The romance of the Scottish Cup returns - but there is an elephant in the room
It’s Scottish Cup weekend already, despite that fact that the last round only took place around ten days ago. Games are coming thick and fast in a fixture calendar that has been severely constricted due to the recent football suspension.
My own team, Stenhousemuir FC, will square off against Premiership opponents this weekend as we welcome Kilmarnock FC to what promises to be a sunny Ochilview.
For us, it’s a free hit, there is always an expectation that the Premiership team will win. This puts all the pressure on them, which isn’t a bad place to be for the smaller club. However, anything can happen over the 90 minutes as we discovered in the second round.
The stars of the show that night were of course Brora Rangers, and deservedly so. They beat Hearts 2-1, and from the highlights I’ve seen, they thoroughly deserved their win. When you consider that they had been suspended from playing or training since early January, it made the win all the more impressive.
In order to get round the suspension and be allowed to play, they agreed to a shortened COVID PCR testing period where they managed to cram in a few training sessions and a bounce game before they went up against Hearts who had been playing without any imposed suspensions since October. As well as being a David & Goliath encounter in terms of league positions, it was also a complete mismatch in terms of fitness and match conditioning. Nonetheless, Brora emerged as worthy winners. This is exactly what the ‘romance of the cup’ cliché is all about.
Brora’s win eclipsed some other notable results from the second round including Montrose putting seven past Nairn County, Formartine advancing past Annan Athletic, and of course Stenhousemuir beating Peterhead from the division above.
From our perspective, winning through to the next round presented a fixturing problem. We have already committed to a league campaign where we play every Tuesday and Saturday from here to the end of the season. Trying to fit in another Scottish Cup tie will mean that we’ll also need to fit in a Thursday night game as well.
However, when we were 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go, all that was forgotten, I was willing the team on to win the game despite the fixturing issue. Football is for dreaming about what might be possible, not worrying about the obstacles that can be overcome with a bit of extra effort and planning. The romance of the cup once again.
Which brings us back to Saturday. As we have planned for our game against Kilmarnock, it has at times been reminiscent of the pre-COVID good old days. The players always welcome the opportunity to play against higher opposition, and the level of planning can increase. However, the elephant in the room will of course be the lack of fans.
At Stenhousemuir, we look forward to fans visiting from other clubs, particularly teams that we don’t normally come up against. We aim to be as welcoming as we can, whilst at the same time relishing the rivalry and the competition and the desire to perform well and get a result if we can. A big part of the drive to do well against a bigger opponent is the support we get from our fans. They give the team the inspiration they need, but unfortunately, they will be absent on Saturday.
In order to try and inject a bit of that rivalry into the game, we’ve invited a commentator from Kilmarnock to join up with our own commentary team for our livestream. We hope this adds something a bit different and appeals to fans of both clubs. Football needs the rivalry and the banter. And if Kilmarnock are doing really well, we’ll be in charge of the microphone volume so we can always edit their commentator out, he’ll never know!
But seriously, we always go into cup games positively, with a sense of hope. Anything is possible in football. We have a decent record against Kilmarnock. We’ve won both of our last two matches against them. The last time the sides met was in the League Cup in 2012.
Kilmarnock were the current Champions, having won the League cup the previous season. We met them in the second round the following year. I recall walking into Rugby Park at Kilmarnock on the night of the game to be met with the cup on full display in the foyer. Quite an impressive and intimidating sight.
However, we went on to win that game 2-1, much to the delight of the small band of supporters who had made the journey down. As we left the ground that night, we once again passed the cup in the foyer. Rather cheekily, one of our Directors quipped, “Do we just take this with us on the way out?”. The receptionist didn’t see the funny said at all.
That said though, we couldn’t have had a better or warmer welcome from the Kilmarnock Board, both before and after the game. It is of much regret that when we meet on Saturday, we will be unable to return that compliment as the COVID restriction we have in place do not allow for any form of hospitality at games or for representatives of the clubs to mix. However, we are where we are.
Nonetheless, I’m sure both sides will be doing all they can to make it a great game. For me, it would be nice if the ‘romance’ could continue just a little longer after a good result.