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Former Rangers defender Steven Smith won the Scottish Youth Cup as a player in 2002 and he’s hoping to guide the Light Blues to glory in tonight’s final against Aberdeen.

Smith, a member of the successful Rangers Academy side that included top-drawer talent like Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam and Chris Burke, played his part in a 4-2 win over Ayr Utd more than 20 years ago.

Now the Under-18s coach will lead his Under-18s side out at Hampden this evening and he’s looking forward to the experience. 

Recalling that 2002 triumph and looking ahead to tonight’s showdown, Smith said: “My memory isn’t great, but I remember that we won and it was a tougher game than a lot of us expected. 

“We won 4-2, but the game was tougher than what we thought previously.

“It’s hard to gauge at the time, but when you talk about putting players in an environment that replicates the first-team, it’s probably the best example you could get. 

“In terms of the players that played in the competition at the time, guys like Chris Burke who was always the one who could potentially get to the first-team, it made his rise a little bit quicker. 

“There were definitely players within the group whose development was fast-tracked [by winning the Youth Cup] a little bit quicker than normal.

“It’s still something, and it sounds harsh to say this, that is probably the biggest nights of some players’ careers at that point. 

“It’s a big occasion, and everything that goes with it in terms of family coming along, being live on TV and at the national stadium, but for us it’s about keeping everything as normal as possible. 

“This is what’s expected when you play at Rangers: to be in finals and competing for trophies. We’ll be keeping everything as normal as possible.”

Rangers progressed to the final thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over Dundee Utd and Smith was delighted with the character shown by his players.

Now they face another challenge in this evening’s showpiece.

He continued: “What they’ve gave themselves is an opportunity to go and replicate what they’re doing at first-team, which is to win trophies. 

“For us as coaches looking to develop players, it’s the perfect environment. We’ll see what players thrive, and some will perhaps struggle which is natural for players at that age, and we’ll find out a lot on Wednesday night.

“We’ve put in a lot of hard work to get to this point, playing against some good teams, and it’s set them up for this point. 

“We set the target at the start of the season that we must get to the final and win the trophy, and to be fair to them they’ve handled the expectation really well. 

“We’ve had two tough games against Dundee United and Hearts, but we managed to find a way through and now we’re in a final.

“It all comes down to our preparation. We’ll prepare no different despite it being a cup final, and I know there’ll be a slight emotional attachment because of family in attendance, but we’ll be keeping it as normal as possible. 

“It’s what we expect at this club, to get to finals and win trophies, and we’ll keep them as grounded as possible with the aim to go and win the trophy.

“There’s an expectation to win, which is always there and will be put on them by myself because I know they can handle it. But they also need to enjoy it. 

“I remember the group that I played with in 2002 and, unfortunately, it will be the biggest nights in some of their careers and they also need to enjoy that as well. 

“We understand the pressure that they will be under, but it’s up to us to take that away from them. 

“This is what this club is about: pressure and expectation. And it’s why I’m looking forward to the game.”

Goalkeeper Mason Munn was the hero for Rangers in the penalty triumph over Dundee Utd in the semi-final and he’s relishing the prospect of featuring at Hampden.

The Northern Irishman said: “I’m really looking forward it and hopefully we can get the win.

“Being from Northern Ireland, there will be a lot of family travelling over. It’s a privilege, but I won’t be concentrating on it, and hopefully I can try to celebrate something.

“There are about 30-odd of my family coming over, so it should be a good occasion.

“Aberdeen will turn up in their numbers; their fans and players will be up for it but so are we.

“I’m still eligible to play for the Under-18s so I’m viewed as one the younger members of the B Team.

“But David McCallum always says to me that he still views me as an experienced player because I can see the whole game from my position.

“When I drop down, Stevie always says likewise to me about bringing my experience with my communication before the game and on the pitch.

“I’ve played a lot of big games for the B Team, such as Monaco at Ibrox, so I’m able to calm people down. This game is a big game in my career, but I’ll be a bit more settled than the other boys.

“Jack [Butland] has played for England and in the Premier League, the pinnacle of football.

“I’ve been trying to get little bits of information off him and his experiences, being a sponge when I go round to the first-team side.

“Stevie Smith has been there and done it. Everything that is going to be thrown at us in the final, he’ll have experienced it before.

“He’ll be calm in the moment and know how to deal with it, so that’ll be helpful during big intervals in the game. Listening to him, and keeping a calm head during the final, will be a big thing.

“He says he has the chance to be the only player to ever win it as both a player and a coach. That’s an extra motivation for us, to do it for him as well, and it would be a great achievement for him.”

Steven is a huge supporter of RYDC and we wish him and his team well at Hampden tonight.

We’ve provided more than £11 million to the Academy since 2002 through profit from our portfolio of products.

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