IF, LIKE me, you’re proud of the Scottish Cup being the oldest national football trophy in the world you might have issues with it copying other inferior johnny-come-lately tournaments.
I’m thinking of the screeching pop music, the balsa-wood stage for the winners, the celebratory bouncing, even the foliage in the managers’ lapels. You were first, Scottish, do your own thing. Don’t be bullied by the Champions League into moving from sacred Saturday to Sunday. And – favourites of this column – let’s bring back the massed pipes and drums and the Alsatian obstacle-course.
Some of those changes are modernisms and maybe we have to move with the times. But every year our clubs are writing the cup’s history, a dutiful task like that of the trophy’s engraver. And when future generations of football students and anoraks open up Wikipedia at season 2013-14, what will they see? That Rangers played their semi-final at Ibrox, their home ground. Seriously, that has to be a joke.
What an all-consuming tale this is. Truly, our cup runneth over. There’s stupidity, arrogance, incompetence, intransigence, fatuousness, our-club’s-bigger-than-your-club juvenalia, delusions of grandeur, you name it.
Let’s deal first with the delusions of grandeur. The Scottish Football Association, who announced as far back as last October that Ibrox would host both last-four ties due to Hampden being out of action, have in the midst of the rammy tried to cite Euro precedent. The Champions League final venue is confirmed a whole season in advance, they point out, and you’ve got to forward-plan.
Who are they kidding? Without wishing to contradict myself, the Scottish Cup is not the Champions League. It does not need six months of planning. George Peat, the former SFA president, recalled seasons in the League Cup where the Scottish league would have less than a week to arrange all-ticket ties.
Peat said that while the SFA would have signed a contract for Ibrox he couldn’t understand why they didn’t have a plan B in the event of Rangers reaching the semis. Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson reckoned he had a pretty good idea why: money. All current SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, pictured right, was interested in was the commercial benefits, he claimed. “Obviously looking after the sponsors is more important than it being a neutral venue.”
Certainly Ibrox getting the semis and Celtic Park having the final sounds very SFA: a divvying up in the grand old tradition. But I do find it astonishing that no one in a blazer thought the cup could pan out like this. If no one did, requiring the plan B that Peat was talking about, then you have to wonder what kind of brains trust is running the game.
The SFA have tried to pass the buck for being aware that Ibrox was the home of a club who potentially had semi-final aspirations back to the rest of Scottish football, saying that any concerns should have been raised at the time of the decision.
It is here that the story becomes a bit murkier. You can find two different Dundee United responses. Yes, we had concerns and raised them then. No, we didn’t because it would have been presumptuous to suggest we’d be involved in the semis. But this isn’t the crucial aspect, and the second response would have been perfectly acceptable. The duty for organising one of the oldest club football competitions in the world, and avoiding the complete and utter embarrassment of one team having home advantage in their favour to reach the final, rests entirely with the SFA and it is both laughable and chilling that they appear not to have anticipated this could happen, or had a contingency plan, or were unprepared to change the venue when, as Peat says, they still had the best part of a month to do so. The bickering between Rangers and Dundee United was caused by the SFA, although the individual reactions of the clubs were fairly predictable. United laying into the game’s rulers, angry at the SFA’s tone, arguing that given the number of talented young footballers they were producing for the greater good they didn’t deserve such treatment. And Rangers, in the squabble over how many tickets United should receive, labelling their fans glory-hunters.
Ally McCoist chose this moment to boast about Rangers’ bigger support. The last time United had been in a semi, against Celtic, Hampden was only half-full. His club’s fans didn’t just turn out for semis, McCoist said, but all games. Not true, of course – Ibrox wasn’t packed for the quarter-final against Albion Rovers – but the basic point hardly needed to be made: a lot of people like to watch Rangers do their special thing.
The issue then became ludicrous with McCoist claiming no special benefits for his men from playing in the distinctive Govan air, with yon majestic Broomloan Stand rising up behind them and the classic criss-cross detailing by the great stadium architect Archibald Leitch so known to the team, like the tattoo on the back of a hand. “There’s very little to be taken from home advantage the higher you go in football,” he argued, before being quickly backed up by his striker Jon Daly.
Sorry guys, but you’re talking tripe. Daly would not be saying “I don’t see Ibrox as being an advantage” if he was still a Dundee United player and McCoist would not be dismissing the venue as being of no significance if Rangers were facing a Scottish Cup final at Celtic Park against … Celtic. This too was among the scenarios of the SFA’s “planning” last October. They’ve avoided that, but a semi at the Big Hoose featuring its occupants is definitely happening.
To be fair to McCoist and Thompson, they’ve toned down the language since the rumpus kicked off. But 12 April is currently shaping up as a dread day in the football calendar rather than one for families to enjoy.
The SFA can still change the venue and they should. As things stand they’re doing no favours to Rangers save for stoking the defiance of their own fans and the conspiracy theories of the rest. They’re doing no favours to Dundee United who’ve been dealt a grossly unfair hand for sure but must be wondering if making such a stink could cause their young team to think their abilities to win are being doubted. Most of all, though, they’re discrediting the grand old Scottish Cup.