"When the Celts go up to lift the Scottish Cup..." But they didn't go up. Why not? Further erosion of tradition amid 'health and safety concerns'
Versions of this song have been sung by supporters of different teams for decades. Mostly it is we'll be there, we'll be there, since it's normally sung in anticipation of the glory day. But it’s always up. You go up to lift the cup.
Except on Saturday this didn’t happen. Callum McGregor, the Celtic skipper, did not ascend the Hampden stairs after his side's eventual 3-1 win in what some viewed as another regrettable erosion of Scottish Cup final traditions. Instead, he merely had to negotiate climbing onto a slightly raised platform that was dragged onto the pitch near the centre circle.
It was a notable further break with tradition after the controversial decision to put the kick-off time back to 5.30pm to accommodate the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Manchester City, which was brought forward to 3pm.
This delivered a pile of grief to the Scottish Football Association's door, and not only because Inverness fans were so inconvenienced. It looked for all the world like the SFA were kow-towing to the showpiece occasion south of the Border.
An evening kick off is one thing, but altering the cup presentation so it takes place in the middle of the pitch amid pyro explosions and blizzards of ticker tape? It would be deemed a step too far if only there were some steps involved.
Razzmatazz has even infected the very top of the SFA. Rod Petrie carried the trophy out and was introduced like he was Bruce Springsteen or something. The SFA President officially stepped down at the association’s agm yesterday. Traditionalists will hope the cup presentation outrage also featured high on the agenda.
Pitch presentations were understandable and unavoidable on those occasions when the final was not played at Hampden. The Celtic Park years, for example, including when Hearts lifted the trophy in 1998. The stadium is not equipped with the steps arrangement required.
The Covid years at Hampden also saw on-pitch presentations. Poor St Johnstone, who won the Scottish Cup in 2014 at Celtic Park and again in 2021 at Hampden, as well as lifting the League Cup the same year. They are perhaps now destined never to hold a trophy aloft at the top of the Hampden stairs, in the manner that has become so customary and etched in memory.
Think Roy Aitken wiping his hands on his jersey before accepting the cup from Margaret Thatcher in 1988. Think Hibs skipper David Gray thrusting the cup towards the heavens while mounted police and a broken set of goalposts told the story of what had gone on below. Or Billy McNeill holding the trophy in one hand and its lid in another as he saluted the fans after Celtic's Scottish Cup final victory over Airdrie in 1975, his last-ever game.
The list goes on and on. Until now. Even the most recent League Cup final maintained the practice, although Rangers dispensed with one tradition when they disappeared down the tunnel before Celtic were presented with the cup.
No one at the SFA is making any predictions about what might happen next year. An SFA source did shed some light on why such a significant switch took place on Saturday. The decision was only communicated to club officials two days previously. "There was no debate, we just got told that would happen," said Scot Gardiner, the Inverness chief executive. He's not in favour of the new edict. "You go up the stairs to get the cup, that's part of the experience," he said.
However, not everyone can enjoy, or even properly see, that experience. "If you are a fan of the winning team, and you’re in the north, east or west stands you do not see the same iconic image as those in the posh seats,” argued an SFA source. A position nearer the centre of the pitch was deemed to be a more democratic arrangement. There were also, apparently, health and safety issues to consider, although there have been few recorded instances of injury in over 100 years of above ground-level cup-lifting.
It's also been suggested the players prefer the new approach, which has become standard procedure elsewhere. Presentations at the Champions League and World Cup finals all now seem to take place on the pitch (at least Petrie did not force a shawl on McGregor).
Marketeers prefer the on-pitch scenario because it reduces the messy backdrops, which often involves bored-looking delegates and dignitaries. “Ask a broadcaster if they would rather have a pan shot of a trophy presentation on the centre circle, ask the event team would they rather have the pyro going off with that central image, ask the photographers – they would all say the same,” the source said. “If you are Callum McGregor and Joe Hart on the stairs and separated by 15 or so bodies, it does not feel like you are part of a celebration, it feels more like a procession.” The official Celtic twitter feed posted a picture of McGregor lifting the trophy with his teammates gathered around him.
It’s an admittedly arresting image and one emphasising how cup wins are achieved by the collective. But these pictures can be taken afterwards anyway.
Has anyone really ever said: "Winning the cup is great, but I wish we'd been given it on the pitch"? Surely going up to lift the Scottish Cup is a simple tradition worth preserving, if only for the sake of a favoured terracing song's accuracy.