Aberdeen legend Paul Mason feared his football career was dead as he grafted in factories and on building sites.
Yet just five years later the midfielder was living his ultimate dream by leading Aberdeen to League Cup glory when scoring twice in the 2-1 final defeat of Rangers in 1989.
That was the first trophy of a clean sweep of Scottish domestic cups that season as the Reds, managed by Alex Smith, won the Scottish Cup in May 1990 with a penalty shoot-out defeat of Celtic.
However, Mason revealed playing top-flight football, let alone scoring in a final, seemed a pipe dream as he grafted long shifts in factories in the Netherlands.
Now 56, Mason also revealed his £200,000 move from FC Groningen to Aberdeen only came about because manager Smith travelled to Holland to watch Theo Snelders star in the team he was playing against.
Mason said: “Scoring two goals in a cup final was a dream come true as I didn’t expect it to happen.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to have the chance to win a major trophy as I left Liverpool for Holland just looking for work after being released by Everton.
“Tranmere didn’t give me a contract so after a spell working on a building site in Liverpool I went across to Holland looking for a normal job.
“One job was in a cigarette factory and another was working in the freezer of a ship loading boxes, manual stuff.”
While working in the Netherlands, Mason began playing for local amateur teams.
A scout with top-flight Groningen noticed him playing and continued to monitor him.
He was eventually offered a part-time contract for a year in the reserves, but impressed enough to earn a permanent deal.
He said: “When I got the chance in Holland I grabbed it.
“I think something changed in me when I went over there.
“You don’t just need skill in football, you need dedication and to train hard.
“I was only 19 years old and I learned how to really knuckle down when I went to Holland and put the work in. That eventually led to the highlight of my career which was scoring two goals in a final.
“It was one of the best days of my life and all a bit surreal.
“Later that season we also won the Scottish Cup and going down Union Street with the trophy was great. I will never forget the streets packed out with fans.
“That was the first time I had been on an open-topped bus – it was really emotional.
“We had a great team that was packed with internationals.
“We had a few good years where we were always challenging for trophies and the title.
“We won both cups in ’89-’90 and finished second three seasons in a row as well as other cup runs to finals.”
Mason was such a pivotal figure for Groningen in his four seasons in Holland, Ajax and PSV Eindhoven were interested in him. However, he signed on at Pittodrie in 1988.
He said: “I was happy at Groningen, but in the last year the manager said if anyone would like to go in for me they would be interested in selling. They could maybe make a bit of money as I had cost them nothing.
“I played the last game of the season against FC Twente and Alex Smith came over to watch their keeper, Theo Snelders.
“Theo didn’t play for Twente that day as he was injured. However, his agent said there is a lad from Liverpool who plays for Groningen and is keen on a move.
“Alex Smith watched me and I scored in a 1-1 draw.
“He invited me over to look around Aberdeen and two weeks later he signed me.”
Mason knocked back Rangers in time at Pittodrie
Paul Mason once knocked back an approach to sign for Rangers, the Pittodrie legend today confirmed.
The Gers were at the beginning of their nine-in-a-row title run when Mason starred for Aberdeen.
Mason memorably scored a brace to dump the Light Blues 2-1 in the League Cup final on October 22 1989.
The former Groningen midfielder was pivotal in Aberdeen pushing Rangers to the final day of the league title race in the 1990-91 season.
Had Aberdeen secured a point in that showdown at Ibrox they would have secured the league title. They lost 2-0.
However, Rangers made a failed attempt to lure Mason from Pittodrie.
He said: “That (Rangers) was mentioned once or twice. I got a call but I wasn’t interested. I loved Aberdeen and playing for them.”
Eventually Mason would move to Ipswich in 1993 for a fee of £440,00.
That was an almost quarter-million profit on the £200,000 outlay to Groningen to secure the midfielder.
He said: “Even when I moved down south I was still happy at Aberdeen.
“Playing in England had been a dream for me since I was a young kid.
“I said I wouldn’t move to England unless a team came in with the right offer for me.”
Liverpool-born and raised, the potential of Mason starring for Scotland was also briefly looked into.
He said: “I had a conversation with the manager once over an evening meal asking if I had any Scottish blood.
“The question was asked, but I don’t have any Scottish blood so it didn’t go any further.
“That was the end of that, but I was asked by Alex Smith about my background.
“He was maybe asking on behalf of the Scottish manager.”
Mason retains a strong affection for Aberdeen.
Two of his children were born in the Granite City and he keeps in contact with former team-mates Theo Snelders and Willem van der Ark.
Netting both goals at Hampden in that 1989 final was the pinnacle of his Pittodrie spell. However, just 18 months later would come the low point of the midfielder’s career.
There remains regret over the 1990-91 campaign where Aberdeen nearly won the league title.
The league leaders faced second-placed Rangers at Ibrox in the final game.
Holding a goal advantage at the top, a draw would have been enough. The Gers won 2-0 with Mark Hateley scoring twice.
Mason said: “That was upsetting as we came so close to winning the league.
“We were on a great run and playing attacking football going into that match at Ibrox.
“In those days we played 4-3-3. Although it didn’t make that much difference to the system in the final game the manager changed it to 4-4-2.
“I think that sent out a message to the players.
“We only needed a point but we got there by playing our own good football and weren’t worried about anyone.
“Even though it was Rangers away in the last game of the season I think you go play your game and let Rangers worry about us.
“We went 4-4-2 and whether that was the reason Rangers won I don’t know.
“Unfortunately, though, it didn’t work out for us.”