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Denying supporters a chance to attend the League Cup final was absurdly incompetent

JUDGING by the turnout at Celtic Park it seems that Scottish football is in short supply of those cup finals "the sponsors will dread".

More than 40,000 supporters travelled to Celtic Park from Aberdeen to watch their side lift the League  Cup trophy after defeating Inverness Caledonian Thistle in a penalty shoot-out yesterday. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
More than 40,000 supporters travelled to Celtic Park from Aberdeen to watch their side lift the League Cup trophy after defeating Inverness Caledonian Thistle in a penalty shoot-out yesterday. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

That is the line which tends to be trotted out when Celtic and Rangers are elbowed out of the cups and one or even two clubs with smaller supports have the audacity to go all the way. Supposedly sponsors privately throw up their hands in horror at how they will maximise exposure and get value for money (let's leave aside, for now, the fact that the League Cup does not actually have a sponsor at all).

There was a time when the thought of a final between Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the country's biggest football ground would have sent a chill through the governing bodies. The same with Dundee United against Ross County in the 2010 Scottish Cup final. But more than 47,000 were at Hampden that day four years ago. United took 27,000 down, County an even more impressive (given Dingwall's population) 18,000. Neutrals made up the rest. Yesterday 40,000 flooded into Glasgow for Aberdeen alone.

Only An Excuse used to run a joke about the good old days when 100,000 would turn up at Hampden just to watch the groundsman lining the pitch. In 1952 the crowd at the Motherwell against Dundee final was 136,000. But there was a dip in the 1970s and 1980s when some finals were played to what, now, look like pretty modest attendances. Rangers-Hibernian in 1979 (the original game, not the two dreary replays) attracted only 50,000. Aberdeen-Hibs in 1985 drew just 40,000. Lowest of all, for a Hampden final, was the 27,123 who showed for Aberdeen-Dundee United in the 1979 League Cup final.

There has been a decrease in average crowds for most clubs across Scotland in the past 30 years but the appetite for "occasion" games seems greater now than it was three or four decades ago. If Aberdeen and United meet in this year's Scottish Cup final it will be a 60,000 sell-out, yet neither of their teams are as strong now as they were under Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean in 1979.

Travel is easy these days, social media helps to mobilise supporters, and years of dominance by Celtic and Rangers have restricted the chances for other teams to win or even reach finals, hence the massive swell of ticket sales which tend to happen now. Hibernian took 37,000 to a final against Livingston in 2004.

Yesterday's attendance would have been even larger of course, were it not for the absurdity of thousands of seats being left empty despite a demand from Aberdeen supporters to fill them. Parkhead was selected on the basis of being the stadium with the biggest capacity, when in practice its configuration was unsuitable for the segregation requirements of the day.

Finding no alternative to closing off a big part of a ground at a cup final, when the demand from supporters had not been satisfied, was a demonstration of inflexibility and incompetence.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

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