Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cup, cup and away?

League reconstruction. One of Scottish football’s most durable arguments. There’s rarely a season goes by when we don’t have a debate about it. They probably discussed it on the coach (and horse) ride back to Edinburgh the last time Hibs won the Scottish Cup.

My own take: league reconstruction on its own is just fiddling while Scottish football burns. If we were actually to have a serious – and by serious I mean something not involving Henry McLeish – look at the game and decide that league restructuring is part of the solution then we should go for it.

Restructuring for its own sake is a kneejerk reaction that probably won’t work.

Glenn Gibbons had a good take on this in The Scotsman a couple of weeks back:
Now that the domestic game is failing to generate the revenue anticipated when the SPL was formed by the secessionists from the Scottish Football League a dozen years ago, the Champions League has become as necessary to the Old Firm as benefits to the unemployed. These are causes and effects which no amount of tinkering with numbers will change for the better.

If, as a random example, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dunfermline Athletic were to play each other at this time of year while in, say, 12th and 14th place respectively in the SPL, would it be any more profitable as a fixture than contesting one of the top places in the First Division?

Increasing the membership would certainly give these presently marginalised clubs (Dundee and Partick Thistle would be other examples of medium-sized organisations now in reduced circumstances) the opportunity once again to play the Old Firm. By then, however, mass disillusionment will have put paid to the gates.
So don’t rush in. But as I lay awake last night (even in Leith the sound of chortling coming from Gorgie was loud enough up to be disruptive) I found myself thinking.

The negative reasons for restructuring are well aired: our poor form in Europe, poor national team, SPL teams playing each other too often, little competition, the ridiculous split, too many games and on, and on, and on.

On the positive side we’ve got the competitive nature of the First Division. And we’ve also got the Scottish Cup.

Ross County and Raith Rovers have made the semi finals this year. By my reckoning that’s eight teams from outside the top flight in Scottish Cup semis in the last five years. Queen of the South and Gretna have both made the final. We’ve also seen St Mirren, Falkirk and Dunfermline reach Hampden while struggling in the SPL, with Dunfermline making the final the year they were relegated.

This might mean nothing more than our SPL clubs being as bad in the cup as they are in the league.

But a less cynical view might be that it points to a depth of competition in Scotland that is offered little chance to prove itself by a 12 team top flight operating a near closed shop, one-in and one-out policy. Certainly teams from outside the SPL are finding success too often for it to be called a fluke.

We’ve all spent the last few seasons saying the cup has lost its magic. Maybe it’s actually being trying to tell us that there is more to Scottish football than a 12 team, 38 game SPL.