Aidan Smith: ‘The British Cup has been spun like a record’

A cross-border cup competition is up and running but Celtic v Arsenal is not on the agenda... yet.  Photograph: Carl de Souza /AFP/Getty
A cross-border cup competition is up and running but Celtic v Arsenal is not on the agenda... yet. Photograph: Carl de Souza /AFP/Getty
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I’m sorry, but I can’t quite get the image out of my head and maybe you’re the same. It’s top football beak Neil Doncaster impersonating Pete Burns in a Dead or Alive tribute act.

I’m not visualising Doncaster in turquoise lycra robot-dancing with George Galloway or wearing a coat rumoured to be sewn together illegally from gorilla skin. Nor can I quite see the SPFL chief exec with Burns’ mad-witch hairstyle or copying any one of the outrageous performer’s 300 attempts at plastic surgery. Doncaster’s flat-top and fixed grimace, suggestive of good times ahead if only they’d bloody hurry up and happen, suit him just fine. No it’s the words of Dead or Alive’s big hit that I’m unable to shake: “You spin me right round, baby/Right round like a record, baby/ Right round right round.”

It seems to me that a high degree of spinning was involved last week in the story sparked by Doncaster that the Old Firm have edged a bit closer to playing in England. To be fair to our man he didn’t seem to use the words “Old” and “Firm” or “Celtic” and “Rangers” and he certainly didn’t say “rampage market through towns quaint” or any re-arrangement of these words that might be available.

He simply stated that there existed “a willingness to embrace cross-border football”. UEFA are prepared to back the concept, he said. And he called on football people to be “open-minded” about where the idea could go from here.

The point it’s reached is Sligo Rovers and Bray Wanderers from the League of Ireland participating in next season’s Irn-Bru Cup, which was the the only part of Doncaster’s announcement last week that could reasonably said to have been made from girders. Celtic v Arsenal wasn’t mentioned and neither was Manchester United v Rangers. Doncaster wasn’t actually the one doing the spinning; rather he was being spun. Like a record, baby. Right round right round.

This was not really surprising. It was the week of the General Election when every political pronouncement was rammed into the metal drum and the dial set to “fast spin”. Easy for sports pronouncements to get caught up in there. Then there was the fact Scotland were playing England. As every encounter between the national teams was being remembered, going back half a century and more, the temptation to trigger nostalgia for club clashes of yore was probably too great to resist.

What Doncaster, pictured, did say was this: “If you asked anybody, when I arrived [in Scotland] eight years ago, if we would have any sort of cup involving the British Isles leagues, they would have said it wouldn’t happen. [But] it is happening.” Well, Bray Wanderers v Queen of the South, with the best will in the world, is not Celtic v Liverpool or Rangers v Chelsea. Doncaster may dream of such match-ups and UEFA would probably give them their blessing because they clearly believe that the suggestion we might one day reach peak football is just so much scaremongering. Just like that nonsense a while back about the Earth not being flat. But who are the clubs stomping up and down the English side of Hadrian’s Wall demanding a game?

England’s Premier League doesn’t want us and, it would assert, doesn’t need us. Brendan Rodgers can argue all he likes that Celtic would finish in the top four of that gilded division but “the Prem” is not about to invite them to prove his theory any time soon.

Rodgers made this claim at the start of last season when his team gave Pep Guardiola and Manchester City a fright in the Champions League and he repeated it at the end after Celtic clinched an unbeaten domestic treble. But West Bromwich Albion are not going to risk being budged from tenth to 11th by Celtic’s admission and Watford are certainly not going to want to moved down a place if that was going to mean relegation.

Talk of Celtic, and Rangers, joining England’s top flight is maximum-level spinning, as impressive as it is ludicrous. It’s not a wall that divides England and Scotland, football-wise, it’s high-security gates, of the kind the millionaires in the south instal to protect their mansions. Heavy was the symbolism in the story of the player who last season was late for training because he got stuck behind his gates. That the subject of “gate-gate” – Aston Villa’s Ross McCormack – was Scottish added piquancy but is incidental. Football in England is rich beyond the wildest imaginings when the Premier League began and Celtic can boast all they like about 50,000 season ticket holders and global reach. They ain’t getting in.

But a British Cup? Involving English teams outwith the elite? Doncaster might be thinking that could fly. It flew once before, in the 1970s, and was called the Texaco Cup. From England, Brian Clough participated, as did Gordon Banks and Martin Chivers. Motherwell and Airdrie enjoyed stirring victories over English opposition and Tom Forsyth, speaking to me last week principally about Scotland v England, was only too happy to reminisce about the Texaco as well, when the mighty Tottenham Hotspur pranced into Fir Park and were humbled.

That was a more innocent time. I still have my Texaco routemaster, a gift for buying enough of the fuel giant’s petrol, which plotted the journeys to Stoke and Huddersfield, back when they seemed far-off and exotic. Globalisation, though, has expanded horizons and egos. Celtic wouldn’t entertain playing Barnsley in a British Cup, but Barnsley would be sniffy about a tie against Dundee.

Political tensions stirred into the pot or indeed the spin-dryer mean many more Scots consider themselves different from, and in some cases at odds with, their English cousins compared with 40 years ago – and vice versa. Cross-border games could be fractious affairs. There weren’t the same tensions when down the years Rangers visited Manchester, Newcastle, Wolves and Aston Villa and look how these matches turned out.

I should attempt to banish the thought from your mind that our administrator might be tempted to utter the dread-words: “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Dead or Alive.” Neil Doncaster is actually an AC/DC fan. It’s a long way to the top, his favourites once sang. A British Cup may be even further in the distance.