WHEN Partick Thistle signed a 22-year-old striker from the Juniors in January 2009, supporters could have had no way of knowing what was to come. After catching the eye for Kello Rovers, the forward was snapped up by Auchinleck Talbot and continued to from strength to strength. His goalscoring exploits caught the eye of Ian McCall, the Jags manager at the time, who decided to take a punt on the player who had been so prolific outside of the professional set-up in Scotland.

The decision would prove to be one of the best in Thistle’s history. After 10-and-a-half years at Firhill, 401 appearances and 121 goals, the striker left as the club's fourth-highest scorer of all time. He had played a key role as Thistle stormed to the Championship title in 2012/13 and was instrumental as the club recorded their highest league finish in around 40 years in 2017. The player, of course, was Kris Doolan.

The 33-year-old, now on the books at Morton after a six-month spell at Ayr United, has a legacy like no other in Glasgow’s west end. His goals, naturally, are what Jags fans will cherish most about their talismanic former striker. But it is perhaps Doolan’s loyalty to Thistle that defines the man; clubs, both from Scotland and beyond, would regularly make enquiries about a potential move elsewhere but the striker was never interested. The faith that McCall and the club placed in him in the early stages of his career would never be forgotten by Doolan, with the forward determined to repay the club for all that they had given him.

“It was going to take something very special to take me away from the club,” Doolan said. “I spoke to a lot of very good clubs at different times when my contract was finishing, but it needed to be very special to drag me away.

“A lot of players will bounce around teams to find a club where they fit in, and I found that straight away at Partick Thistle. I just felt as if I fitted in. You fit in with the fans, you fit in with the people that work there – the managers, the coaches – everything, you just fit in.

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“Some players will take a year’s contract here or two years there and bounce around because they’re hoping to find somewhere that they fit, and if they don’t then they will just move on again. I felt that at Thistle straight away, so from my point of view it was ‘why would I want to move?’ I was happy and I play better when I’m happy.

“The club was always good with me over the years. Every time we had to talk about contracts, it was always well done. I never had issues with anything like that. I just felt happy and that’s when I’m at my best.

“Ian gave me a chance in professional football, as did the club. That was why when I had chances to leave over the years to go to other clubs I turned them down. The club was loyal to me and gave me a chance and I wanted to repay that to Thistle.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with Ian McCall. I went to Ayr United and he was the manager there and he is a good guy to work for. He gets the most out of the players he’s got. He’s well regarded in the game for doing well over the years and he’s definitely somebody who can turn things around at the club.”

Making the step up from the Juniors to the professional ranks can be a daunting prospect for any player, but it is a challenge that Doolan took in his stride. The fact that he had been training with the club for some time before making his senior debut was a huge benefit, he stresses, and allowed him to burst onto the scene in the second tier.

“I was quite lucky in that I hit the ground running,” he said. “I joined in the January window and between then and the end of the season I think I scored five goals in 10 games.

“I think I made that transition pretty seamlessly but then there is a big jump going from the top end of the Junior league to the Scottish Championship. It was one of those where I was ready for it. I had been training with the club for a few months – I think I came in in October – so it wasn’t as if it was a brand new team where I didn’t know anybody. I had played a few reserve games so I was quite comfortable playing in the team at that point. I think that showed and I managed to score five goals in my first 10 games. I felt as though I adjusted pretty well.”

A short spell on loan at Clyde followed and by the time he returned to Thistle, Doolan was ready to become a mainstay in McCall’s starting XI. The following season would be the first of many prolific campaigns, with the forward notching 15 goals in 33 appearances. After McCall resigned as manager in April 2011, Jackie McNamara replaced him in the home dugout at Firhill and went about overhauling the first-team squad: something that Doolan insists the former Celtic defender has a particular knack for.

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“Jackie is a brilliant manager,” he said. “When he took over the club, he brought in a lot of young, hungry players that had been released from bigger clubs. They were surplus to requirements; some from the Old Firm, some from Hibs, all these clubs with good young players and they arrived hungry to do well.

“Jackie is very, very good at spotting players. One of his strengths is picking out players and developing them as well. The team he built at that time, it had a really good mix of youth and experience because there was a few guys there who had played for a while. There was Alan Archibald who became the manager, who was still playing and is a big legend around the club. There were guys like him who everyone could relate to, who could help the younger players coming through and it just felt as if we had built a team that when that season kicked off, we knew something special was going to happen. We all felt like that, as if we had the tools within the squad to compete for the league.”

