and if they do it will kick start an ambitious attack on the SPFL starting with the owners, Paul and James Kean, building a £4.5million stadium in the town.

All of which, to Kennedy, would outweigh even the greatest giantkilling in Scottish football of modern times. He said: “Yeah, I think it would probably top that Aberdeen result. Definitely. Folk might say that’s mad. Maybe it is. But that was a one-off game. It was a significant achievement. But you’ve not actually won anything off the back of it.

“Whereas we’ve had to keep our standards high for an entire league season to win a highly competitive Lowland League and after all that still have enough left to try and pick off an established SPFL club in a play-off. It’s a huge task.

“To be honest, I was taken aback by the exposure after that night we beat Aberdeen. Nobody expected that sort of response from the entire country.

"It took over my life for a couple of weeks. I still can’t get away from it. Every time I go into town for something to eat or a drink somebody will come over and ask ‘are you that Darvel manager?’

“I’m not any more! But it’s something that will stay with me for years. To be honest I probably still don’t understand the magnitude of what we achieved that night.

“Maybe that will come when I’m a bit older. But on these occasions I take more satisfaction delivering for other people than I do for myself.

-Credit:SNS Group
-Credit:SNS Group

“Honestly, people think I’m an egomaniac but if you know me personally I’m actually not! So there would be massive satisfaction delivering for the owners of East Kilbride and the board who have been there for a number of years and, of course, the fans.

“This takes a significant amount of money to build the infrastructure. It’s all privately funded by the two owners, the Kean brothers. There’s grand plans in place. If we go into the SPFL they will build a new £4.5million stadium in the town and K-Park will become the training centre. The planning is already in place. It’s up to us to get into League 2 now.”

Ask any boss at the same level and they’ll tell you it’s a part-time job demanding full-time hours.

Kennedy is no different. His success in building the Black Rooster Peri Peri Chicken restaurant from a sole outlet in Glasgow’s east end seven years ago to a chain now stretching from Dumfries to Dundee is the sign of a driven businessman.

But what keeps him busier? He said: “Football every day of the week! “The business brings in the money but the football is the passion and always will be.

“I’m lucky my business partner is really dedicated to the business and the brand and runs it on a daily basis. That gives me the freedom to dedicate a lot of time to this.

“It’s no different to any other part-time football manager - most of us are basically full-time. Anyone will tell you, if you’re passionate and want to be successful then you have to devote your life to it.”

Success is 90 minutes away for EK at Stair Park this afternoon. Kennedy said: “It’s a massive challenge but we will give it our best. If you look at the population of East Kilbride, it’s 80,000 but there’s no professional club.

“You are shooting into an open goal if you get the community engagement part right and get a bit of success then the reality is you have a substantial community to tap into.

“Our fan numbers have grown massively this year. It’s up to us to continue delivering success.”