League Cup group stage could return next summer

THE Scottish League Cup could revert to an initial group stage format as early as next July in a bid to introduce an element of summer football to the country’s calendar.

The Scottish League Cup 2015 champions Celtic. Picture: John Devlin

Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, revealed the potential switch in format for the tournament is currently under discussion by the 42 member clubs.

When the League Cup was first introduced in 1946, it started with a group stage which became the traditional curtain-raiser to the Scottish season.

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The qualifying groups were scrapped in 1977, two years after reconstruction had brought in the Premier Division in which clubs faced each other four times a season in the league.

The group stage returned again in the 1981-82 campaign but lasted for only another two seasons before being dropped in favour of the straight knock-out formula from first round to final which has been in place ever since.

But after conducting the second-round draw of this season’s League Cup at Hampden yesterday, Doncaster confirmed that a new group stage could replace the early knockout rounds next season.

“It is under discussion and we are open-minded about it,” said Doncaster. “There is an appetite for more football during the summer months so the possibility of a group stage being played in July is certainly one way of achieving that.

“It is a concept that is under discussion at the moment. Let’s see where that takes us. It couldn’t involve those teams who qualify for Europe as they would be playing qualifiers midweek during July.

“But for teams who don’t qualify for Europe, a group stage is absolutely one way you could start the League Cup in July.

“It could happen as early as next season. I’m not saying it will. We changed the rules over the summer to ensure that in terms of where teams come in to the tournament, it is based on where you start the current season rather than where you ended the previous season.

“In terms of the competition structure, there is no latest date by which we need to decide and we will take our time to get the right structure.

“It is important whenever you have any big change that you get consensus. That was the case with the creation of play-offs. There had been a demand for them from fans for many years and we got there with the will of the clubs.

“But it takes time to create that will and bring it all together. We are looking at something in the League Cup which is a fundamental change. It may be a way of creating the summer football people are demanding.”

Whatever the immediate future holds for the League Cup, Doncaster insists it is safe in the hands of the SPFL who inherited control of the tournament following the demise of the Scottish Football League two years ago.

“I don’t think the tournament is in any danger,” he added. “It is a big part of the Scottish football calendar. If you look at the excitement it created last year, that certainly demonstrates that.

“Some other European nations don’t have a second cup competition. They also have fewer league fixtures. It’s that combination which creates the fixture congestion we have.

“Ultimately, football is such a fundamental part of society in this country, that having such a diet of football is important. We