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QUEST FOR THE QUADRUPLE: HOW SCOTTISH CUP WOULD BE PERFECT CURTAIN-RAISER

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CELTIC should have been playing Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden this afternoon.

They would have been competing for the right to face either Hibs or Hearts in the silverware showdown at the national stadium on May 9 to remain on course for the historic and phenomenal quadruple treble.

The worldwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has left football in cold storage and the killer disease has managed something no other team could achieve in domestic competition over the past four seasons – halt the Hoops juggernaut in its tracks.

Amid the confusion and uncertainty of the SPFL’s resolution to end the league season – with Friday’s vote leaving Dundee ludicrously holding the balance of power while delaying the inevitable award of the ninth successive title to Neil Lennon’s side  – there has been precious little said about the three outstanding Cup games, the two semis and the Final.

On March 17, there was a statement released from the joint response group that confirmed a commitment to “completing the competition at the appropriate time, in front of spectators”. A pledge was also made to “consider future dates for the Cup-ties when the situation becomes clearer”.

When Scotland’s football rulers get back around the table to discuss the national competition, they might want to look at how to get off to the welcoming launch. CQN believes the perfect solution – and the ideal platform and format – is there for the SFA to follow.

Football’s new start date is July 22, but, of course, that is subject to change. There is also talk of football being played behind closed doors when the game recommences. There are many reasons why football will be phased in slowly if there is the slightest lingering threat of cross-contamination.

However, there is every likelihood a vast TV audience will be eager to tune in whenever the action gets the go-ahead in whichever form it may take.

HEADLINE NEWS…Celtic’s epic Drybrough Cup Final against Hibs at Hampden in 1972.

Back in the seventies, the Drybrough Cup, which was originally held from 1971 to 1975, was the curtain-raiser for those four seasons and got the campaigns off to a flyer.

The competition, which was briefly revived in 1979 and 1980, guaranteed goals with the the tournament open to the four highest-scoring teams from the old Division 1 – now the top flight – and the four top-scoring sides from Division 2. The format allowed the tourney to have three rounds – first round, semi-final and Final. It was held in the week preceding the kick off to the league.

Football, as we have stated over the weeks, does not know when the gates will again be opened to the fans, but, if the crowd numbers were a barometer of the supporters’ hunger for early-season football and how it should be presented, the Drybrough Cup was an outstanding success.

READ ALL ABOUT IT…Celtic beat Rangers to win the Drybrough Cup at the fourth time of asking.

Bizarrely, Celtic played in the four first finals – and lost three of them. They went down 2-1 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie in 1971 with the  crowd announced as 28,000. That was one of the highest attendances at the ground throughout the season, with the peak being the 33,608 that watched the January 15 1972 encounter against Rangers.

The popularity of the trophy saw it moved to Hampden the following season and the fans witnessed an extraordinary tussle between Jock Stein’s side and Hibs.

The Hoops were 3-0 down at one point. but three goals in a blistering 16-minute spell with Billy McNeill and Jimmy Johnstone (2) on the mark took it to extra-time. Alas, the Parkhead men couldn’t find the energy to sustain another 30 minutes and succumbed 5-3. However, there were few complaints from the watching 49,462 spectators.

CHEERS…Kenny Dalglish races away from Derek Johnstone in the 1975 Cup Final showdown.

BANG ON…Jimmy Johnstone thumps in the penlty-kick winner – with an Ibrox player already deciding it’s all over.

A year later, the Easter Road side, with a late strike from Alan Gordon, defeated the Glasgow giants with 49,204 watching on at the national stadium.

Celtic’s jinx in the tournament was dynamited in 1974/75 when they drew 2-2 with their Ibrox rivals after extra-time – Steve Murray and Paul Wilson on target – and the game went to penalty-kicks.

Goalkeeper Denis Connaghan was the Hoops hero with two spot-kicks saves from Derek Parlane ad Tommy McLean while Pat McCluskey, Murray, Tommy Callaghan and Johnstone were successful from 12 yards with Bobby Lennox out of luck.

An attendance of 57,558 was enthralled by the pre-season offering that proved to be a perfect scene-setter for a new term.

The trophy was resurrected for two years before coming off the radar. However, it was obvious that is did its job as a curtain-raiser.

The SFA could look to the future by taking a glance at the past when it comes to making a decision about the conclusion of the 2019/20 Scottish Cup.

Celtic v the Dons and an Edinburgh derby with a Cup Final to follow could be played in eight days and might just be the ideal way to get the ball rolling again.

Significantly and importantly for Celtic and the fans, the club cannot be denied the opportunity of a fourth successive domestic clean sweep.

Over to you, SFA.

 
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