There was a time when Derek ‘Soapy’ Soutar was ahead of Allan McGregor and Craig Gordon in the Scotland U-21 pecking order.
So what happened?
The former Dundee man now runs his own goalkeeping and football school in the City of Discovery after 17 years in the game, with Forfar his final destination as a player.
McGregor and Gordon (both 38) have a combined total of 97 international caps and, along with current No1 David Marshall (35), formed a golden generation of Scottish keepers.
And when you speak to Soutar, there isn’t a hint of bitterness about being eclipsed by his contemporaries.
The 39-year-old says: “It’s funny how things work out. I was seen as something of a rising star at the time.
“Looking back, I loved just about every minute of my career and feel I achieved a lot. I gave my all to every club I played for.”
His early days were discussed by Barry Ferguson, Kevin Kyle and host Si Ferry in a recent instalment of Open Goal’s popular Keeping the Ball on the Ground podcast.
During a chat about McGregor’s fine form for Rangers, Kyle said: “I played with him (McGregor) in the Scotland U-21 squad and the biggest surprise was that he didn’t actually play.
“(The No1) was ‘Soapy’ Soutar.”
The ex-Sunderland, Gers and Hearts striker revealed managers Rainer Bonhof and Maurice Malpas – 108 caps between them for Germany and Scotland – regularly preferred Soutar.
Kyle added: “Greegsy never played.
“Soapy must’ve had a good 14, 15, 16 U-21 appearances, Greegsy hardly got any. It probably stood Greegsy in good stead.”
Former national team captain Ferguson suggested the older man got the nod because of his greater first-team experience at that stage of their respective careers.
‘I’m delighted to see how their careers have panned out’
Soutar says: “Why was I getting the nod before Craig and Allan for Scotland in the first place?
“Well, I had been playing regularly while out on loan at Brechin and Alloa against seasoned professionals so that gave me a little edge.
“But Allan and Craig are two great keepers and fantastic professionals as well.
“I’m just delighted to see how their careers have panned out and great to see them being so successful.”
Soutar played 12 times for the U-21s, racking up more appearances than McGregor and Gordon combined (11).
He adds: “I made my debut against Denmark in a 1-1 draw in August 2002 and went on to play in all of the European Championship qualifiers.
“The highlight was probably being named Man of the Match against Germany in a 1-0 win to put us on the verge of qualifying.”
Shaun Maloney, assisted by fellow substitute Darren Fletcher, got the winner for Bonhof’s kids that night in the town of Ahlen.
A month later, two goals in the final minute from Stephen Hughes against Lithuania set up a Euro play-off for the young Scots (they lost 2-1 on aggregate to a Croatia team featuring future international star Niko Kranjcar).
Setback for Derek Soutar ahead of crucial international tie
It was around that time that Soutar’s fortunes changed.
He says: “The Saturday before the first leg I got absolutely smashed in a 50-50 for Alloa against St Mirren.
“I ended up on crutches for a few weeks and Craig Gordon was in goals for the play-off.
“I was absolutely devastated. But I’ve since joked with Craig that I helped start his International journey.
“We always have some good banter when we see each other and I think that’s a mark of the respect we have for one another.”
The last act of Soutar’s international career came between the sticks for a Scotland B side beaten 3-0 by Germany in 2004.
At club level, however, he fulfilled his dreams.
He began his career at Dundee in 1998 and remained with his boyhood idols for a decade before financial pressures at Dens led to him being sold to Aberdeen.
Learning from the best
Soutar is indebted to a host of ex-Dark Blues goalies for the grounding they gave him.
He says: “Being brought up (in that environment) and being able to work with the likes of Rab Douglas and Julian Speroni was amazing for me and my career.
“Along with being coached by some of the best keepers around including Billy Thompson, Jim Leighton, Rab Geddes, Paul Mathers and Jim Stewart, it just gave me so much confidence and understanding about the game.
“To be honest, I really didn’t want to leave Dundee because people know what the club means to me.
“However, moving to Aberdeen to help Dundee financially was good for the good of the club even though it was still a difficult moment.
“Aberdeen is a great club. I made a lot of good friends and had a brilliant relationship with their supporters.
“Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t given a fair chance but these hard times are things that make you the person you are. I never dwelled on it.
“When I left, there was no thinking of what might have been and I went onto Ross County who are another tremendous club.”
Today’s focus for the ex-Dee favourite is nurturing the next generation of top keepers – and one of his protégés has already made his mark this season.
Soutar worked with Celtic’s Conor Hazard during his four-year stint as goalie coach for Northern Ireland’s youth teams.
The 22-year-old emerged as the Hoops hero in December’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts, saving penalties from Stephen Kingsley and Craig Wighton.
Soutar says: “Conor was a delight to work with, probably the best in terms of really wanting to improve and learn the game.
“Nothing was ever a problem for Conor and he would listen intently to what you had to say during training and after games.
“If any youngster is wanting to make their way in the game, I would say look at Conor Hazard and how he’s had to bide his time at Celtic – and even speak to him if they ever get the chance.
“He’s shown you can get to where you want to be despite stiff competition. And one of the biggest qualities is his deep willingness to learn.”