IRN-BRU’S advertising campaigns have a habit of getting people talking, so it is perhaps not a surprise that the football tournament that bears its name tends to provoke a similar response.

The Irn-Bru Cup, that has its final in Inverness this Saturday between the exotically-named Connah’s Quay Nomads and Ross County, has proved as divisive as Brexit. Some believe it has become a vital tool for driving youth development in this country. Very few, however, have no opinion on it all. For a brand as controversial and edgy as Irn-Bru, the appeal is obvious.


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Perhaps they would have had less interest in the early days when, as the Challenge Cup, it was a competition open only to the 28 clubs in the first and second divisions. A Billy Dodds hat-trick gave Dundee the honour of being the first winners in 1990.

In recent years, however, the competition has accrued an array of extra bits and parts like some kind of footballing Gruffalo. This latest version now includes clubs from the Highland and Lowland Leagues, representatives from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as Colt teams from the 12 Premiership clubs.

Many see that as unworkable, a mongrel tournament that serves little purpose. Its supporters, however, believe it to be both innovative and pioneering, perhaps paving the way for a fully-fledged British Cup or league further down the line.

How it is viewed tends to depend on an individual’s background. Alan Burrows acknowledges as much. Whereas supporters of some clubs view with suspicion the inclusion of Under-21 sides as an attempt to legitimise the push to include Colt teams in the lower leagues, Motherwell chief executive Burrows believes the competition has provided a platform for young players to flourish.


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Colt teams, even those from Celtic and Rangers, have struggled against senior opposition since first being invited to take part in 2016 but Motherwell have bucked the trend this season by making it to the quarter-finals.

Burrows, who also sits on the SPFL board and the Competitions Working Group, believes young players such as Jake Hastie and David Turnbull have benefited from playing in the Irn-Bru Cup. But he also acknowledged that this is a tournament not to everyone’s taste.

“There are polarised opinions on the Irn-Bru Cup and it’s fair to say a lot of fans from the lower league clubs don’t see it in as positive a light as the Premiership clubs,” said Burrows.

“There are varying reasons for that. But, for us as a club, the positives are that over the last couple of years we’ve been able to use it as a development tool for young players.

“We’ve played against a lot of first-team sides in matches that mean something, and we feel that has made a lot of our young players better prepared for the step up. A lot of our younger guys who have played in the competition are now in the first team. So as a club we are very positive about it.

“I know people will argue that it’s not a development tournament, it’s a serious tournament. But we have to try get what we can from it for the sake of Scottish football.


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“You want a meaningful tournament that is exciting, and also appealing for broadcaster and sponsors. And I think we’ve got that. It’s about broadening horizons and giving clubs more exposure on an international level.”

Burrows, in fact, would like to see the tournament evolve further to include a group stage similar to the Betfred Cup.

“I’ve asked the league if there is any way we can expand it to have more guaranteed games,” he revealed. “It would be good if there could be a group element added if possible.

“I think it’s difficult in a one-off game for young players to sometimes get up to the level of senior football but over a number of matches they would get more familiar with what is required. But I understand some of the criticism and that group stages might not be popular with other clubs.”

Proposals to include Colt teams in League Two or a newly-created League Three have again floundered of late, with little backing outside of the Premiership. Burrows admitted it wasn’t likely to come to fruition any time soon.

“If you look at the major nations like Germany, France or Spain their domestic leagues have some element of Colt or B teams playing in a competitive environment,” he said.

“The heads of youth at almost every Scottish club that I’ve spoken to can see the advantage of having their young players involved in a competitive league that means something. At the moment we have a very uncompetitive environment from Pro Youth right up to Reserve team level.

“But in the short term there’s no possibility of Colt teams going into the league set-up. We’ve been over the course again and the idea has, for now at least, been torpedoed. I think that’s a shame as we think it would have been a very positive step for Scottish football but sadly it’s not to be. That’s democracy and we have to accept that.”

Burrows is sanguine about the possibility of a Welsh team being crowned champions of a Scottish tournament this weekend.

“If you are going to invite teams from other countries to take part then you have to also accept there’s a chance one of them might win it. And if they win it, then they’ll have earned it.

“I know some people get a bit down about having teams from other countries involved but from my point of view it adds something different.

“Dunfermline this year had a game down in Boreham Wood and their fans loved that trip. It’s almost like a European game in some sense for supporters that might not often get a chance to experience that. I don’t see it as a negative.”

There are no plans in place for another summer revamp of the competition, although with Irn-Bru’s sponsorship set to come to an end, a new commercial backer is being sought.

“With the discussions we’ve had the likelihood is at the moment we won’t be adding any more nations,” he revealed. “I like the Irn Bru Cup but I totally understand and get the criticism. I’ve spoken to people are vehemently opposed to the competition because of either the Colts or the cross-border elements of it. They feel it devalues it.

“But what was the competition like before? Was it stagnating? Was it heading towards a slow death? Possibly. So have we breathed new life into in terms of advertising, sponsorship, television and wider interest? Yes, I think we have. This competition has ticked a lot of boxes. We now need to understand the concerns of the lower league fans and try to allay some of them if we can. And I’m happy and willing to have those conversations.”