The players were right to feel confident. McNamara’s first full season in charge resulted in a sixth-placed finish for Thistle, but tangible signs of progress were readily apparent. The following campaign, McNamara had his side playing free-flowing, attacking football and the club shot up the league table.

By January, Thistle were flying high in second place, five points behind Morton but with two crucial games in hand. But McNamara’s achievements with Thistle had not gone unnoticed and after Peter Houston left his post at Tannadice, Dundee United quickly appointed the Thistle boss as his successor. McNamara’s decision to leave halfway through a season where the Jags were challenging for a league title did not sit well with some supporters, but Doolan is adamant that it was a perfectly understandable one.

“I don’t think anybody grudged Jackie a move to Dundee United. He was moving to a very big football club with a great infrastructure at the time, so nobody grudged the manager moving on to a big club like that,” Doolan explained.

“I think at that point, everyone was hoping – especially the players – that Archie got the job simply because he is a big icon at the club, he’s a leader of the club as a player. He was somebody that everyone looked up to and I think that’s really important within a club that you have got guys like that. It commands respect and in football, you have to earn that. Nobody gives you respect for free in football, you have to earn that and over the years Archie definitely did that.

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“So, the minute the job became available, we were all hoping that he took it. It became pretty seamless; Archie kept everything the same, nothing really changed. We didn’t want a lot of turmoil. Players like to keep everything nice and simple and feel as if there’s not a lot of turmoil going on. As players, we were hoping that if Archie took the job, he knew the players inside-out and he would be the key to keep everything rolling the way it was because we were already doing very well at that point.

“We were already preparing for him to be manager. Again, it comes down to the fact that he’s so highly respected among his team-mates and people who work at the club, and the fans. He’s got huge respect. The level of respect that everyone had for Archie made it very easy for him because the players were calling him a team-mate one day and calling him the manager the very next day. He was called ‘gaffer’ the very next day and I think that’s down to the type of players too, who are respectful of the current situation and also understand that this guy is now the manager. He was at that stage of his career where he had built up so much respect, built up the trust of everybody that it was pretty seamless for the players. The respect he got from being a player just continued when he became the manager.”

The decision to appoint Alan Archibald would prove to be a shrewd one. Thistle edged ahead of Morton in the race for the title ahead of an all-important clash between the two clubs in mid-April, where a win would put the Jags in a commanding position. But before that fateful contest, there was the small matter of a Challenge Cup final to deal with.

It was a remarkable match. Queen of the South took the lead in extra time and looked set to clinch the trophy before all hell broke loose in the game’s dying embers. Thistle were awarded a penalty in the 118th minute, but Aaron Muirhead’s spot-kick was tipped over the bar by Lee Robinson and in the immediate aftermath, the centre-back was given his marching orders after he headbutted Queens captain Chris Higgins.

As the clock entered the final seconds of stoppage time, it was Doolan who stroked the ball home from a Ross Forbes cross to level the match and take the final to penalties, sparking jubilant scenes amongst the travelling Jags support. Archibald’s side went on to lose 6-5 on penalties but despite the loss, it is a memory that Doolan cherishes.

“It was an amazing day,” he said. “It was obviously unfortunate that we were beat on penalties but I think you see in the celebrations when the goal goes in – the fans on the pitch, the overwhelming factor of elation just comes out from everybody.

“I think that’s important because at that time, everyone thought we could go on to win it. Penalties is a cruel way for anybody to lose a game and it’s a bit of a lottery. Unfortunately we lost, but then a few days later on we go and beat Morton at home and almost secure the title. We were so close to taking the Cup as well but we had bigger things to go and do.”

The midweek win over Morton just a few days later would go down as one of the most memorable victories at Firhill in decades. James Craigen’s goal shortly before half-time set the Jags on their way to a vital triumph that put the club firmly in the driving seat for the title. Doolan reckons that the team spirit within the squad, in part fostered by the defeat to Queens, ensured a positive reaction to the defeat just a few days earlier.

“It’s one of those where you’re hoping you get a reaction from the players,” Doolan said. “I’m sure that’s what Archie was hoping to see after coming so close. Everybody was down after the cup final. But within our team, we knew that we could bounce back.

“It was just such a good blend. The mentality of everybody was together, there was no fuss made at all. Everybody was on the same page and I think you saw that in the way we played. It’s because everybody gets on off the pitch – and we still all get on to this day, we still talk and there’s still that feeling of friendship among everybody – and I think if you’re going to win titles, that’s the type of team that you need.

