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Swansea's Stephen Dobbie is now a Premier League player, but five years ago this week he was hitting rock-bottom in Scotland, as Craig Anderson reports...
As Stephen Dobbie prepares for Swansea City’s opening Premier League game at Manchester City, he may cast his mind back to his days playing in Scotland’s Third Division.
Dobbie and Swansea gained promotion at Wembley, and the one-time Rangers prospect has also played at Hampden – with Queen of the South in the 2008 Scottish Cup Final, but in somewhat less exalted circumstances two years before that.
Having left Hibs and struggled to hold down a place at the then second-tier side St Johnstone, Dobbie had been farmed out for a loan spell at Dumbarton in Scotland's basement division. His debut, on 19 August 2006 – five years ago to the week – was a 1-0 loss against Queen's Park at the national stadium in front of 884 fans.
It's fair to say he's come a long way. His last competitive match for Swansea was in front of 86,581 and now he’s about to embark on a tour of England with his current Welsh employers, set to take in glamorous destinations such as Anfield, Old Trafford, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge.
Dobbie’s journey is very different from the one made by countryman Charlie Adam, who found himself surplus to requirements at Rangers and turned up at Blackpool to help their promotion to the top flight two seasons ago – funnily enough alongside Dobbie, who was again on loan, this time from Swansea.
The striker's road to the Premier League started at Rangers, like Adam, but he didn’t even get as far as the Ibrox first team under Alex McLeish and was soon freed. He was snapped up by Hibs, but a lack of opportunities led to him being moved on to St Johnstone and then to his spell in the bottom division.
Missed opportunities at Hibs
If Dobbie was downhearted after that Dumbarton debut – losing to amateurs in a near-deserted stadium – he didn't let it show. He scored on his second appearance and over the next few months racked up 11 goals in 18 games.
That was enough to earn a move to second-tier side Queen of the South in January 2007, and Dobbie's career took off. He was part of the Dumfries side’s success story, reaching the 2008 Scottish Cup Final and qualifying for the following season's UEFA Cup. In 2008/09 the striker scored 23 goals in 32 league games, prompting Roberto Martinez to sign him for Swansea.
Dobbie credits former Queens boss Ian McCall, who signed him for the Palmerston Park club, as the man who gave him the boot up the backside his career needed.
“At the very start the then manager Ian McCall told me in no uncertain terms that it was my 'last-chance saloon’," Dobbie recently told the Queens club website. “So I buckled down and worked hard, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be playing in the Premiership itself."
Cup glory with Queens
It might not have happened. His Swansea career didn’t start off too well, with Martinez moving to Wigan and his replacement Paulo Sousa only granting Dobbie nine appearances in his first six months.
As he had before, Dobbie reinvigorated his career with a loan move. To the anger of Swans fans, Sousa allowed promotion rivals Blackpool to loan the striker with a view to a permanent move. Dobbie repaid Ian Holloway's faith by scoring on his debut, then his full debut, and grabbing a vital goal in the play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
The striker played his part in the final, coming off the bench for the last half-hour as Blackpool beat Cardiff 3-2. It seemed he would reach the English top flight with Pool, but when Sousa left Swansea for Leicester and was replaced by Brendan Rodgers, Dobbie was convinced to give it another go.
His faith in the new manager paid off and Dobbie enjoyed another successful play-off campaign, again beating Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals (and again scoring) and then scoring one and making another as the Swans swept aside Reading 4-2.
Wembley ecstasy with Swansea
Now the sky’s the limit and, having adapted his game last season and played as an attacking midfielder in Rodgers' favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, he's willing to play anywhere to keep his place in a strengthened Swansea side.
“I played a lot in attacking midfield last season, but I am sure the gaffer will be looking at all his options. That keeps you on your toes,” said Dobbie after scoring against Celtic in pre-season.
“I don’t mind playing down the left, it’s a position I have played before and, as I’ve said in the past, I will play anywhere. But it’s good to get back into the central [attacking] midfield and get a goal.”
If he continues to impress, as Adam did at Blackpool, a Scotland call-up may not be too far away. Perhaps returning to Hampden may pass through his mind as he prepares for the game at Manchester City.
1. Expect Hansen's head to shake about Swansea vs Wigan Pre-match attention will be on Roberto "Bob
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