Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday backed the choice of Celtic Park as the venue for this season’s Scottish Cup final after helping make the draw for the fourth round of the competition in Aberdeen.
Ferguson lifted the trophy on four occasions when manager of Aberdeen. All these wins – in 1982, ’83, ’84 and ’86 – came at Hampden Park but, with the national stadium to be taken out of football commission ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games, the Scottish Football Association announced that Celtic Park will host the final in May.
Some questioned the need for the decision to be made so early, given that Celtic, who were handed an away tie against Hearts yesterday, could well reach the final and Ibrox – which is being used to host the semi-finals – is also available.
Stephen Thompson, the Dundee United chairman, had expressed the hope that the SFA might have at least tried to “maintain the concept of neutrality”. However, Ferguson was adamant that Celtic Park was the perfect venue given Hampden’s unavailability, although you wonder if, back in his days as Aberdeen manager, he would be quite as accepting of the decision that means Celtic are assured home advantage if they make the final.
“It’s the right choice,” said Ferguson. “It’s great that Glasgow has the Commonwealth Games and to support that it was obvious that the SFA had to surrender Hampden Park.
“Celtic Park holds 60,000, even more than Hampden, so I don’t think anyone could complain about the final being there. I am sure everybody else will be hoping Celtic are not there. But I am sure Celtic have a big chance [of winning].”
Falkirk and Rangers were the first teams out of the hat but the tie of the round is Hearts against Celtic at Tynecastle. The prospect of television and gate revenue will please the Hearts administrators but it is another tough challenge for Gary Locke’s young side.
Hibs, meanwhile, have been handed an unappetising trip to face Ross County as they begin their latest quest to win the trophy for the first time since 1902. If Terry Butcher is installed as Pat Fenlon’s replacement, it would mean a quick return to the Highlands for the current Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager. Ross County, then in the First Division, defeated Hibs after a replay in the same competition in 2010. The other two al-Premiership ties are Dundee United against Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle against Aberdeen, who have scored seven times without reply against the Firhill side this season.
Ferguson was not to blame for handing Aberdeen an away tie – Neil Cooper, the group finance director at sponsors William Hill, selected the away teams. As the teams were picked out one by one, with still no sign of Ferguson’s former club emerging, he leaned over and asked: “Are Aberdeen in here?!”
The Partick Thistle v Aberdeen tie was the fourth last one out of the hat and Ferguson later said there was “no reason” why the Pittodrie side couldn’t win the trophy. He was buoyed by their performance in Monday night’s league victory over the same opponents.
“Having watched Aberdeen last night, I think they have every chance in the cup,” he said. “Any away draw is always difficult but they have the capability to do well.”
Ferguson smiled when the first tie was revealed to be between two of his former clubs. He played for Falkirk for four years after leaving Rangers in 1969. “That will be a hard one but Rangers have done really well,” he said. “I think Ally [McCoist] has done a great job there. He has stabilised the club and you can see the improvements from last year. They are on a good unbeaten run this season and they will go to Falkirk with a lot of confidence.”
Ferguson praised the tradition of the Scottish Cup, and he stressed that he thinks it retains a significant place in the hearts of the supporters.
“In my time, I thought it was the best cup tournament you could win,” he said, with reference to Aberdeen’s quartet of victories. He also adored watching finals at Hampden Park when a child. “At that time the crowds were unbelievable. I remember the Motherwell and Dundee final [in 1952] where there were 132,000 at the old Hampden. Unfortunately, we’ll never see those days again.”