THERE is never a bad time to sit down for a blether with one of Scottish football’s all-time great characters. The legend who is John ‘Dixie’ Deans.

Now 71, can you believe that, those eyes still sparkle as if anticipating a bit mischief which he was known and loved for back in the day, and I'm happy to report he remains terrific company.

However, this of all weeks was perhaps the best to grab an hour or so with the bold Dixie, given that the two clubs he is most closely associated with, Motherwell and Celtic, meet in Sunday’s League Cup final, an occasion in which this incredible goalscorer notched one of his two Hampden hat-tricks.

Mention Deans to a certain generation of football supporter, and this doesn’t necessarily mean a fan of the teams he played for, and it’s guaranteed to raise a smile. He played for the people, still does to an extent, he could be a rascal, a wind-up merchant and, boy did he know how to play.

He said. “I got 91 goals for Motherwell, which was not a bad record, but here’s a thing about Celtic. I have read so many times that I scored 124 goals for the club when it was actually 132 (in 184 games). Get that in.”

Dean was some centre-forward even if St Mirren, the club this Linwood lad supported, allowed him to slip past. He did get a trial “the night before my mother died” but it was in Lanarkshire where it began for him.

“I loved Motherwell,” he recalled. “It was a great club. I signed at 19 after one trial with them. We had a good, consistent team, and I had wonderful five-and-half years there.

"Bobby Howitt was manager and we had players such as Tam Forsyth, who was a Motherwell boy, and he was better to play with than against. Tam was a hard man.”

Deans would have been described as a controversial player during his Fir Park days.

For a striker, and one on the small side, he was of the ‘retaliate first’ school of footballers who in those days got far less protection than any of their predecessors who will strut their stuff on Sunday.

That he had an eye for a goal was no mystery; however, eyebrows were raised when Jock Stein spent £17,500 on the 25-year-olfdin 1971, especially as the new Celtic man was in the middle of a six-week suspension.

So, Dixie, reminds us, what was all that about?

“Ach, what happened was I was wanting away. There were clubs down south, Newcastle being one, interested, they had come directly to me, so I knew this fine well. But Motherwell didn’t tell me a thing. I was getting frustrated.

"I spoke to the club and made the point I had been approached. The frustration got to me and I picked up a couple of sending offs.”

All unjust, or course.

“When I signed for Celtic, I was sent off only one. And that was in a reserve game. So that showed I could control my temper.

“If a defender kicked me, I’d have a go back. In saying that, a few of the referees didn’t do me any favours. Honest.”

Then Celtic made their move. It was to be life-changing for Deans.

“I wasn’t surprised Celtic came in for me. I was scoring all the time. I always had that confidence within me, I felt I was going to get a goal in every game. This was not a bad way to think about yourself.

“Big Jock was magnificent. He honestly was like a father to me and the rest of the lads. I couldn’t believe how well he treated me after I signed. I loved my time there.

“I still work with Celtic on the match-day corporate side of things. I love it. To know the fans still talk about you is an amazing thing. But as a player, I loved entertaining. That was my job, to entertain, and I was pretty good at it as far as scoring goals went.”

That he was.

I resisted bringing up the penalty miss against Inter Milan, his career was so, so much more than that, but what cannot be ignored is that Dean remains the only player to score a hat-tricks in two cup finals, both against an outstanding Hibernian side, the 1971/72 Scottish Cup Final and 1974/75 League Cup Final.

His solo goal in the former sits easily in any top ten in Celtic history and in the latter his flying header, when he directed Jimmy Johnstone’s wayward shot into the net, is one of the funniest.

Deans said: "The finals always gets mentioned. When I’m at the matches, I spend proper time with the fans, they deserve it, and we talk about all sorts of things.

“I still go to supporters’ clubs nights and love them, although I need to watch these days because everything goes on social media.

“I was at a night recently, with Bobby Lennox and wee Joe Miller, and the three of us got a standing ovation when we walked in. I was maybe an hour-and-a-half signings stuff and posing for photographs.

“I don’t mind that at all. I will give time to these people who have been wonderful to me.. It’s the same when I go to Motherwell, by the way. I am still looked after when I go to Fir Park. I always enjoy going back there”

So, Sunday, who out of his former teams will triumph?

“It is hard to see past Celtic. Brendan Rodgers is a terrific manager but that 7-1 defeat...a result like that can hurt people. I still call Celtic ‘we’ and ‘us’ when I talk about them. But if anyone was to beat us in a final, I would be happy if it were Motherwell.”

Deans these days is more or less retired. He plays golf, does his Celtic and is a regular visitor to Australia where both sons and his grand-children are based.

“I’ve had a great time in football,” he says. “I played with great clubs and great players, and we knew how to enjoy ourselves. I’ve no regrets.”

Dixie Deans. Brilliant player, good fun and great company. If only all of us could say this.

No wonder he has no regrets.