This Sunday sees the sixth meeting of the Old Firm this season, and the first that will directly result in silverware – the League Cup.
This tournament came into being in 1947. I’m not entirely sure why – presumably to throw a few more games into the calendar and thus bring a few more pounds into the biscuit tins of post-war Scottish football.
Over the years it’s changed format quite a bit. When I was a nipper, the first stage was round-robin groups of three, then going on to a home-and-away knockout phase. In the mid-80s – I think coinciding with Skol’s sponsorship – it became a straight knockout tournament, and around that time it also became single-leg elimination, going straight to penalties after one game. The final was also held early in the season, in October, so the Cup had a short, sharp feel to it.
At the turn of the century they moved the final back to March, prolonging the tournament. I can see why they did this – because of the increased number of European games early in the season – but I still prefer the get-it-done-in-October model.
On balance, though, I think the tournament has outlived its usefulness and should be scrapped – or at least it should be reviewed to see where it belongs now the league will be starting in late July. Maybe we should all decamp to Barcelona and play the tournament there over in the two weeks before the season starts?
Regardless of the future of the tournament, it has a fine history. Here are seven great League Cup Finals of the past to recall. Enjoy.
#1 October 1987: Rangers 3 Aberdeen 3 (Rangers win 5-3 on penalties)
Simply a spectacular game of football. Remember this was back when Aberdeen still had a chunk of the Ferguson team in place – most notably Miller, McLeish, and McKimmie at the back, with Jim Leighton in his prime behind them. Rangers were missing their international keeper Chris Woods and centre-back Terry Butcher – England captain – as both had been sent off the prior week in an Old Firm match (some things never change, eh) but they did have Jimmy Nicholl and Stuart Munro at full-back. Hey, it was still early in the Souness revolution.
The game swung from end to end, with Davie Cooper’s blistering free kick being the most enduring TV moment. When extra-time couldn’t separate the teams, penalties did. Six goals, extra time, and a penalty shootout: finals don’t get much better than that.
#2 October 1988: Rangers 3 Aberdeen 2
This one almost did. The second of three consecutive Rangers-Aberdeen finals saw another 70,000 fans entertained, with two goals from Davie Dodds matched by two from the infinitely more handsome Ally McCoist. Ian Ferguson’s goal for Rangers separated the teams – this one didn’t need extra-time.
#3 October 1989: Aberdeen 2 Rangers 1
The third meeting of this pair did need the additional half-hour to separate the sides. A dodgy penalty for Rangers – made all the more fun because it outraged Willie Miller – cancelled out Paul Mason’s opener for Aberdeen. Goalkeepers Chris Woods and Theo Snelders both had outstanding games with many fine saves, and in the first period of extra-time Paul Mason’s second was enough to seal the win for the dandy Dons.
Even this Aberdeen-hating Rangers fan would have to admit that on the balance of the three games they deserved at least one win. But perhaps Aberdeen have never been as strong since.
#4 October 1994: Raith Rovers 2 Celtic 2 (Raith Rovers win 6-5 on penalties)
Six months after Fergus McCann had taken control of Celtic, and in Tommy Burns first season in charge, a team with Tom Boyd, Tony Mowbray, Paul McStay, John Collins, and Charlie Nicholas should have been more than capable of seeing off First Division Raith Rovers – even if they did have Stevie Crawford and Gordon Dalziel scoring goals for fun.
But the Celtic revolution hadn’t fully kicked into gear yet, and maybe having the game at Ibrox didn’t help. A late goal from Charlie Nicholas should have been enough for Celtic, but two minutes later Rovers equalised, sending the game into an extra-time session which was scoreless. Celtic bottled the penalty shootout and they were dancing on the streets of Raith that night, for sure.
#5 March 2004: Livingston 2 Hibernian 0
No, I don’t remember this one either. Hibs were favourites and should have won, but Livi claimed their first and to date only major trophy in Scottish football. 45,000 at Hampden that day: where are they every other Saturday?
#6 March 2007: Hibernian 5 Kilmarnock 1
Happier times for Hibees, with John Collins’ side crushing Kilmarnock in a surprising rout – Jim Jefferies teams don’t often get pumped like this.
A goal up at half-time, Hibs sealed the game with a couple of goals early in the second half. Killie pulled one back but late goals from Benjie and Stephen Fletcher (remember him?) had Sunshine on Ayr, as well as Leith.
#7 October 1957: Celtic 7 Rangers 1
I’ll put this in only to head off the inevitable “how could you miss…” deluge of emails I would get if I didn’t. Possibly the only League Cup Final they’ve written a book about – “Hampden in the Sun” – there’s really not much to say other than Rangers were well and truly gubbed in what is still the most one-sided Old Firm game ever.
The only thing I will say is that Hearts won the league that season so clearly 1957-58 was an aberration for Scottish football.