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Tartan Talk: Scottish football's 'exciting new chapter' is an old story that ignores the real problem


talkSPORT’s Scottish football correspondent Stewart Weir is back with his take on the game north of the border. This week, Stewart’s getting stuck in to ‘innovations’ we’ve seen before.

Glitter cannons at the ready; chill the champagne and hold back on that excitement and anticipation. In fact, don the incontinent knickers just in case it all becomes too much for you. Yes, the Scottish football season will have a big, bright new start for 2016/17 with a revamped League Cup format and, wait for it, a winter shutdown.

Sounds familiar. That’s because for those of us who have stuck with Scottish football through thick and thin, we’ve seen all of this ‘innovation’ before.

The Scottish game – especially the SPFL – is desperately trying to reinvigorate, even reinvent itself. Hence these new ideas, although I say new in the loosest possible terms. It isn’t new, but a rehash of what was the norm years back.

Take the League Cup first.

We are told the changed format will see eight groups of five teams playing four matches, involving the 38 teams not involved in European competition, plus the winners of the Highland and Lowland Leagues.

Kind of like the old League Cup through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (albeit without double-header home and away ties) which was eventually scrapped because teams felt they were playing too many games.


Rangers won six League Cups back in the 1980s, when it featured group stages and October finals

Obviously, this also is to enable Scotland representatives in Europe to give themselves every opportunity of progressing as far as they can in the UEFA tournaments, or August as I like to call it.

Five dates (July 16, 20, 23, 27 and 30) have been set for the round-robin stage where drawn matches will be settled by a penalty shoot-out and a bonus point awarded. Kind of like the old North American Soccer League shoot-out idea, except more original because some people have never heard of the LA Aztecs or Seattle Sounders.

And, thereafter the eight group winners and four best runners-up progress to join the four European flag fliers in the last 16 for a straight knock-out competition. So back to where we’ve been for 30 years.


Celtic lifted the 2015 Scottish League Cup at Hampden

A few on social media thought it would do away with meaningless friendlies. Yes, you get to play Arbroath or Montrose (two names randomly selected by an independent jury) while Celtic get to play one of those glamour games, somewhere in the British Isles, that has turned the big SPFL kick-off into such a false start of late.

“The new format marks an exciting new chapter for the competition,” said SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster.

“It sees Scottish football leading the way with a number of innovations.” What, like having someone in your office able to read past editions of the Wee Red Book (Scotland’s footballing bible) to see how Scottish football ran itself before you arrived?

Thanks Neil, but there is nothing there we haven’t seen before.

However, the sugar-coating and sprinkles on this old pudding comes in the form of a four-year, £8m broadcast deal with BT Sport. Money for old rope in other words. Or is it a noose around the neck of the Scottish game taking us somewhere where many of us don’t want to go, namely summer football?

Look at those dates again – smack bang in the middle of what is the Scottish annual holiday season. Yes, silly me. I’ll be so worked into a frenzy by this ‘exciting new chapter’ that I’ll fly back from Turkey to watch a Saturday game, then fly back to finish my holiday. Aye, so I will Neil.


Leigh Griffiths celebrating a Celtic Premiership goal at a sparsely attended Rugby Park last August

But of course, I could always take a few weeks out in January and chase the sun because a winter shut-down has also been proposed. Blue sky thinking, looking upwards, screwing your face up, closing your eyes, and desperately trying to believe that no-one will remember that a winter shutdown was what we had 15-odd years ago, before that good idea also became unpopular with the clubs.

I never had a problem with it; but then I was being sent to Florida with Rangers rather than Blackpool with Partick Thistle.

The only danger with a winter break in Scotland is that February, even March, can be much worse weather-wise than January. It would also mean a boxing up of fixtures – something we wouldn’t have to do if we only played 30 leagues games a season. Oh, no, let’s not go there. No, actually we will.

Because all of the energy spent trying to rekindle interest in a tournament that was a good idea straight after World War II, when clubs were completely cash strapped, and when the winners qualified automatically for Europe, should have gone in to making our League competition more appealing and appetising, less stodgy and completely tasteless.

Who honestly wants to play teams four times a season? Not me, not a great many supporters, not a great many players who detest the repetitive nature of Scottish football.

Who wants it? That’s right, every one of the SPFL Premiership teams who really, really want four home games against Celtic and (they hope) soon-to-be promoted Rangers, or Aberdeen, or Hearts, or anyone else who brings a support with them, but just don’t have the balls to say it in public and especially when their own fans might be listening.

Which is why it’s easier to sprinkle some glitter on the League Cup, and make a man-made hole in the calendar look appealing, than it is to sort out the real killer of football in Scotland; a convoluted and contrived league card.

Right, I’m off to read Hugh Taylor’s Scottish football book from 72/73 so I can gen up on the Drybrough Cup, with its 18-yard offside line and goals galore (see the video below from the 1979 Drybrough Cup final). That’s what real innovation looks like Neil.