Aidan Smith: Is there room for a Texaco Cup?

Romance of the Texaco Cup. The cross-Border competition widened the horizons for fans young and old in the 1970s. Picture: Colin Heggie
Romance of the Texaco Cup. The cross-Border competition widened the horizons for fans young and old in the 1970s. Picture: Colin Heggie
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I’LL NEVER hear a bad word said about the Texaco Cup. Or more specifically I’ll never hear a bad word said about Texaco Cup fan giveaways, including the travel guide (Scottish edition) which helped answer the early 1970s’ most urgent questions, including “How far to Kilmarnock?” and “Where’s the best place in Airdrie for high tea?”

Friends had this routemaster and I was desperate for my own copy, in the hope it would encourage Faither to rev up the Saab for away games. “Do you need more petrol?” I’d ask him on routine hurls, even though we’d just exited a garage forecourt a few minutes before. We required more coupons for the guide and eventually we got them. Then my mother laminated it, extra protection she must have deemed essential for journeys to the Lanarkshire interior. And then we were off.

Long before SatNav, the guide opened up new territories and exposed me to sundry exotica, including quaint Camberwick Green pavilions (Airdrie), bold pop-art match programme design (Aberdeen) and steak bridies (Dunfermline). But all of this was merely what the guide did for my Saturdays in the domestic league. I haven’t begun to tell you what the Texaco Cup itself did for Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

A plan is afoot for a cup competition involving Scottish and English teams. This, of course, was the format of the Texaco, first held during season 1970-71. Irish teams were involved at the start but the Troubles forced them to drop out. After that the tournament bore witness to cross-Border skirmishes, two-leg ties under lights between Hearts and Burnley and Motherwell and Spurs, clubs not quite good enough to get into Europe. But don’t try telling me or anyone else who attended these games that they were consolation prizes, the football equivalent of a propelling pencil or two months’ supply of meat paste (the first prize in this case, as per the old joke, being one month’s supply).

Could such a competition work today? You could argue, harshly, that right now no Scottish clubs are good enough for Europe, and that maybe Stoke City in October or Newcastle United in November are about our level. You could point to the good vibe generated by the England-Scotland friendly of 2013, the first between the countries for many years. You could listen to Tim Crow of Synergy Sponsorship, promoters of England’s Capital One Cup, who says: “When you talk to consumers there is definitely an appetite, whether it is the reintroduction of the Home Nations or something else. If it was done in the right way at club level I think it would be terrific.” And you could ask, with some justification, following FIFA’s decision to stage a Christmas World Cup in 2022: “Has Qatar just blown a Texaco Cup-sized hole in what we understand by a traditional football schedule and shouldn’t we shore up ours with something which teases woozy smiles of nostalgia from our glum nappers?”

Well, this sounds fine in principle, but would we even get Stoke to participate in a Texaco revival? In the wake of that almost pornographic £5.1 billion TV deal, every English Premier League club must fancy themselves rotten. Destined to be much-quoted is Burnley now being richer than Ajax. I just can’t see the top flight wanting to dirty their shorts with trips to Dens Park or McDiarmid.

We should remember too last year’s international friendly with the Auld Enemy, the one in which we were well beaten, putting the gas fuelling the fixture’s reinstatement at a definite peep. A Scotland-England club tournament with no Prem involvement might expose us to the likes of Chesterfield, who thoroughly embarrassed Rangers on their way to winning the last Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980-81, after the Texaco had to be renamed because of a pronounced lack of any more oil money. So maybe we should only be entering competitions we have a chance of winning.

Tim Crow, encouraged by the news that the SPFL board has begun discussions on a new take on an old idea, admits that Old Firm participation would be essential. “If you could find a way to sprinkle a bit of Celtic and Rangers magic on it then that would be great,” he says. We know what he means, but I don’t suppose the good burghers of Newcastle, Wolverhampton and Manchester would necessarily describe the sensation of being visited by great slavering hordes down from Scotland as in any way magical. These nights to forget were all in Europe. The Texaco Cup, as far as I can recall, escaped serious hooliganism.

When it came along it appealed to lads like me with its newness and yes its garishness, just like Shoot! magazine and Bestie-endorsed side-lacing Stylo Matchmakers. I loved that the government, in the shape of sports minister Denis Howell, was nervous about the big, bad sponsorship aspect, as was the BBC. In this, the Texaco was like punk rock, which wouldn’t happen for another five years but you know what I mean. What excitement, in the first year, when Stoke, West Brom, Nottingham Forest and Burnley – they stomp all over Ajax now, don’t you know – were all sent homewards via Texaco garages to think again. Then Motherwell dumped Spurs with 30,000 squeezing into Fir Park to see Martin Chivers – I can still see the “Britain’s first £100,000 man!” headline in Shoot! – being outgunned by Dixie Deans.

For the inaugural final, the Edinburgh polis thought they’d better set a crowd limit of 44,000. Hearts didn’t quite get that for the home leg against Wolves and they didn’t quite manage to win the trophy. The following season Airdrie got to the final only to lose to Derby County, managed by Brian Clough, who maybe didn’t ever say that one Texaco was better than two European Cups but no matter.

Among the English clubs vanquished by the Diamonds were Manchester City, who fielded nine reserves for their trip to the Lanarkshire interior but I don’t suppose the 20,000 who packed Camberwick Green – sorry, Broomfield – were bothered about that. City were made to forfeit their £1000 entry deposit for that rudeness and banned from the cup for two seasons. The Texaco was far from a namby-pamby affair. It was great in its day but sadly I don’t think these thrills can be repeated. For delivering me safely to Morton and then home again, however, belated thanks.