Saturday, 20 November 2010

The ups and downs of the Cup

First published in The Sons View matchday programme, Dumbarton v Greenock Morton, 20 November 2010

Kit, Rab and David...
The clubs competing in today’s Scottish Cup Third Round tie at the Strathclyde Homes Stadium have only won the nation’s main football cup competition twice between them – and in different centuries, too.

Dumbarton’s moment of triumph came in 1883 and Morton lifted the trophy in 1922. They are two of 23 sides to have done so, 19 of whom are still existent today. Two of those teams that no longer feature in the senior game, Renton (two wins) and Vale of Leven (three wins), were part of an earlier era of football domination by Dunbartonshire clubs which is rather hard to imagine today!

In total, the Scottish Cup (more properly the Scottish Football Association Challenge Cup) has been awarded on 124 occasions. Of those, 67 have been won by the Old Firm (with Celtic just one ahead of rivals Rangers), and 57 have been claimed by 21 other teams.

Last year, First Division Ross County – up until 1994–95 season members of the Highland League – made an appearance in the Final for the first time in their history, having beaten Celtic in the semi-final on 10 April 2010. Their shot at glory was eventually extinguished by the orange of Dundee United, who won the resulting Hampden encounter 3-0 on 15 May.

Quite a few Dumbarton fans enjoyed the day out in Glasgow for that occasion (see picture), choosing to join the County legions in a show of lower league solidarity. The dream of a Sons appearance in the Scottish Cup Final in the twenty-first century is one that is very unlikely to be realised if the bookies (and common sense) are to be believed… but the beauty of any knockout tournament lies in the twists, turns and surprises it can provide. That and a small income boost for those clubs fortunate enough to reach the later stages.

Among the intriguing matches in the 2010-11 Third Round, taking place at the same time as the game here, are the challenging trip junior side Sunnybank face in going to Ayr United (who are recovering from the 3-2 defeat Dumbarton inflicted on them last week) and Third Division leaders Berwick Rangers travelling north to take on Cove Rangers.

Sunnybank’s happy day out comes courtesy of a brave giant-killing against Albion Rovers in the Second Round, while Cove were overcoming Nairn County – a side Sons last took on in a friendly back in 1987.

Until the 2007-8 season, clubs in the Third and Second Divisions qualified automatically for the First Round of the Scottish Cup, along with four non-league teams each from the Scottish Qualifying Cup (North) and (South) competitions. Clubs in the First Division and the Scottish Premier League had automatic byes to the Third Round.

Then new criteria were introduced for entry into the competition. The Scottish Qualifying Cup games were scrapped and the 36 SFA member clubs outside the SPL and SFL were given direct entry to the First Round proper.

In addition, the league winners of the East of Scotland and South of Scotland Leagues, both of which contain some clubs that are not full members of the SFA and hence could not previously enter the Scottish Cup, were given a place in the draw.

Clubs from Scottish Junior football (almost all of whom are not members of the SFA, belonging instead to the Scottish Junior Football Association) were admitted for the first time in the 2007–08 competition. Up to four junior clubs are allowed to enter. These are the champions of the previous season's Scottish Junior Football North Premier League, the Scottish Junior Football West Premier League, the Scottish Junior Football East Region Super League, and the winner of the Scottish Junior Cup – if they have not also won one of the three top regional league titles.

In recent years the Scottish Cup has not been a great hunting ground for Dumbarton, though we took 2,000 fans in anticipation to Celtic Park on 7 January 2007, going down 4-0 but performing well, especially in the second half. Morton stole another tie with Bhoys from us last season. The Hoops beat them 1-0 at Cappielow. In 2008-9, both ’Ton and Sons went out in the Third Round, losing to Peterhead and Ross County respectively – though Dumbarton did achieve a very creditable 2-2 draw at Dingwall, with Derek Carcary coming off the bench to be the two-goal hero.

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