What do we reckon to the plan to scrap replays in next season’s Scottish Cup? Here’s what I think: Yogi Hughes, a half-loaf and the dream dying. Three years ago in the quarter-finals Hibernian, the dreamers, were desperately trying to preserve a 1-0 Easter Road lead and Inverness Caley Thistle, the holders, were just as urgently trying to keep the trophy in their grasp. Then ICT manager Hughes sent on the lanky Congolese striker Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo, furnishing him with a note. The change worked, the player equalising 12 minutes from the end. Afterwards Yogi joked that the missive was simply a shopping list: “My messages for tonight: two bags of potatoes and a half-loaf.” He took his players back up the road and must have been confident of winning the replay. Caley Thistle didn’t, of course, but the way the first game was panning out I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Highlanders had prevailed in extra-time. We might also wonder about the outcome of the previous round, had there been no replay there.
Yes, Hibs came back from 2-0 down against Hearts at Tynecastle to equalise in added-on time. But there was still the opportunity for them to almost undo the good work when Niklas Gunnarsson smashed the ball against his own bar. That would have been the Hibsed-it moment to end them all. As it was, the sclaff and the panic which resulted might well have swung the momentum back to Hearts for the additional half-hour.
Bet you can all think of occasions when things would have turned out differently for your team – for better and for worse – in a replayless world. And I’m not sure we want to be entering a state of no second chances. Replays are essential to the drama of cup football. They give little teams the chance of causing a shockeroonee on their cowfield, or better still, the opportunity for an upset and a big cheque at a big team’s ground.
Some cup ties you just don’t want to end. You certainly don’t want them to end with extra-time when both sides forsake the swashbuckling play of the regulation 90 for a half-hour of fear football, followed by atrocious penalty kicks even worse than Dundee United’s in the Premiership play-off. What you want after a great tie is another game, two teams going again, proper man’s stuff.
Now the plan to end replays is only that, an idea, and at the moment it would only be for next season when the cup final is being brought forward to 9 May to accommodate the Euro 2020 fixtures at Hampden the following month. My worry, though, is that if replays are temporarily mislaid they would get lost down the back of new SFA chief Rod Petrie’s sofa forever. England’s creeping removal of replays in the FA Cup now extends to the fifth round. I don’t think Scotland would need much excuse to copy them.
Scots of a certain age used to live for replays. Before wall-to-wall televised games, a replayed FA Cup final was one of our few opportunities to see one. In 1970 Chelsea and Leeds United tried again at Old Trafford and produced an X-rated classic of neck-high tackling.
“Get them back to our place.” Who in their right mind wants that phrase to disappear from the football lexicon? “Down the slope” has gone because clubs aren’t allowed slight gradients anymore, pitches having to conform to a homogeneous, dull flatness. “Lucky programme number” has gone, too (and thanks to those of you who sympathised with my wail in last week’s column about the demise of the matchday pamphlets – good to know I’m not the only sad git out there).
While we’re at it, whatever happened to the mid-game announcements over the public address informing expectant fathers that their wives had just given birth, without their assistance obviously, and to triplets?
Okay, maybe it is just as well they have ceased, but cup replays have given me some of my most unforgettable nights (apart from during the three-day week they have always been nights). When you achieve a draw against Celtic or Rangers you might think you are only going to get one chance against the Old Firm and it has just gone. But when you go back for more and win the re-match it feels like your team has properly come of age.
As for ties which go to second replays, well, you feel like quite a hero if you attend all three matches, as if you have gained membership of a very exclusive club – like Boris Johnson’s Bullingdon only more rarefied, less vilified, more fun.
In 1976 I followed the efforts of Hibs and Motherwell to knock each other out all the way from Lanarkshire to Leith to neutral Ibrox. Almost 60,000 witnessed this epic which, with no Old Firm participation, was pretty impressive, before the strike double-act of Willie Pettigrew, pictured inset, and Bobby Graham proved craftily decisive.
All three games were completely engrossing and I never once suffered from attention-deficit disorder like fans now, who are weaned on goal clips and seek quick resolutions. The encounter was like a game of chess and I’ve met Pettigrew since; I know how smart he is. One of the funniest guys I’ve interviewed.
Then there was the triple-decked cup sandwich to end them all: the final three years later between Hibs and Rangers which did end replays for the showpiece. Why, I really don’t know. I wasn’t in the least bit bored or inconvenienced. I mean, if I was to claim a badge of honour for sitting through all 330 minutes of that encounter it would only be for having suffered the three additional minutes it took Middle of the Road to perform their dreadful hit Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep on the back of a coal lorry as part of the original pre-match entertainment. (Come to think of it, they may have sung it twice).
To me it doesn’t make sense to have stopped replayed finals. Why is a drawn game in the second round more deserving of an encore than when two teams are locked together in the big match in May? Penalties are a terrible way of settling a final but I hope that in all rounds teams who batter each other to a standstill continue to get another game, another life.