Brian Graham spent Ross County’s League Cup celebrations laid in a hospital bed wondering what on earth was wrong with him.
A mystery illness, suffered in the week after the 2-1 win over Hibernian, left Graham coughing up blood surrounded by doctors.
It saw him miss out on the open-top bus parade through Dingwall, which due to County’s league commitments actually took place a week later, after a 3-0 derby defeat by Caley Thistle.
Graham had played a key role in the final itself, coming off the bench to help tilt the game in his side’s favour. He had two goals disallowed and would arguably have scored the winner itself, had Liam Fontaine not diverted the ball into Alex Schalk’s path instead.
While the euphoria of the day itself carries fond memories, the week after certainly does not.
“I’d played against St Johnstone on the Wednesday and scored a penalty,” said Graham. “I took unwell on the Friday, so I missed training and couldn’t go to the game on the Saturday (against Inverness).
“I stayed with Foxy (Scott Fox) at the time and said I need to go back to Glasgow – I didn’t want to stay in the hospital up here if they were going to keep me in because all my family was down the road.
“He said ‘I’ll go to the parade, go on the bus, then take you down the road’. I was lying in bed while the game was going on and they were having the parade. I was shivering and shaking – I felt like I was dying and wondering what was going on.
“Lucky enough Foxy came back, took me home and dropped me at my mum’s. I went to the hospital and was in for a week; I was coughing up blood and in a bad way. To this day, no-one knows what was wrong with me.
“I remember they maybe thought it was swine flu. I remember my family coming up with masks and gowns on – it was like now! I remember two doctors coming to speak to me and I couldn’t speak to them, because I was coughing up blood. I took a crazy spell and was hospitalised for a couple of days.”
The striker only started twice again that season after his spell in hospital, saying he felt “lethargic” when he was able to return to training.
His telling contribution a week earlier played a big part in County beating Hibs and lifting the trophy. He came on for an out-of-sorts Liam Boyce with half an hour to go and provided the Staggies with the focal point up front they had been missing.
Graham remains defiant about the injustice he feels cost him the chance of a Hampden Park goal, which could have a little earlier than Schalk’s decisive intervention.
“I got robbed. I scored two goals – the first one they said was offside when I don’t think I was. The header, Richard Foster put a great ball in and having seen the picture, I don’t know how high I jumped but I don’t think I’ll jump that high again.
“My hand has rested on his shoulder but I’ve not barged him. There was a still picture that used to be up the stairs where we had lunch at County; Darren McGregor is pushing the goalkeeper at the waist and I’ve headed it in. I’m away celebrating – I think I’ve scored the winner.
“I was gutted. It’s the national stadium, cup final day and to get them both ruled out was bitterly disappointing. But at the end of the day, I’ve got the winners’ medal in the cupboard.”
During that season he was vying with Schalk, Boyce and Craig Curran for game-time yet despite the increased competition, still managed to bag himself 11 goals.
While he had to be content with a place on the bench at Hampden, then did not dim his desire to make an impact.
“I remember Jim (McIntyre) said to me after the game ‘you changed the game – I thought you were excellent’. You’ve got a squad of players and not everyone can start the game.
“That day I didn’t start but you’ve got to contribute when you get the opportunity and I think I did that day. I think I played a big part in getting County over the line that day.
“I was doing well at the time but the manager has got a hard call. Everyone wants to play. I just felt when I went on I had to prove a point. I felt I did that day.”
While some of the squad may have headed back to Dingwall to continue the celebrations after the game, Graham opted for more humble surroundings.
“There were boys going back on the bus – I was going back to my house in Glasgow with the family. I gave my medal to my dad; I put it round him and said ‘that’s for you’ as he’d been everywhere with me.
“I think I had one or two pints at Hampden as a wee celebration, spoke to everyone for about half-an-hour to an hour, then went up the road. I put my daughter to bed and had a nice quiet night.”