CHRIS Baird has waited a long time for the opportunity he will get tonight.

But then, he has grown used to having to be patient.

Almost seven years to the day since his first, Baird is set to feature in his second major cup final when Fulham take on Spaniards Atletico Madrid in tonight’s Europa League final in Hamburg.

“I hope it’s not another seven years before I get to another final because I will be retired by then,” the defender smiled, puffing out his cheeks at the thought.

The first, as most will recall, came in 2003 when academy product Baird was a Saint.

Then manager Gordon Strachan stunned virtually everyone when he handed Baird, then a 21-year-old rookie, only his second competitive start in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal.

No one was more shocked than the man himself.

“I couldn’t believe it,”

recalled Baird, speaking exclusively to the Daily Echo at Fulham’s pre-final press day.

“ I h a d only played three games before that day and one was against Arsenal.

“I thought I did well then and I think that’s what he (Strachan) thought I could do in the final.

“We had a few injuries as well.

“I knew there were some other players who were disappointed who were older and didn’t play in it.

“But I was chuffed to bits.”

Despite his shock, Baird says he remembers everything about the build-up and occasion.

“We travelled up a couple of days before and I found out the day before,” he said.

“I wasn’t that nervous I was just so excited, looking forward to getting out there, getting on with it and wanting to win.

“I remember coming out, we were on the left-hand side and all the Saints fans were to my left, all 30,000 of them in yellow.

“There was 74,000 altogether so the atmosphere was tremendous.

See today's Daily Echo for the full interview