Old Back of the Net articles here

Scottish Cup 2002

O'Neill's woes











In the five seasons preceding the establishment of the SPL, five Scottish clubs outwith the Old Firm won silverware. Raith Rovers and Aberdeen were successful in the League Cup while Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Hearts all had their names engraved on the Scottish Cup.

Halfway through the fifth season of this grave new world and every domestic trophy since has ended up at either Ibrox or Parkhead. We already know the League flag will flutter over one or the other come the end of the season and both Glasgow giants are just 90 minutes away from the League Cup Final.

So, if there is any hope of the Old Firm duopoly being broken this term, (and with no disrespect intended to League Cup semi-finalists Dundee United and Hearts) the Scottish Cup appears to be the best bet.

At first sight, the oldest trophy in the world looks to have lost some of its lustre for the Old Firm. The only European guarantee it brings is a place in the UEFA Cup. And they moan about the extra fixture demands both knockout tourneys bring - even though they're happy to fly halfway round the world for a friendly if it brings in some cash.

Yet the Old Firm's record in the Cups is getting ominously better. Since the birth of the SPL both clubs have lost just once in the League Cup other than to each other. Celtic were beaten at Airdrie in 1998-99 and Aberdeen squeezed past Rangers at Pittodrie the following season.

It's the same story in the Scottish Cup. Celtic lost in that never-to-be-forgotten match against Inverness CT in 2000 and Rangers were beaten at Tannadice a year later. But that's it. These days it seems the only way for any other team to get to a Cup Final is if the Old Firm are drawn together in a previous round.

At least now that draws are made in public this happens with more frequency.

But the draw for the third round of this year's competition couldn't have been kinder to the OF if the SFA had let Martin O'Neill and Alex McLeish make it themselves.

Apart from Queen's Park in 1893 and East Fife in 1938 the cup winners have always come from the top division ever since League football began. It is reasonable to assume that 2003 will not see a break in this pattern.

Yet this round alone will see a minimum of four SPL sides eliminated. The lopsided nature of the draw means that while exciting ties are in prospect such as Kilmarnock v Motherwell, Dundee United v Hibs, Partick v Dundee and Livingston v Dunfermline, the bottom line is that four of the big guns will be silenced at the first time of asking.

Add in tricky trips to Dumfries and Falkirk for Aberdeen and Hearts and no wonder the Old Firm are laughing.

Of course the other side of the coin is that a few lower division sides can look forward to an extended cup run. While there are still eight second round ties outstanding, we already know that the last sixteen will comprise one from Forfar, Stenhousemuir, Stirling or Stranraer. Either Cowdenbeath or Alloa will enter the hat for the fourth round draw. And one from the quartet comprising Queen's Park, Albion Rovers, Hamilton and East Fife will still have their dream alive while at least one third of the SPL will be out.

Of course that's the beauty of the Cup. At this stage a quarter-final tie between Gretna and Ross County doesn't look like a ridiculous prospect. Alternatively, there could still be an all-SPL last eight.

However, while in no way wanting to dampen the dreams of the minnows or diminish the romanticism of the Scottish Cup, it seems a shame that at a time when our game desperately needs a non-Old Firm success, so many of the potential winners are fated to fall at the first fence.

And it has been the Scottish Cup which, in the past, has provided the avenue to glory for the 'rest' of Scottish football. There have been lean times for the big two. It took Rangers nearly 20 years to win their first trophy and the Ibrox side went from 1903-28 without success. More recently they spent over a decade in the Cup wilderness in the 1980s and early 90s.

Graeme Souness may have revolutionised Scottish football but teams like Hamilton and Dunfermline ensured he departed back over the border without a Cup win to his name.

Celtic too have struggled. Notably in that barren period between 1954 and 1965 when they were without Cup success. And between their victories in 1989 and 2001 they managed just one success in the eleven tournaments in between. To this day they have never won the Cup three years in succession - a feat achieved not just by Rangers (three times) but also by Queen's Park (twice), Vale of Leven and Aberdeen.