“That team that won the Championship – everyone still gets on, everybody chats and that friendship will always be there. When you win things with a club, those friendships last forever. I think that’s the way to do it. That’s the kind of team you want to build and the kind of club that you want to build. Myself, Erskine, Lawless, Banzo … we all still get on great and I don’t think that will ever change because of the type of people that we are and what we all have in common. These kind of bonds and friendships last forever.”

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Thistle would be fighting for Premiership survival the following campaign, and there is one match more than any other that will live long in the memory for supporters. Archibald’s side travelled to Tynecastle knowing that a win would mathematically confirm their top-flight place next season and produced a fine performance, overturning a 2-1 deficit in emphatic fashion to seal a 4-2 win.

Doolan was nursing an injury at the time and only made an appearance as a late substitute, but the striker was determined to play his part in the success nonetheless.

“I had put my shoulder out of place two games before at Hibs,” he said. “I had my shoulder all strapped up and I spoke to Archie, and he said, ‘I’m not going to play you, hopefully you’re not needed’. My shoulder was strapped up quite heavily and I couldn’t move it at all. But then I came on with 15 minutes to go!

“The game was at 4-2 and it was won by then but I genuinely couldn’t move my shoulder. At that time we had Lyle Taylor and Kallum Higginbotham. We had other players who could drop in the squad so it wasn’t as if we had one player that we were reliant on. We had a very good squad of players who could be chopped and changed if required.

“For me, there was no way I was going to miss that game, even though my shoulder was gubbed. There was no way I was sitting it out. So even though I was on the bench, if I could come on and help in any way then I was going to do that.

“In that season from day one, when we started at Firhill against Dundee United, not one person who started the game had played in the Premiership. It was a team of young, hungry players but none of us had top-flight experience at that point. By the end of that season, we were starting to get games under our belts and were starting to realise just how tough it was in the Premiership.

“It’s almost as big an achievement as winning the league simply because you’re playing at a higher level, a better competition, better players to play against. So for us to come up with a team that didn’t have the experience and managed to stay up with such an emphatic win – it’s a great place to go Tynecastle, brilliant stadium and we took a big crowd that night – it was just a great night. Some of the goals are absolutely brilliant. It all just fell into place on that one night but it was a good way of capping off a season that for a lot of players was about saying that we’re in the Premiership and we’re here to stay for a bit.”

The players were right. The Jags would remain in the Premiership for five successive seasons, with Doolan banging in the goals along the way. Thistle would finish eighth the following campaign, then ninth in the next. But of all the matches played during those two seasons, there is one that sticks out for Doolan: a 5-0 rout of Hamilton in January 2015, where the striker scored four of his side’s goals. It was the first perfect hat-trick scored in the rebranded Premiership, with Doolan’s third a particularly memorable backheel.

“It was amazing,” Doolan recalls. “To score four in any game at any level is a great achievement but for me personally to score four in the Premiership, it was incredible. I think I had five chances to score and I put away four of them – and I should probably have scored the fifth! That was the kind of night it was and I made a bit of history as well.

“I didn’t realise it at the time [that he was the first player to score a perfect hat-trick] but I’d heard afterwards that that was the case. I made a bit of history that night with the number of goals, but just the way the goals went in … to cap off a hat-trick with a backheel was maybe a bit cheeky but just a perfect way for the goals to go in. It was just a magical night for me.”

But was it his best performance in a Thistle shirt?

“In terms of finishing, yeah. But when you look back at the goals, they’re good team goals and not individual ones. I rely on other people around about me to create and that night we had a team full of guys that could create from the back to the front.

“From my point of view, I had to just keep finding space in the box. I know the ball is coming so then I can prepare to finish it. That night was about me as a finisher and how deadly I can be in the box but I would still give a lot of praise for the guys round about. If you look at the goals, there’s some great play in the build-up to all of them. That night, as a team, everything just fell into place. It was just one of those magical nights that I’m sure everybody will remember.”

The 2016/17 season would be the high-water mark of Doolan’s time at the club as Thistle recorded a sixth-place finish, their highest since 1981. But there’s one afternoon in particular that the forward will never forget: April 1st, 2017, when Doolan scored his hundredth goal for the club.

“It’s as if the stars just align on certain days and things just seemed to happen for me at times at Thistle,” Doolan recalled. “April Dools Day is what it’s been known as since then.

