Aidan Smith: Welcome return of League Cup sections

Dundee celebrate their 1973 League Cup triumph in the bath. Picture: Gordon Rule
Dundee celebrate their 1973 League Cup triumph in the bath. Picture: Gordon Rule
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THE other morning I woke up and was convinced it was 1973. Now, this must have been a surprise to my nearest and dearest – not the fact I thought it was ’73 on this particular day but that this day was somehow different from any other. As far as my wife is concerned I’m always scouring eBay for old copies of MAD magazine, DVDs of kipper-tied dramas featuring lots of smoking – and of course football programmes from the period. As far as my children are concerned I’m always playing music from that time, interrupting their backseat singalongs to the latest hits with prog-rock so challenging they think our car has suddenly been clamped to an astronaut-toughening G-force whirligig.

But consider the following and tell me that I don’t have a point: first, Hearts announce they’re staying at Tynecastle. They’re to rebuild that rotting main stand with its legroom dating from when the height of the average Scottish male, even without his rickets, was 5ft 4∫ inches. “Hurrah!” chorus Jambos, traditionalists, Uncle Tommy Traynor and all. Then, drunk on the idea, someone suggests a standing area. The redesign should definitely incorporate one. This would give the foghorn stadium announcer cause to amend his clarion call to “Make even more noise!”

As yet it’s unclear whether the retro-standing, if approved, would have a stall similar to the one at nearby Murrayfield Ice Rink where fans could change into the appropriate footwear. For standing at matches, that simply has to be Freeman, Hardy & Willis’ finest platform boots.

Second, the League Cup’s 1973 makeover is revealed. Yes, the sections are returning and what’s more they’ll kick off the season once more. For many, this was how civilisation began. Their first-ever game was a section tie. Then, once hooked, they’d scan the fixture lists in those dead days of summer, wait for the Australian leagues to give way to friendlies in the Highlands and over in Ireland … not long now … until finally there would be thrilling intimation of proper, competitive action in the shape of the round-robin groupings. As the famous old headline would have it: “King football is back!” Ah, the sections. A season wasn’t a season unless it opened this way. Fans were adamant about this. You could describe them as sectioned.

Third, supporters of St Mirren and Partick Thistle learn that when their clubs meet in the Scottish Cup in Paisley next month they’ll be able to mingle with each other. This is another great throwback. Grounds used to be wonderfully open. You could wander to the top of a high terracing then, if you fancied getting soaked somewhere else for a change, you wandered down to the bottom. If you were lucky this would be rainwater. Unlucky, then it could be the contents of a beer can no longer containing beer. At half-time it wasn’t just the teams that swapped ends. A crocodile of fans heading for behind one goal would meet another coming the other way. There was vague tolerance of each other bordering on grunting respect. Until such time as there wasn’t.

See what I mean? It’s ’73 all over again and no mistake. Just a few additions are needed to complete the picture: a bigger top division; Sportscene on Saturday nights presented, with the certainty of leather buttons tethering a sheepskin as the wind shoogles the commentary-gantry, by Archie Macpherson; midfielders who’re progressive, not in a prog-rock way, but able to pass the ball forwards as opposed to all those guys who, for the sake of meaningless stats, shuttle it sideways in safe areas and call it a career. Now, who wouldn’t like all of that?

The game without frontiers at New St Mirren Park is a quaint idea. In fact it sounds positively hippyish and you’d like to think that Buddies and Jags fans will be able to share the same part of the ground without any problem. But I guess Thistle were carefully selected for the experiment. Maybe don’t expect to see it repeated at the next Renfrewshire derby – or the next Old Firm one. Well, we don’t want throwbacks to involve actual throwing.

Scotland is already up and running with standing sections. Celtic, the first club to apply for one since all-seater rules were relaxed, will open theirs at the start of next season. I’m in favour of them but would suggest some training will be required for fans sat on their backsides these past 20-odd years. Boycotting Hibernian during the dreary Bobby Williamson era, my good chum Rab and I sought the nearest alternative game and ended up at Falkirk’s Brockville.

A smashing old ground, but unused to being on our feet, we ended up with lumbago which required urgent treatment with poultices. (OK, that’s an exaggeration. I’ve always wanted to use “lumbago”, closely followed by “poultices”, since discovering the words in The Broons. We did have sore backs, though).

The big news of the week, the really time-travelling stuff, is the League Cup. Who’d have thought it? Undermined, unloved and reckoned to be on its last legs, the tournament not only survives but is set to continue in its old, extended version. Having the sections back is like your favourite prog-rock album given a loving remastering with the lost drum solos reinstated. OK, my favourite prog-rock album.

Some will view this as the League Cup’s last chance. If the new/old incarnation doesn’t work, these people might want the competition scrapped or at the very least reduced in status, possibly to below the Petrofac Cup where it could be renamed the Petri Dish Cup. But if it’s going down it might very well take the rest of Scottish football with it.

The restructuring that’s come with the tournament’s revamp has been stunning. The campaign for a winter break had been nothing like strident but that’s what we’ve got. I don’t want a winter break – for the reason we could fill the larder with baked beans anticipating white hell, only to end up with the mildest January fortnight on record and nae fitba – and the knock-on effect of the League Cup being enlarged without the leagues being shortened could be huge.

You probably thought the League Cup was a timid thing but it’s just emitted a mighty roar. I’m already thinking about my tournament wardrobe, maybe a nice cheesecloth shirt. Anyone know where I’d find the nearest branch of C&A?