Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Scottish League Cup Stadiums & Stats

Hibernian vs Kilmarnock

Just like its English counterparts, the Scottish FA and Scottish League each have their own cup competitions. We’ve already explored the Scottish Football Association Cup, so now let’s dive into its slightly less prestigious counterpart, the Scottish League Cup. In this article, we’ll discuss the tournament format, qualification process, and the stadiums that have hosted the final.

Tournament Format

Qualification

The Scottish League Cup is a more exclusive competition compared to the Scottish Cup. In the eyes of football fans, this exclusivity has somehow made it less prestigious. To qualify for the Scottish League Cup, teams need to be members of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). However, the format was changed before the 2016-2017 season to make it more interesting for broadcasters.

Now, the Scottish League Cup is open not only to the 42 SPFL teams, but also to the winners of the Scottish Highland Football League and the Scottish Lowland Football League. The winners of these leagues face each other, and the victor then competes against the lowest-placed team from League Two for a spot in the following season’s League Two. It may sound complicated, but it adds excitement and intrigue to the competition.

The Group Stage

Gone are the days of a simple knockout tournament. The Scottish League Cup now features group stages, seeds, byes, and later knockout rounds. However, it is these eccentricities that make the competition thrilling to watch.

The tournament begins with eight groups of five teams. The four clubs that have qualified for the Champions League and Europa League receive byes to the next phase. For example, in the 2018-2019 season, there were nine Premiership sides, nine Championship teams, all ten teams from League One and League Two, and the winners of the Highland League and the Lowland League.

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What sets the group stage apart from most other tournaments is the introduction of a bonus point system. Teams earn three points for a win, one point for a draw, and if a match ends in a draw, a penalty shoot-out awards the winners an additional point. This system adds an extra layer of tactics and excitement, particularly in closely contested groups.

The groups are divided into two sections: four groups of five teams from the North of Scotland and four groups of five teams from the South of Scotland. Each group consists of one top seed, one second seed, and three unseeded teams, determined by regionalization and seeding.

Leaving The Group Stage & Entering The Knockout Rounds

Scottish League Cup Stadiums & Stats
Image: Daniel from United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the group stage, the winners of each group and the four best runners-up advance to the first knockout round, also known as the “last sixteen.” But wait, you might ask, how does eight group winners and four runners-up make sixteen teams? Here comes the twist: the four teams that had European commitments skip the group stage and re-enter the competition at this point.

This is when the Scottish League Cup reverts to a straightforward knockout competition. Teams are drawn randomly, with the first name drawn playing at home. If the match ends in a draw after ninety minutes, extra time is played, and if needed, a penalty shootout decides the winner.

The eight winners of the first knockout round progress to the quarter-finals, where they are again randomly drawn to compete against each other at the home ground of the first team drawn.

The Semi-Finals And Final

The semi-finals of the Scottish League Cup are one-legged affairs, with extra time and penalties used if necessary. The only difference from previous rounds is that the matches are not played at the home ground of either team. A neutral venue is chosen based on considerations such as the teams’ fanbase and geographic location.

The two winners of the semi-finals then face each other in the final. Like the semi-finals, the final is held at a neutral venue, traditionally Hampden Park. However, there have been a few instances where different stadiums were used.

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Previous Winners

The table below showcases the teams that have won the Scottish League Cup two or more times.

Scottish League Cup Stats

About the Scottish League Cup

In The Beginning

The Scottish League Cup was introduced in the 1946-1947 season, drawing inspiration from the Southern League Cup. This tournament was initially created as a temporary replacement for the Scottish Cup during the Second World War. The first Scottish League Cup final featured Aberdeen and Rangers, with Rangers emerging victorious. This set the stage for the dominance of Rangers in the tournament.

Initially, the unique format of the League Cup garnered immense popularity among Scottish football fans. Interestingly, the format was changed before the 2016-2017 season to bring the competition back to its initial roots.

Originally, the tournament consisted of eight or nine groups, each comprising four or five teams. These groups were divided into two sets, with the top sixteen teams from the Scottish First Division forming the first four groups. This ensured that some of the top teams faced off against lesser opponents in the quarter-finals.

Falling Out Of Love With The League Cup

Over the years, especially with the formation of the Scottish Premier League, the League Cup started losing its shine among supporters. Expansion of European competitions and changes to the cup’s format contributed to its decline. The group stage followed by two-legged knockout rounds made the tournament overly complicated and received criticism from teams struggling to balance their cup, league, and European commitments.

In the mid-1980s, the League Cup underwent another revamp, adopting a simpler knockout format and moving the final to a pre-Christmas slot. This change aimed to reignite enthusiasm for the tournament by allowing matches to be played earlier in the season. Despite these efforts, the Scottish Cup has overshadowed the League Cup in terms of importance since then.

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European Qualification

Until the mid-1990s, the winners of the Scottish League Cup not only lifted the trophy but also earned a spot in the UEFA Cup. However, this qualification was not always utilized because winning teams often secured European places through league finishes or Scottish Cup triumphs.

The reduction in European places for Scottish clubs led to the discontinuation of European qualification for League Cup winners. Since 1995, the Scottish Cup has been the only cup competition in Scotland that guarantees a European place. The last team to represent Scotland in the UEFA Cup thanks to a League Cup victory was Raith Rovers in the 1995-1996 season.

Scottish League Cup Stadiums

The group stage matches of the League Cup are straightforward in terms of locations. Each team plays all the others in their group twice, once at home and once away. Knockout matches also follow a simple process: the first team drawn becomes the home team, and their opponent becomes the away team.

For the semi-finals, a neutral venue is chosen. However, teams are still drawn as the “home” or “away” side. This distinction allows teams to wear their first-choice kits, especially when there are similar kits between the two sides. Some players and fans believe that being the “home” side provides a psychological advantage. The choice of venue for the semi-finals depends on the expected popularity of the game. For instance, if Rangers and Celtic were drawn to face each other in the semi-final, a larger stadium would be selected.

The final of the Scottish League Cup is almost always held at Hampden Park in Glasgow, just like the Scottish Cup final. However, there have been eight occasions when the final was played elsewhere. These include Dens Park in Dundee, which hosted the replay in the 1979-1980 season and the final in the 1980-1981 season, as well as Celtic Park and Ibrox, which were used from 1993-1995 and then again from 1996-1999. Celtic Park also hosted the final in the 2013-2014 season.