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“There was obviously a bit of build-up – anybody who can score 100 goals at any club is a tremendous achievement – but to do it at that level over a number of years is very difficult. The thing that I always remember is that it was amazing to score my hundredth but I scored five minutes later to make it 2-1 to win the game, and it means that you can look back at your hundredth goal and it actually meant something.

“It wasn’t a goal that was lost in a 4-1 defeat and it didn’t really mean much, it meant that we got the three points which went a long way to helping us finish in the top six.”

As he scored the crucial equaliser, Doolan lifted off his shirt to reveal a t-shirt underneath that read ‘100 and counting’ to mark the occasion. It was a milestone that he knew he would hit sooner or later and – thankfully for the kitman – Doolan picked the right time to make Thistle history.

“I actually hadn’t had it on for that long!” he laughed. “I came on and scored twice against Hamilton I think, and the kitman was running about mad because he hadn’t prepared the t-shirt and he was worried I was going to score a hat-trick again and he didn’t have it ready.

“I think I only had it on for maybe a couple of weeks, maybe two games then I managed to get the goal. I remember not wanting to jinx it, because if you have it on and you don’t get the goal then you start panicking about it. I just stayed relaxed about it. I think I had it on for two weeks before and then I popped up with the two goals after that. Everything just fell into place at the right time.”

The next campaign would be another memorable one for Thistle but for all the wrong reasons. Less than a year after that historic top-six finish, the Jags were relegated after being comprehensively outplayed by David Hopkin’s Livingston in the play-offs. The defeat led to an exodus at Firhill, with a number of first-team regulars moving on to new clubs. For Doolan, though, the prospect of a move elsewhere was one that he never considered.

“Relegation was brutal. There’s no getting away from the fact that when you’re relegated, it’s absolutely brutal,” he said. “I had the chance to leave – because the way your contract is, you’ve got clauses to leave – but I wanted to stay. I spoke to Archie straight away.

“Myself and [Chris] Erskine phoned him to say that we would both be staying. We took the pay cuts to help the club because it’s an especially tough time for a football club when they’ve just been relegated. We stuck about because we had been there a long time and knew it was capable of, and we wanted to help get back to that level again.

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“I just didn’t want to walk away. In football, players do that and you can’t blame them because it’s a short career and if they get the chance to stay at the Premiership level or move even further on, then I wouldn’t grudge other players that because that’s the life of a footballer. But I had been at the club for such a long time and had passed up opportunities to leave in the past, so I thought ‘I won’t be leaving now’. The club needs people to stay loyal to it, that know it inside-out to help as best they can so there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be staying.”

Another disastrous season followed. Archibald was sacked after a poor start and was replaced by Gary Caldwell. Another campaign with the club embroiled in a relegation tussle beckoned as Thistle went into the final day of the season with back-to-back demotions a very real possibility.

The Jags travelled to Palmerston knowing that a win over Queen of the South would guarantee the club’s safety. Caldwell’s side came roaring out of the traps, leading 2-0 at half-time before a late Stuart Bannigan penalty all but confirmed survival. Doolan was on the bench that day, completely unaware that it would be his final involvement in a Thistle matchday squad.

With a few minutes of the game left to play and with the result sewn up, Caldwell turned to his bench. The former Wigan manager knew that he would be releasing Doolan just a week later but instead of giving the long-serving player a fitting send-off, he used his final substitution to bring on Joe Cardle. It is a decision that supporters, if not Doolan himself, hold against their former manager until this day.

“I had no idea I was leaving,” Doolan admitted. “I didn’t find out until four or five days after the season was finished. I got a phone call to say to come in to the club.

“Looking back, it’s harsh because you’ve been there 10-and-a-half years and I didn’t realise that was going to be my last game. You want to say goodbye. There have been thousands of fans that have travelled and followed me through my full career, and then it’s kind of stolen away when you don’t get to say bye to them. It was great that the club managed to stay up on the last day but I think it was more relief for everybody that we managed to stay up.

“But looking back, I had no idea that it was coming. If you’re prepared for these things, if you’re told the month before that it would be your last game for the club, then it allows players the chance to prepare for that and say their goodbyes properly. It was sad to realise late on that that would have been my last game but I was lucky enough that I had a testimonial at the club and thousands of people turned up to say goodbye properly.

