Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A little bit of history

First published in Sons View, 05 August 2008, Dumbarton -v- Annan Athletic, CIS Insurance Cup, First Round

One way or another, tonight’s game at the Rock will go down in Scottish football history.

Not, Dumbarton fans hope, with Annan Athletic’s first victory in the Scottish League Cup, but certainly with the Dumfries and Galloway side’s debut appearance in a competition reserved for the country’s 42 senior sides – an elite they joined just over a month ago, following Gretna’s fall from grace.

There are many moments when life can seem tough and inglorious on the bottom rung of the SFL. But the energy and enthusiasm around the Galabankies’ election from the East of Scotland League has hopefully reminded all of us – even the hard-bitten cynics – that Division Three is still a coveted position to be in. Or, in the case of the Sons, to be out of as soon as possible, but in an upwardly mobile direction!

Gretna’s cash-injected fly, crash and burn routine between 2002 and the end of last season undoubtedly cast a shadow over the professional game in Scotland. Now the Borderers are back where Annan have just come from, with a newly formed supporters’ trust behind them and a return to the grassroots. I wish them well.

Meanwhile, the Black and Golds (long-in-the-tooth DFC fans will not be unfamiliar with Annan’s home colours!) intend to avoid the mistakes that beset their ill-fated neighbours. In their respective new league positions, both sides have a chance to bandage up the scars and chart a sustainable footballing course for the future.

The idea of developing a ‘pyramid’ below the SFL, similar to the one that exists in England, will also have gained a little further momentum over the past few weeks. The devil is in the detail and the finances, of course. But south of the border the benefits have been palpable, so it’s a conundrum worth wrestling with.

This evening, however, our primary attention is on the path towards the CIS Insurance trophy. Dumbarton fans will be reflecting that we are long overdue a decent League Cup run, having only made it beyond the first stage of the competition once in the past four seasons.

Last year we got dumped 2-0 away to Cowdenbeath. In 2006-7 a 3-0 victory against Stirling Albion at SHS was followed by a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Inverness Caley Thistle in the next round. In 2005-6 it was an early bath at Hamilton Accies (2-1) and the year before that, 1-3 at home to Ross County.

Jim Chapman’s reinvigorated side will no doubt be keen to show what they are capable of in knock-out football as well as in the weekly challenge of amassing league points. The manager rued a missed opportunity in the Challenge Cup against Airdrie United recently, and has vowed to try and make up for it tonight.

The CIS is a do-or-die competition. That adds its own drama, but some might hope that a competition which has recently offered four winners in five years (with Livingston breaking a seven-year Old Firm monopoly in 2004 and Hibs repeating the feat in 2007) could do even more to renew the opportunities available to smaller clubs by looking to emulate the spirit of the early years of the competition.

Then the tournament involved groups consisting of 4 or 5 teams. The groups were seeded into two sets, with the top 16 sides in the old Division One making up the first four. This ensured that that four big teams would end up playing four smaller ones in the quarter-finals.

It all got far too cumbersome with the addition of extra games and a two-leg format around the time the advent of the SPL, and few would seriously advocate adding to the modern fixture list given the financial perils of today’s game. But the competition still offers so-called ‘lesser’ teams a chance to shine – and the final is even shown live in Australia.

It’s admittedly rather unlikely that the Mighty DFC will be entertaining ’em Down Under next March, but it would add a bit of sunshine to life here if the Sons were still competing for the limelight on 26 August, 23 September and (who knows, we can but dream) 28 October.

First, though, there are the newcomers from Annan to contend with… and that little whiff of history.

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