Indeed, at times in our history the Cup has been synonymous with success for our 'other' teams. It was won seven times by Edinburgh clubs in just less than 20 years from 1887-1906 (four times by Hearts, twice by Hibs and once by St Bernard's). Yet it has been on display in the capital just twice since then when Hearts broke a 50-year jinx in 1956 and a famine lasting more than 40 years in 1998.

There was a glorious period in the 1920s when Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle, Morton, Airdrie and St Mirren were all triumphant. And a marvellous era in the 1950s when for five successive years the big two didn't get a look-in as Clyde, Hearts, Falkirk, Clyde (again) and St Mirren all won. In the last three of these, there wasn't even an Old Firm presence in the Final.

Move on to the 1980s and that great Aberdeen team that won three years running between 1982 and 1984 and added in victories in 1986 and 1990 as well. Dundee United too played their part. They lost six Finals before finally winning in 1994 but they took part in one of the best Finals of modern times when Motherwell won in 1991. United were also present as St Mirren pulled off an unlikely victory in 1987.

The last Final not to feature one of the Old Firm was in 1997 when Kilmarnock edged past first division Falkirk. Twelve months later Hearts were triumphant and that is where the story ends.

Perhaps all this gloom about this season's contest is wrong. Maybe St Mirren at Parkhead and Arbroath at Gayfield will surprise us all by eliminating the Old Firm. St Mirren are overdue some Cup success. Since winning in 1987 they've only got past the third round three times and have never reached the last eight. Although they've lost fifteen times to Celtic over the years, they've managed to beat them five times as well. Just one of these wins was at Parkhead and that was over 70 years ago. Maybe they're due a second?

As for Arbroath, the record books say they've lost all nine previous cup encounters with Rangers. But that's not quite right. Back in 1884-85 Arbroath actually defeated Rangers 4-3. The Gers protested about the size of the playing area, famously claiming they had been "beaten on a back green." The SFA ordered a replay which Rangers won 8-1. To little avail as they lost in the next round to Renton. The Red Lichties first cup tie after this was the one that still sees them in the record books today - that 36-0 win over Bon Accord.

But if the 1880s is going back too far to draw inspiration, there is some hope for our would-be giant-killers from much closer to the present day. For St Mirren a reminder that the last mid-table 1st division side to go to Parkhead in the Scottish Cup hailed from Inverness. And for Arbroath the recollection that just twelve months ago Rangers travelled to Berwick in the Cup and came away grateful to have scraped a draw.

JAIL! JAIL! The Celts are here

To say it's not been the best of fortnights for Martin O'Neill is an understatement. For thirty months now, the Celtic boss has impressed all and sundry not just by producing a winning team on the park, but also by his demeanour off it.

O'Neill the pundit can be an impressive sight. The man has a superb knowledge of the game and is effortlessly articulate in expressing himself. A dream for TV studios to deal with and respected by his audience.

But the past two weeks have given us an insight into a different O'Neill. For the first time since his arrival at Celtic, he is under pressure and his reactions have been less than edifying.

O'Neill should be basking in the glow of success over Celta Vigo and ensuring Celtic's first appearance in Europe beyond Christmas for 23 years. But the first indications of the internal turmoil he is in came after defeat by Rangers. His outburst at BBC reporter Charlie Mann when he described his beaten side's performance as "astonishingly brilliant" will go down in broadcasting history. It's a pity the tape is no longer available on the BBC website as those who missed it have lost out on the chance to hear an incredible performance.

In the interview O'Neill became the personification of the paranoid mentality which afflicts much of the Celtic support. A simple question on team selection was transformed into an assertion that only Celtic face this kind of query. Poor Charlie Mann tried his best and stayed civil - an achievement in itself. Many reporters would not have put up with the insulting innuendo O'Neill was spouting.

