Monday, December 21, 2009

Scottish Football Decade: The Scottish Cup

There is comforting stability about the Scottish Cup, the world’s oldest national trophy. It’s always been there, it always will be there.

There’s still something special about the trip to Hampden on a sunny May day, about smaller clubs going all out for an upset in the earlier rounds, about the joy of it all.

Unfortunately, this being Scotland, we must temper that giddy idyll by pointing out that in the first decade of the 21st century Rangers and Celtic continued their dominance of the trophy.

And after we bade farewell to Tennent’s the SFA struggled to find a sponsor. If nothing else this confirmed the suspicion that the allure of cup competitions has dwindled in recent seasons.

Then we were landed with two of football’s strangers sponsoring arrangements. In 2008/2009 we had the Homecoming Scottish Cup to celebrate the Scottish Government’s year long (was it really only a year?) celebration of tartan frippery.

As the decade peters out we have the oxymoronic Active Nation Scottish Cup.

Naming rights aside the decade started off as it would continue with Rangers thumping Aberdeen 4-0. The bald fact of the scoreline masks the drama of the game. Aberdeen lost veteran goalie early on with a fractured jaw after what might reasonably be called a horrific, accidental, clash with Rod Wallace’s boot. With no ‘keeper on the bench Dons manager Ebbe Skovdahl was left with no option but to play most of the match with Robbie Winters in goal.

The following year it was the turn of Celtic to take home the trophy. A comprehensive 3-0 win over the cup’s perennial underachievers Hibs was achieved with a minimum of fuss. Hibs finished third in the league that year but in truth had run out of steam at the turn of the year. The loss of Russell Latapy to general partying in the lead up to the final overshadowed their preparations and their long wait was destined to last at least another decade.

Given the nine wins they amassed between them it’s been a quirk of the noughties that the Old Firm have only once met in the final. In 2001/2002 Rangers edged a cracker of a game by what Dougie Donnelly might call “the odd goal in five.” Barry Ferguson was the star man, a glimpse of the potential that he has never really fulfilled.

And so it went on. Rangers beating Dundee one year, Celtic marching past Dunfermline the next and Dundee United after that. A certain dull inevitability and a sobering blow for us non Old Firmites after the heady days of the 1990’s when Motherwell, Aberdeen, United, Hearts and Kilmarnock all took home the the honours.

It was Hearts who struck the solitary blow against the depressing duopoly with a tense penalty win over the minnows Gretna (a semi-final hammering of Hibs made things sweeter still for the Tynecastle faithful.) This was the season that the Romanov revolution blew like a strange wind through Scottish football. Sadly it was also the season we became aware of Romanov’s idiosyncratic tinkering. A season of success at Tynecastle but also a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. Stat fans might also like to know that this was the largest final crowd of the decade.

It was back to normal business the next season as Celtic once again put Dunfermline to the sword although the Fifers take credit for being the only team outside the big two for making two of the decades finals.

In 2007/2008 Rangers got the fright of their lives before beating Queen of the South, after Gretna, the second of the decade’s finalists to be drawn from outside the top flight. And Rangers duly won their fifth cup of the decade in 2008/2009 when they beat Falkrik 1-0.

That win was Rangers 33rd moving them just one behind Celtic in the all time standings. Depressingly Queens Park lie third on that list. Their last win came in 1893. Hearts win over Gretna moved them joint fourth with Aberdeen on seven wins.

So there we have it. The tournament itself has perhaps lost some its lustre but it retains a special place in the nation’s sporting life. Yes, we had to endure a depressing Glasgow dominance but nine other teams made it to the final.

Eight of them did not get the denouement of their dreams but you can bet they all got on to their supporters buses full of enthusiasm and optimism. The cup can still inspire and will remain to do so. We need look no further ahead than January for that when Irvine Meadow’s improbable journey takes them to Easter Road. There is no better way for the Scottish Cup to usher in another decade.

And we'll always have Clyde's 2006 win over Celtic to chuckle about. And Inverness' in 2000. And again in 2003.

1999–00 Rangers 4 – 0 Aberdeen
2000-01 Celtic 3 – 0 Hibernian
2001–02 Rangers 3 – 2 Celtic
2002–03 Rangers 1 – 0 Dundee
2003–04 Celtic 3 – 1 Dunfermline Athletic
2004–05 Celtic 1 – 0 Dundee United
2005–06 Heart of Midlothian 1 – 1 Gretna
2006-07 Celtic 1 – 0 Dunfermline Athletic
2007–08 Rangers 3 – 2 Queen of the South
2008–09 Rangers 1 – 0 Falkirk