It’s supposed to be Scottish football’s end-of-season showpiece event; the culmination in a tournament that has whittled down from 126 clubs to just two teams.
But this year’s Scottish Cup final has been overshadowed by the Scottish Football Association (SFA)’s decision to change the kick off time to 5.30pm – to avoid clashing with the English FA Cup final’s Manchester derby.
The decision has left a sour taste in the mouths of both Celtic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle fans, and has left them thinking; is the SFA compensating for a weaker cup final at Hampden?
For years, both the Scottish and FA Cup finals were played on Saturdays at 3pm simultaneously, with the change in kick-off sparking fierce criticism from Scottish football fans, as well as from both participating clubs who issued statements in opposition to the decision.
However, alongside the announcement, the SFA issued a statement thanking “all parties for their support in ensuring a slot commensurate with Scottish football’s showpiece occasion”.
Additionally, the SFA’s chief executive, Ian Maxwell, recently told the BBC that the kick-off time was moved after “looking at all the external factors”, before telling the Scottish Government that the decision was taken to “permit a BBC One UK-wide broadcast”.
However, it later transpired that the Scottish Cup final would only be shown in Scotland and not the rest of the UK, with BBC One channels in England opting to air ‘Garden Rescue’ instead.
Cormac Ryan, a member of the Celtic Trust, says the announcement highlights a lack of consideration for fans of either club by the SFA, and argues that the decision portrays Scottish football as inferior to other footballing nations.
“The Celtic Trust strives to give supporters an increased voice and to place supporters interests at the centre of decisions that effect them. The scheduling of the Cup Final to kick-off at 5:30pm is far removed from this aim and shows anything but a supporter-centred approach from those behind this decision.
“Furthermore, it displays a willingness to allow Scottish football to play second fiddle to leagues elsewhere and devalues the standing of the SFA Cup competition.
“Both sets of supporters travelling over land to the game from afar are faced with challenges around connecting public transport and the logistics and potential expense of arranging substitute private transport arrangements or booking accommodation.
“In terms of the actual football being played, I don’t see that [the late kick-off] would make any difference. However, the main issue here is the lack of consideration being given to the concerns of supporters, the wishes of the clubs, and the devaluing of the tournament and Scottish football.”
Many Celtic supporters will come from all over the world to watch the match, whilst there are limited public transport routes to and from Inverness on the day of the final – particularly after the full-time whistle blows.
Andrew Young, an Inverness supporter who co-hosts ‘The Wyness Shuffle’ fan podcast, thinks that the decision to move the Scottish Cup final to a later time is not only disappointing for travelling Inverness fans, but reinforces the perception that Scottish football is of less importance than football in England.
“The fact that this decision was taken in response to a change in the kick-off time of the English FA Cup Final is a terrible look for the SFA; it’s as if they are happy to have the Scottish Cup Final perceived as inferior in significance and status to its English counterpart.
“No-one disputes the importance of TV money to the game, but late decisions on the choice of games to be broadcast and resulting changes in scheduling have become routine, and supporters who may already have made travel arrangements or booked time off work are just expected to accept it.
Scotrail recently announced an ‘Inverness Express’ service will run from Glasgow Queen Street shortly after the match, giving fans enough time to make it home after the final whistle blows. However, Andrew feels the damage has already been done by the announcement of the late kick-off, with many supporters put off the idea altogether.
“Those [Inverness] supporters who are able to travel will undoubtedly make the very most of it. But the issue is about those who will miss out because the day had simply become too difficult or too expensive, and about those who are having to pay far, far more than should be necessary to see their team in a national cup final because of a governing body meekly acquiescing to broadcasters.”
So, with the Scottish Cup final moved to avoid a clash with England’s FA Cup final, does this provide credence to the argument that Scottish football focuses on English football more than it should?
Back in 2013, the inception of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) saw Scotland’s top-four leagues renamed as the Premiership, the Championship, League One and League Two, which SPFL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, implied was a decision influenced by the names of the top-four divisions in England.
It was also recently announced that Manchester United and French side Olympique Lyonnais will play at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh as part of their pre-season tours, with the SFA actively promoting the fixture taking place on the 19th July – a designated date for the second round of the Scottish League Cup.
The anonymous user behind ‘SPFL Mediawatch’, a Twitter page dedicated to the discussion of how Scottish football broadcasts and brands itself, thinks that the actions of the SFA in recent weeks suggests that those involved are unfit to represent Scottish football.
“There’s a clear lack of competent decision making at Hampden. No one is thinking “hmm maybe this isn’t a great look”, or if they are, then they aren’t being listened to.
“The active promotion of the Man United game was a total slap in the face to member clubs that are wanting as many fans as possible to turn up for the League Cup on that weekend. The only rationale behind that, to my mind, is that the SFA are receiving a cut of ticket sales.
“The number of high profile mistakes by the SFA in recent weeks really does make one question the fitness of certain high level people as custodians of our game.”
Of course, there have been many differing accounts of how best to incentivise growth in Scottish football over the years. But with the current SFA and SPFL appearing to be attracted to how English football markets itself on the world stage, many Scottish football fans are starting to feel like this is coming at the detriment of Scottish football as a whole.