The Less League, More Cup Strategy

Rory Smith is sick of the current Scottish league structure and watching the same games three or four times a season and has come up with a radical strategy aimed at changing that…

I hate league football. It is boring and repetitive. You get stuck playing the same teams every year, not doing anything while some other teams win the league. I would say the same as an Aberdeen fan if we were in a British league as we would find our level and get stuck playing British teams of the same level. The same teams playing over and over again, with teams battling it out to avoid failure or mid table mediocrity. I say the same about the Scottish and English Premier League. I would like to radically cut the number of league games in the Scottish league and replace them with cross border cups, where home group games are counted as part of the home season ticket attendances.

Here is my radical idea:

Step One

  • Increase the Premier to 16 teams, with teams playing home and away.
  • 30 games a year for the league title.

This means a cut in the number of games each team in the Premier League play by 8 games while also freeing up 8 weeks for new cup competitions.

Step Two

  • Introduce a “Celtic Cup” of 24 teams

The “Celtic Cup” would be made up of the 16 Scottish Premier League sides, 2 Welsh sides, one team each from Cornwall and the Isle of Man and the 4 Irish regions (Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Leinster). The Irish regions have proved popular with rugby fans and would put forward regional representative sides made up of players from the League of Ireland and Irish League. If this is not possible then 2 Irish league and 2 League of Ireland sides would take part instead. There would then be 24 teams in 6 groups with the top sides from each group qualifying for the quarter finals. The 4 best runner ups qualify for a qualifying round for the quarter final with the winners qualifying for the quarter finals too. Scottish teams would be forced to play their first team or face 3 points deducted in the Premier league. Also to ensure less chance of sectarian issues, Rangers could not be drawn to play a Irish Republic team in the group stages and Celtic would not be drawn against Northern Irish sides in the group stage. I would also include home group stage games as part of the season tickets for fans. Also, the Scottish teams would subsidise travel costs for the poorer clubs.

Step Three

  • Return of an Anglo-Scottish Cup

The Scottish Premier League sides that did not qualify for Europe and teams from the English League One play in a group stage cross border cup. Then in the knockout stages the Scottish teams that qualified for Europe and the winners of the group stage play in a straight knockout trophy. With an annual final played at Wembley Stadium. Imagine how great it would be for Scottish sides to play a final at the famous Wembley stadium every year. Scottish clubs that reached the final would talk of the great time they played at Wembley in the same way Aberdeen fans talk of Gothenburg and Celtic fans talk of Lisbon.

St. Mirren won the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980. Could it be brought back?
St. Mirren won the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980. Could it be brought back?

Every year we hear people suggesting that the Scottish and English leagues merge. If that happened then most Scottish Premier League sides of the likes of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St. Johnstone would be lucky to reach the level of the Conference based on the attendances they get. So my idea would be a best of both worlds scenario where they get to keep playing in the Scottish Premier League while having a chance of winning national cups and getting to play high standard English League One sides. A merge would also render more than 100 years of Scottish football meaningless plus Aberdeen would do nothing in a British league (we could go 200 years without winning a national cup!).

Some will say there is no point in playing Irish and Welsh sides but I totally disagree. We have a firm connection with the Celtic nations and this would increase our audiences in the Celtic nations. I have contacted Welsh and Irish clubs and they would love a Celtic Cup. The attendances for Scottish/Irish games are big. And Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man are beautiful places that away fans would enjoy visiting. The fans would get something different to see and Scotland could expand its TV market to other countries that know about Scotland. Some will argue that this will not satisfy the Old Firm but an annual final at Wembley would satisfy their desire to achieve something in England without giving up their competitive chances of winning the league and qualifying for the Champions or Europa League.

Some will say travel is too tough but that is a weak argument. I have traveled to Wales, Scotland and Ireland and it is not that far. Also, if Bala Town can travel to Latvia for a Europa league games then surely Inverness can travel to Cornwall which is on the same island for goodness sake. The fans in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia have far bigger travelling issues. How weak are we when we cannot even travel in our own little islands. It is not too expensive to travel around the British and Irish Isles. Look at how many English fans are going to Brazil. If fans can got to Brazil surely it is not too much to ask for fans to travel to the Isle of Man?

I would love my team Aberdeen to get to play English League One sides every year and have a realistic chance of playing in a cup final every year.
Some will say that 30 games is not enough league games, but that is rubbish, in Portugal they have a 30 game league season. In the first years of the Scottish league they played as few as 22 league games a season but no one would argue that those league titles are meaningless.

I would be willing for any cross border cup. Maybe a Scottish Premier/English League/Isle of Man/Cornwall/Ireland/Wales cup (as mentioned previously) with Belgian, Dutch and Danish teams added for extra competition. Just anything to change the boredom of only playing Scottish sides. How is Scottish football going to expand its audience if it is just the same matches all the time?

What this is about is giving:

  1. Something different to the fans
  2. Scottish clubs the chance to win a cross border trophy
  3. helping the other Celtic countries (a generous thing from Scottish football)
  4. There is more potential in the other Celtic nations for growth in football than there is in Scotland which is at saturation level.

Of course it would be a gamble to have a Celtic Cup. It might only bring in crowds of a few hundred for the home games but there is potential for the Irish and Welsh to get more interested in Scottish football. That could increase the TV revenue for the Scottish league and increase the chances of big clubs developing in Wales and Ireland that would be fun to play. The Irish sides are sleeping giants and the Isle of Man could be a smaller version of Monaco. Imagine the fun for travelling fans to travel to other beautiful Celtic nations. Imagine the fun of a Scottish club winning a cross border trophy for the first time since Aberdeen did in 1983.

I think there is no ‘Scotland only’ solution to the problems of Scottish football. We need to work together with other leagues, to play big teams from other countries and to market the Scottish league to new territories. We have to keep the bread and butter of Scottish league football but we just need to have slightly less of it.

A big thank you to Rory for his contribution and idea. As always, if you do have an idea you wish to contribute get in touch (details can be found here) and leave your thoughts about this idea in the comments or on social media (links close by). Stay tuned for more content on The Long Ball coming soon.



4 thoughts on “The Less League, More Cup Strategy

  1. The return of the Anglo-Scottish Cup is a nice idea but let’s learn from history. It only lasted six seasons before the Scots withdrew, citing in 1981, “a declining standard of the English entries”. This was the year 3rd division Chesterfield beat a virtually full strength Rangers side 3-0 on the way to winning the cup. For the record English and Scottish clubs contested 69 games in those six seasons. The Scots won only 18 of these with 34 English wins and 17 draws. Chances are given the gulf now apparent between the English & Scottish games this win ratio would be even more skewed in favour of the English.


    1. A very good point but there is always the argument that better competition breeds better players meaning that while the ratio may be a bit skewed initially, it could become more even over the years.


    1. First of all, thanks for commenting.

      Now, I’d imagine with the sheer number of football fans in England there would be at least somebody that “gives a shit”. I know a few people from south of the border who actually support Scottish teams too.

      Scottish football does sort its own problems which is why, up here, there are more and more excellent players being developed with an improving standard of football and promising national team performances. It’s by no means perfect but every FA has problems to deal with.

      As for being parasitic…


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