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Fair play? It adds up to SFA for Dundee United

WHEN the pre-match madness has subsided, I think Dundee United will get through their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers.

Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson's interventions last week could backfirePhotograph: SNS
Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson's interventions last week could backfirePhotograph: SNS

For me, the Tannadice side simply have the better players. But the club have done themselves no favours since the fixture was confirmed.

Chairman Stephen Thompson's comments about tickets and safety have given Rangers an edge which could quite easily backfire on his team. A better strategy might have been to have gone into this match low key.

First things first, though: wherever possible, semi-finals should be played at a neutral venue. It is meant to be about fairness. I know I wouldn't have liked to have played a semi-final with a provincial club against Celtic at Celtic Park, or against Rangers at Ibrox.

I also know that if I was a Rangers player I would have loved to have played at Ibrox in a semi-final, in front of a big crowd weighted in my favour, especially if, incredible as it still sounds, we were a lower-league team at the time.

So most of the blame has to go to the SFA. Yes, they knew Hampden would be out of commission for the Commonwealth Games, so Parkhead was awarded the final and Ibrox got the two semi-finals, presumably to even things up. But they didn't have to name the venues back in October, did they?

All their arguments about hospitality and marketing were annihilated when George Peat, a former SFA president, said the venue could have been changed within a week. It is so easy for me. They should have held off on the semi-final and final venues to make sure Rangers or Celtic weren't going to get an advantage. Perhaps they thought Rangers wouldn't get to the semi-finals, a strange conclusion considering they are the club with the second-biggest wage budget in Scottish football.

Some United fans have even talked about playing the game at Easter Road, which has a capacity of 20,000, but in this climate, you want as many people there as possible, generating as much money as possible.

If the SFA had held off on the decision they could have reversed it when the semi-finalists were known. The problem might even have looked after itself. If Celtic are in the final, play it at Ibrox. If Rangers are in it, play it at Celtic Park. It is not hard. But the SFA seem to make it hard for themselves all the time.

When it comes to the business side of things, Thompson has done brilliantly as Dundee United chairman. Despite early misgivings in some quarters, he has been first class at looking after the business strategy, picking the right manager and making sure they have assets to bring money into the club for years to come.

But he changes his mind too much and tends to get himself into trouble. I remember, for instance, at the height of the Rangers crisis a couple of years back, he came on our radio programme one week and said his first priority was to Dundee United as a business, then the next week he was suddenly very vociferous that Rangers should be demoted.

On this issue, however, I don't blame him for sticking up for his club and saying Ibrox is the wrong venue. But I was surprised to hear him asking for 20,000 tickets when he knows United will never sell 20,000 tickets for a semi-final. I know the club inside out, and I can tell you right now they wouldn't have sold more than 10-12,000.

Ideally, they could have been offered 20,000 then handed the rest back, but with policing, logistics and timescales that isn't always satisfactory. I also blame Thompson for saying he doesn't feel comfortable at Ibrox, which will only make his position there more uncomfortable.

Should United win, that will be four years out of five they will have knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup, but this year's match will definitely be a lot tighter than the 3-0 at Tannadice. I expect it to be a good old-fashioned cup tie, which might need extra-time, but I would still fancy United to win. Rangers have had a bit of their job done for them by the SFA and Thompson, but in the end, they will still need their strongest performance of the season to reach the final.

FINALLY, a mention for someone whose testimonial dinner I am going to this week. Paul Burns has had two spells at Queen of the South, either side of a wee stint at Dunfermline, and is a model pro and a gem of a boy.

An Ayrshire boy from not far from where I grew up, he has not had huge rewards for his career, but is a real unsung hero and no-one deserves his testimonial more.

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