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“I was devastated. I don’t think there’s any getting away from that. When you’ve been at a club for so long, when you’ve done so much around the club, it’s heartbreaking to hear that there isn’t a place for you at the club at all. Managers make their decision, that’s what they do. They live and die by their decisions and that’s the life of a footballer.

“It was hard to take but there’s not much you can do about it. I just had to deal with it and move on. But it’s very hard to hear that there’s no place for you at all around the club in any capacity. It was tough, but you just have to move on. I had to find a new club. I was quite lucky that initially, I had loads and loads of offers from a lot of different teams so that helped. But it was a sad day for sure.”

Doolan would be reunited with McCall at Somerset Park after leaving Thistle, and scored on his first return to Firhill as an opposing player to draw Ayr level at 2-2. The goal itself did not take Doolan by surprise, but the reaction from the home crowd certainly did.

“It was great to go back to the club,” he said. “I think Ian McCall knew that – that was the only game I started in the Championship at Ayr. He put me on because he knew I would score! I know how to score goals at Firhill, I’ve done it for years.

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“The funny thing for me is that when I scored Thistle fans were cheering. Obviously, I didn’t celebrate but I remember hearing Thistle fans cheering. It’s very comforting when you realise how many fans are behind you, it’s a real comfort. They have always been a well-supported club so I know how good the fans are. But it is strange when you play for another team and score and they still cheer. It’s a bizarre situation, but in a nice way.”

Doolan left Ayr in January to sign a short-term deal at Morton until the end of the season. His contract is due to expire in the summer, but the forward was candid when admitting he does not know where his future lies.

“I don’t think anybody in Scottish football know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Everything is up in the air just now. In my opinion, I genuinely don’t have a clue what will happen. I’m enjoying it at Morton and I’m still under contract there. But I’m willing to listen and see what’s available.”

A return to Thistle – whether as a player, a coach or perhaps even as manager one day – remains a tantalising prospect for Jags fans. Doolan is hopeful that he will pitch up at Firhill once again in the future, but conceded that the uncertainty engulfing Scottish football means that long-term planning is virtually impossible at the moment.

“You always think that if you’ve got such an affinity with a football club, then at some point I would like to think that I’d done enough as a player to show loyalty to the club that it would be worth coming back to the club but nobody knows what the future will hold,” he said. “From my point of view, I just take each day as it comes. If it ever happened then it would be amazing. I’m just waiting to see, like everybody else is just now, what happens next. I do fancy stepping into coaching and management in the future, so it’s definitely something I would look at.

“That’s my plan, to go into coaching and management. That’s for sure. I have my own football academy just now which is great. It’s thriving and doing really well. It’s good that I can do that as well as playing, so I’m getting the benefit of both worlds if you like.”

With 121 goals in red-and-yellow, Doolan is spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting his favourite. But there is one particularly memorable strike that tops the lot in his opinion, away to Hibs at Easter Road. Collecting the ball on the halfway line, he delicately chipped the ball over an onrushing defender and darted towards goal. Another challenge came flying in that Doolan skillfully sidestepped before he dinked the ball beyond the keeper.

“The goal at Easter Road was a complete one-off,” he admitted. “I don’t think I’ve ever scored a goal like that in my life and I don’t think I will ever again! It wasn’t the typical kind of goal that I score, I scored all of mine inside the box. To pick it up at the halfway line and go half the pitch and clip it over the goalie’s head, it just wasn’t a typical ‘me’ goal.

“I remember that night being so focused when I picked the ball up that I was going straight for goal, regardless of where I got it. It just so happened that it was on the halfway line. When I watch it back, it’s still just a great goal to watch. The backheel as well against Hamilton was completely out of the ordinary. To complete a hat-trick with a backheel is a very close second to the goal against Hibs but I still think the Easter Road one edges it.”

A year on from his exit from Firhill, Doolan admits that the decision to be let go still hurts. Having given so much to the club, the manner of his release is understandably a painful memory for the 33-year-old. He may no longer be a Partick Thistle player but the club will always hold a special place in his heart, just as Thistle fans will never forget their talisman.

“It’s the world to me,” he said. “I enjoyed every single day I was there and I was devastated when I was told there was nothing for me there at all. When you pour your heart and soul into a football club and into a job that you’re passionate about, then it just becomes your life. I was no different, that was me. It was my life for 10-and-a-half years. It’s tough to see the club going through a difficult stage of its life but I’m sure the club will bounce back. I’m positive about that.”