“You expected to be sad in the fall,” wrote Ernest Hemingway. “Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you weren’t sad.” The great writer might have added “not with the League Cup back in its usual place.”
Okay, Hemingway maybe didn’t have Scotland’s other cup in mind when he wrote what became the posthumous work A Moveable Feast, but that’s a good description for the competition, don’t you think?
The League Cup has been shunted around, re-jigged and re-named and threatened with death, but it’s still here. More than that, it’s concluding in the fall, or as we prefer, the autumn.
And while we might prefer League Cup to Betfred Cup, sponsorship is the way of the world and it’s good to have the tournament being decided this Sunday.
Except, if you don’t subscribe to BT Sport, you won’t see Celtic collect the first of what they hope will be a Treble, or Aberdeen show they’re not just one-hit wonders and can start to lay down what manager Derek McInnes wants as a “legacy”.
That’s a shame for the armchair fans who’ll miss the showpiece. A shame, too, for the League Cup and surely some of the excitement generated by the new/old format, plus the nostalgia stirred by the tournament commencing with sections, will be dissipated by the denouement being denied its widest-possible audience.
For four decades now, Scotland has been able to depend on live finals. First the Scottish Cup and then the League Cup as well. Pay-per-view didn’t exist back in 1977. If you couldn’t be at Hampden – couldn’t get a ticket, couldn’t afford one, didn’t have a vested interest but were still keen to watch – then the game was piped into your front room.
The coverage was hard-won: prior to that, fans had to rely on radio then wait until the end of the night for highlights. There were strong arguments against live games. So strong, indeed, that it seemed football’s administrators shared something of the fear of ancient tribes who believed that photographs robbed you of your soul.
They had the good of the game at heart. Televised football, they reckoned, would kill the crowds. And yet Scotland would be permitted to see extra time in the FA Cup final, such as in 1971 when Arsenal defeated Liverpool. All those supporters committed to the Scottish Cup final were already stationed on Mount Florida’s slopes.
This will be only the second final of recent times – Scottish Cup or League Cup – which has not been shown live on free-to-air television. The other one was the final of the League Cup in 1990, an Old Firm contest won by a Richard Gough goal.
BT Sport has suddenly become a big and bullish performer in televised football. Splashing a fortune to win the contract for the Champions League, it’s been determined to amass an audience by keeping a tight grip on the rights. When Sky broadcast the tournament and you didn’t have a subscription you could still watch a live match every week on ITV and, of course, the final. Now, though, you need to be hooked up to BT to see Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest.
The Champions League format, however, is in need of a revamp. The competition takes a long time to get going as the usual suspects proceed through the early stages and viewers have become bored with the much-hyped glamour.
Our humble League Cup, on the other hand, has had its re-fit and is eager to again show its best face as a keenly-contested and speedily-completed tournament which will be an early Christmas present for one club.
What a pity, then, that a larger gathering will not be able to watch. As no less a Scottish football enthusiast than the poet John Donne said: “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”