Then came Celta Vigo. It was an excellent display by Celtic with a fine John Hartson strike ensuring victory over Spanish opposition for the first time ever. As we said here earlier, beating Celta was a much harder business than overcoming Blackburn. Only the constant desire to put one over on the English prevents us from recognising this.

The next round sees Celtic face a similar task in opponents Stuttgart. A good team from one of the footballing superpowers but not a side with a reputation to leave Celtic quivering in their boots before kick-off. Expect an equally close fight. Celtic have a 50/50 chance of progress.

But O'Neill had scarcely time to savour the moment when events he can have no control over came into play as a Celtic supporters plane was forced to land at Cardiff and six fans were arrested. Claim and counter-claim are in full flow but the facts will emerge in due course.

Next up was the match at Rugby Park. True, Celtic created a lot of chances in the second half but a draw was a fair result. Kilmarnock fought for every ball and were worthy of their point. But O'Neill, usually generous after a hard encounter, couldn't find a good word for the Ayrshire team. He blamed referee Willie Young for the dropped points that saw Celtic slip to four points behind Rangers in the League.

O'Neill accused Young of refusing Celtic a goal when, in truth, the incident in question was less of a clean strike than Geoff Hurst's infamous 1966 effort. He demanded a penalty when John Hartson took a tumble - outside the box - in injury time.

Now it's well known that your correspondent here was born singing 'Paper Roses' so there may well be suspicions of something less than objectivity in this account. But on this occasion the writer was seated beside two Celtic fans, neither of whom demurred at Young's refusal to give either award. Nor were the Celtic directors a few rows in front animated in the slightest.

Two days later, four players were arrested in Newcastle. This website has to applaud the constabulary here. In our view anyone who sets foot in tacky theme pubs with a name like 'Buffalo Joe's' should be locked up and have the key thrown away!

It seems that no one is quite innocent here. Why the Daily Record should want to pursue the players to Tyneside is a fair question. Their Editor's claim that he only wanted a happy photo is disingenuous to say the least. It seems the paper wanted a few snaps of men behaving badly - and they got them. Or they thought they did until some of the players decided to part the cameraman from his equipment.

Neither side deserves any sympathy. The press shouldn't be targeting players on a night out and the players shouldn't be responding like thugs.

Maybe it's what they're used to. If they can con the men in black week in week out, maybe they thought they'd get away with it with the boys in blue.

To cap it all, The Herald reports that Raphael Scheidt is on his way back to Celtic next month!

So, as he faces his third Hogmanay at Celtic, O'Neill must be pondering what the future holds. As will Celtic's legion of supporters. The season is past the halfway point but they still don't know if he will still be there next season. The saga of O'Neill's contract has become a long-running farce but the manager knows he is in a strong bargaining position.

The supporters are solidly behind O'Neill. If he wants better terms and,say, just a twelve months extension to his contract, then the Board will find it impossible to refuse. Money for team-building is another matter entirely. O'Neill knows several of his squad need to be replaced in the next year and also that Henrik Larsson will be on his way in under eighteen months time.

Such factors may well influence his decision. The situation in England couldn't be brighter for O'Neill should he decide to return south. The Leeds-Venables relationship is surely heading for divorce by the end of the season at the latest. Poor form and health worries pose a question mark over Gerard Houllier at Liverpool and who is to say that should Man Utd lift the European Cup at Old Trafford, that Alex Ferguson doesn't decide to spend more time with his horses?

Martin O'Neill - for all his recent worries - is in the luxurious position of being able to name his price for his services. His next move will be the one that defines him as a manager and he knows it. The poor punters who shell out large amounts of their hard-earned cash to follow Celtic have no such options. If the manager cares as much about the support as he says he does, then he needs to tell them his intentions. And he needs to do it now.


Back to homepage Click here to download sample pdf files BLUE-WEB INTERNET DESIGN