Methil to Europe is hardly a compensation

Date: 9th May 2020

The Latest from resident SFSA writer Donald Stewart:

Methil to Europe is hardly a compensation…

It’s a little over a year since the furore…

It’s a little over a year since the internet blew up in a Twitter storm…

It’s a little over a year since the SFA and the SPFL united in a massive campaign to compensate fans…

If only… You see in early February of last year, East Fife fans travelled all the way to Dublin, many having saved up preciously for the opportunity, to see their wee club, literally, in Europe. The dream, which provided their chance, was sold to all of us by the SPFL, of a revitalised competition that would see the lower leagues welcoming clubs from England, Ireland (North and South) and Wales.

I loved the idea. It meant something a little more exotic than trying to work out if you wanted a big name tie in the cup or someone who you knew you could beat and get into the next round for that… big name cup tie… so you could get close to an actual national final.

This now sounded like an international quarter final; like something out the sixties.

Given that Scotland has struggled to have any sort of international cheer in the men’s game, and some of us are dying out who can remember something called the Home Nations, it is hardly surprising that Ayr United v Wrexham began to feel like the high end of a competition…

But once you get to the heady heights of a quarter final – can you expect something a bit special?

Seven minutes to kick off might sound like a Hollywood film or a Rap song but it was the amount of time before the quarter final was called off. You would have your pie and be trying to spot something interesting to read in the programme by that time. And, not since that daft kick off in Talinn has Scottish football endured a more absurd and tense game that never happened.

In Dublin, at the ground of Bohemians Football Club, the quarter final of the Irn Bru Cup was due to take place. The problem was a frozen pitch. A problem that is not uncommon throughout Scotland, had managed to follow it to their one foray into a European arena… (OK I am stretching the European angle a but, it’s a fair point…)

It left Bohemians with the issue of what to do as the timetable for the competition was gathering at pace – 11 days till the semi finals – and they took the sensible decision to withdraw leaving Connah’s Quay Nomads, East Fife, Edinburgh City and Ross County left to battle it out.

Ross County were to triumph that year but the East Fife experience has never truly been resolved for fans. There is still, as far as I am aware, no scheme out there to compensate fans who make the trip only for a referee to decide that naw, it is not worth playing. Some Fifers used it as their holiday, spending their hard earned cash to get from Methil to Dublin for the spectacle. They lost out, on the spectacle and also in monetary terms; Dublin aint cheap.

Quoted online in a BBC interview Fifers manager Darren Young, once he heard that Bohemians had withdrawn and his club would contest a semi final was sanguine about the whole affair, saying, “We’re delighted with the outcome and we can now put it to bed and move on to the next round. Hopefully lessons can be learned from it to help moving forward. I’m delighted for the club, fans and players that we now have a semi-final to look forward to.”

That they faltered at the next round is immaterial. Their final could and should have been Dublin. An experience, an opportunity, the excitement, the chance to be more than a Trivial Pursuit question. All gone, despite the idea being sold by the “membership organisation” that this competition in which you can invest your loyalty will bring dividends in spades. Oh, what liability when it doesn’t?

In amongst the current pandemic a new look footballing landscape has being debated. It is this type of issue, that right at the beginning ought to be part of the thinking. It is why fans MUST be involved in (now dead in the water) reconstruction talks, because their experience as a customer should define and draw out new ways of doing things. If a league wants to promote a thing, they have some responsibility for making it work properly. The fans who made the trip are entitled to something in return. I began with three headlines, the last of which was fantasy. If the SFA and SPFL had hired a bus, bought the return tickets, offered a travel insurance scheme, thought outside the box, damn it thought inside the damn box, we must surely have opened up the possibility of more radical adventures…

I remember being once told a quote, I can’t quite remember it. Perhaps you can. It goes something like, if we don’t learn the lessons of history…


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