Saturday, 30 July 2011

A bit of football romance

First published in Sons View, 30 July 2011, Dumbarton -v- Dundee

The long road to Hampden and the Scottish Communities League Cup Final on 18th March 2012 begins here at Dumbarton this afternoon, with an ambitious first round tie against First Division opponents Dundee. It’s a match we’ve all been looking forward to for some time, ever since it was announced a full two months ago at the Ravenscraig Sports Centre in Motherwell.

For Sons this game against comes on the back of a positive pre-season programme, plus our first knock-out competition triumph for a long while – Saturday’s last-minute 3-2 victory against East Stirlingshire in the Ramsdens Challenge Cup, which has earned us a second round home tie against Berwick Rangers and the chance of yet further progress. Who’d have thought it?

That said, Dumbarton’s all-round performance will need to be ratcheted up more than a few notches from last weekend if we’re going to get anything out of this afternoon’s game. The first half against the Shire was a bit of a non-event. Things got exciting following the break, but then after Sons had established a comfortable 2-0 lead they almost threw it away through lack of concentration. Thankfully, Pat Walker’s final burst of inspiration rescued the tie.

But the men from Dens Park are bound to be a far tougher proposition. So more than caution will be required. Sons have to dare to go out onto the pitch believing they can take the game to Dundee.

Leaving aside the really big ones, which teams like ours play little or no part in, cup competitions generally have become something of a devalued currency in the world of modern football. Certainly league campaigns are a better guide to the real quality and status of a team. But there’s something energising about the unpredictability of a knock-out competition which it’s important not to lose: the luck of the draw, the light relief from routine pressures, the opportunity to play sides you don’t normally meet, the chance of an upset, the adrenalin rush… and, yes, the romance of a ‘shot at glory’.

So the great thing about a game like today’s is that it means everything and nothing. If we pull off a surprise and get a win, it’ll be a tremendous boost. If not, there’s no great damage done. The target for Sons in 2001/12 is undoubtedly to secure safety in division two as soon as we can, and then to look towards the play-offs. But a bit of cup excitement would add flavour to the main task.

Indeed, we shouldn’t forget that this year Dumbarton could actually end up winning silverware for the fourth season in a row. In 2008/9, Sons won the third division championship. Then there was the Stirlingshire Cup claimed in 2009/10 against Stenhousemuir, and retained versus Falkirk last term. This season we could make it three consecutive wins.

Yes, I know that many regard the regional trophy as a mere ‘tea cup’ event for testing out youth players. But it actually dates from 1883/4 (the year after Sons last won the Scottish Cup, incidentally), it’s one of the oldest cup competitions in the history of football, and the trophy itself – if you have a look at it – is fabulous. Like today’s outing against Dundee, what’s not to enjoy?


Unlike Dumbarton, who have never reached the final, today’s opponents Dundee have won the Scottish League Cup – which began officially in 1946/7 – on three occasions. Their last triumph was back in 1973/4 (1-0 against Celtic), and they also took the trophy in 1951/2 (versus Rangers) and the following season (against Kilmarnock).

More recently they have lost out to what was fleetingly the ‘New Firm’: local rivals Dundee United in 1980/1 (when the final was played at Dens Park instead of Hampden) and Aberdeen in 1995/6.

In the biggest competition, the Scottish Cup, both Dumbarton and Dundee have claimed the trophy once, Sons at the tail end of the nineteenth century and the Dee in 1910.

The Dark Blues had to work particularly hard for their silverware that year. History records that it took a total of ten matches for them to lift the cup, including two replays for both the semi-final against Hibernian and the final against Clyde. The epic started in the first round with a replayed tie against non-league Beith.

The League Cup, which is this year sponsored by the Scottish Government, started life as a development of the Southern League Cup – which was itself introduced in 1940, when wartime restrictions on football led to a suspension of the Scottish Cup.

The final of the competition has been played elsewhere than the national stadium on seven occasions during its 64-year history. Twice at Dens Park, twice at Ibrox, and three times at Celtic Park.

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