This week, while the First Minister set a start date for Scotland’s divorce from England – 2014, if Alba says aye – the Chief Operating Officer of Rangers has proposed a new marriage between the Auld Enemies: a merger of the Scottish and English League Cup tournaments into a British League Cup.
Ali Russell suggests that the current format is struggling, north and south of the border, but that fans of Scotland’s top clubs will turn out to see their teams face the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester United.
It’s a daft idea that shouldn’t lead anywhere – and it’s an impractical one, too, so it won’t. Top English clubs have little to gain from it, small Scottish teams wouldn’t benefit either, and the mechanics of it haven’t been thought through.
It’s fair to say the League Cup as it stands needs to change. In Scotland, there’s really not much point to the tournament: it used to provide decent gate receipts and a possible European spot, but attendances are now dire and winning no longer gives entry to Europe. It doesn’t even have a proper sponsor. The English edition does have a sponsor and the reward of a Europa League place, but the big teams still play weakened sides, even in the final, as Arsene Wenger did in 2007.
An enlarged Scottish and English League Cup would have 134 teams, and would need to start in August to finish in April. For top English sides, the priorities would remain the Premiership and Europe – so why would they not continue to use their second-string teams for this tournament? And then would Hibs or Killie suddenly get an extra ten thousand turning up to see the likes of Ben Amos (Man U), Ryo Miyaichi (Arsenal), and Gael Kakuta (Chelsea)?
I doubt it.
Europe also complicates things in other ways. England rewards its winner with a place in the Europa League, but Scotland doesn’t, so how to break that deadlock? When nations are allocated set numbers of European spots, how do you account for a cross-border tournament? And what would UEFA say about a cross-border tournament – isn’t that its whole remit?
This “British Cup” idea isn’t even new. It’s failed before in various guises. I remember Scottish champions Rangers beating English champions Everton in the Dubai Cup in December 1987, in what was unofficially a British Championship final. Before that, there was the Anglo-Scottish Cup in the late 1970’s, although that latterly excluded teams who qualified for Europe, and was perhaps most memorable for Rangers getting hammered 3-0 by Chesterfield. (And no, Chesterfield weren’t a good side back then.)
That tournament was discontinued in 1981 – the cup is in the boardroom at Chesterfield’s B2net stadium – and an attempt to revive it as the “Anglo-Scottish Challenge Cup” in 1987 ended in embarrassment when the second leg of the Coventry City-St Mirren game was never played. Why? Because no-one wanted to see it.
The first leg had ended 1-1. Dave Phillips put Coventry in the lead, but St Mirren equalised in the second half. The St Mirren scorer was Kenny McDowall, who is now Ally McCoist’s assistant at Ibrox. So if Ali Russell wants some first hand understanding of the futility of cross-border tournaments, he knows exactly who to ask.