Scottish Cup: Musselburgh Athletic's dreams hang in balance after new proposals unveiled
Scottish FA plans to slash the numbers of clubs involved in this season’s Scottish Cup competition have provoked an angry backlash from teams who could miss out.
As it stands, 112 clubs should be involved in the prestigious tournament, from the preliminary stages through to the season finale at Hampden. But, with last season’s event still to be played to a conclusion and the majority of clubs not due to resume competitive action until at least October due to the coronavirus pandemic, the governing body has mooted a revamp, condensing the number for rounds and and suggesting entrants be restricted to the 42 SPFL member clubs and 10 others from the Highland, Lowland, East, South and West leagues, as well as invited junior clubs.
That will leave dozens of clubs facing an anxious ballot to see if they will make the cut.
“It’s devastating for everyone involved if it does go that way,” said Kevin McDonald, who thought he had guided East of Scotland league side Musselburgh Athletic into the Scottish Cup for the first time in their history.
“We won’t be the only club disappointed at missing out but we will be hugely disappointed. It will be a massive blow. We have already had to win two cups just to get to this stage and since then the club has worked ridiculously hard to put floodlights in and make sure we meet the SFA requirements and make sure we are eligible to play in the Scottish Cup. But it doesn’t sound like we can do much about it.”
The lower leagues are planning on making representations in the hope that alternative models can be implemented, but McDonald is not holding out much hope.
But forcing sides to sit out the biggest knockout competition in the country, even for one season, will have a damaging impact on their finances and on the prestige that comes with giant-killing performances.
“You can only look at the cup upsets in the past. Last season Broxburn and Penicuik got quite far and the year before Bonnyrigg Rose had their day against Hibs,” said McDonald.
“Clubs in our league will go into ties as underdogs but we have some big hitters now and everyone loves a cup upset, don’t they? That is part of the appeal of the cup. But, for most clubs they won’t get that chance this year.”
In recent years, the likes of Spartans, East Kilbride, BSC Glasgow and Auchinleck Talbot have all gone deep into the competition, setting up glamour ties, while bolstering their reputations and their coffers.
“You get good money for every round you get through,” said McDonald, pictured right. “Then, if you can draw one of the big teams then that money can set you up for seasons to come.”
But with sponsors understood to be adamant that they do not want an overlap of last season’s final stages and the start of this season’s fixtures – even the more low key preliminary rounds – the SFA believe that shrinking the field and kicking off the ties on Boxing Day, just six days after last term’s rescheduled final, is the best solution.
McDonald understands the organisers’ conundrum, which he acknowledges has been compounded by no clear directive from the Scottish Government on when clubs outwith the SPFL Premiership will be allowed to return to action, but he remains gutted that it will be the lower league teams bearing the brunt.
It is also preferable to alternative proposals, though, which would have restricted entry to the 42 SPFL clubs, with another option limiting numbers further and omitting League 2 clubs.
The final decision still has to go to an SFA general meeting for approval and there have been moves to dilute the damage to the sides who make it through the ballot. Those left on the sidelines will be granted a one-off payment from the SFA of £5,000, which is the equivalent to the reward for reaching the second round.