Imagine a parallel universe where England won their Euro 2016 group and Germany did not without the results of any games in their groups being different from what they actually were. Seems ridiculous – but the ridiculous rules of Scotland’s BetFred (League) Cup, had they applied to the tournament in France last month would have the above scenarios entirely possible.
The BetFred Cup has started with a group stage format. It has eight groups of five teams who play each other once. The group winners plus the best four runners up go through to the last sixteen where they will be joined by Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts and Hibs the country’s four European representatives.
So far so logical. But for reasons best known to themselves the authorities have come up with a ridiculous points system. There are three points for a win and one for a draw just like there usually is. The difference is that if a game is a draw both teams get one point but there is a penalty shootout after 90 minutes and the winner of the shootout get an extra point. And if you’re wondering why this system has been adopted join the club.
Had this format been used in the recent Euro 2016 tournament it could have changed the whole story of the event. For example Wales won Group B with a record of two wins and one defeat while England were second with a record of a win and two draws. Now imagine that drawn games ended in a penalty shootout with an extra point. Had England won only one of their shootouts after their draws with Russia and Slovakia – hard though it is to imagine England winning any penalty shootout – they would have finished on six points and topped the group ahead of Wales on the head to head rule despite an inferior record and an inferior goal difference. Hardly fair. While in Group C Germany and Poland both won their games against Ukraine and Northern Ireland and drew with each other Germany having the better goal difference. Had the BetFred Cup rules applied Poland could have (though it would have been unlikely) won the penalty shootout and topped the group with the same record and an inferior goal difference!
There is no justification for having a penalty shootout after a draw in a group game. It’s just an experiment for an experiment’s sake a swerve for the sake of a swerve it’s as if Vince Russo was booking the BetFred Cup. A totally unnecessary change that no one was clamering for.
In fact it’s worse than that. It is a massive step backwards. For the League Cup in Scotland had this format from when the competition started in 1946-47 until 1977-78 when they finally realised that the format was not working. It dragged on far too long and produced far too many games. In 1983-84 the authorities made the League Cup a straight knockout with one off games that had to produce a winner on the night. A far more sensible logical format. Why they have reintroduced this format I don’t know. There was no demand for the fans for it and attendances have been terrible. Yesterday the highest crowd in the fifteen games was a pathetic 3020. The League Cup should either be scrapped or go back to a knockout format.
But it is not the only example of Scottish football wanting to go back to the 1970s. A lot of people for some reason want to go back to an 18 team top division even though it was cut down in 1975 because it was rubbish. The German Bundesliga’s top division has eighteen. Does anyone think a country with a population of five million can have the same number of teams in its top division as a country of over 80 million? Another example is Celtic bringing back “safe standing” which in my opinion is an oxymoron. Terraces were banned after Hillsborough and should remain so. If the Scottish Government won’t ban then the UK Government should. Unbelievably some people want alcohol to be sold at Scottish football grounds but surely the appalling behaviour of Hibs fans at this year’s Cup Final would convince even useless ex Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy that football fans cannot be trusted to behave themselves after a drink in the ground when they can’t behave themselves when alcohol is at grounds.
The new format of the League Cup, the return of terracing, the proposed 16 team top division and the proposed return of alcohol at grounds all have something in common. Between 1975 and 1989 they were all got rid of because they were unsuccessful or caused crowd trouble. So what sane person thinks that bringing back things that failed in the 1970s will work now? Yes Scottish football is a basket case. Scotland were the only British Isles country not to qualify for Euro 2016. This season has barely started and Scottish clubs have already lost to opposition from Luxembourg, Malta and even Gibraltar. So Scottish football needs to change. But the changes must not bring us back to the 1970s. Instead we must look to countries like Norway, Sweden and especially Euro 2016 quarter finalists Iceland for lessons. One thing is sure. Going back to the 1970s will not work.