Bohemians withdraw from Scottish Challenge Cup to focus on league
Dublin club have decided not to refix quarter-final against East Fife after postponement
The Challenge Cup quarter-final between Bohemians and East Fife at Dalymount Park had to be postponed on Saturday. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Bohemians have confirmed that they will not push for their Scottish Challenge (Irn-Bru) Cup quarter-final against East Fife to be rescheduled after Saturday’s game at Dalymount Park was postponed due to a frozen pitch.
Their withdrawal from this year’s competition appears to have come after some pressure from Scotland, but will also have been influenced by the difficulty of finding another date for the game between now and the weekend after next, when the semi-finals are supposed to be played.
Facing the threat of a fixture pile up towards the tail-end of a league campaign they still hope will end with promotion out of League One, the Scottish club’s chairman, Jim Stevenson, had already said that he had been assured that they would not have to return to Dublin.
An anticipated meeting of the league there to discuss the matter did not take place in the end but talks continued with Bohemians by telephone over the course of the day.
In a statement, the Dublin club expressed their regret at having to accept what they had concluded was an unavoidable decision, apologised to their fans and expressed their gratitude for the original invitation to participate in the competition.
East Fife had earlier expressed their frustration at having travelled over for a game that didn’t happen , and while that was understandable, the tone of some the comments from within their camp was more surprising.
In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland, manager Darren Young laid it on fairly thick, repeatedly describing what happened as a “shambles,” before labelling the situation as “a disgrace and a farce”.
More than once he seemed to suggest that his club was so put out because this was the second time the game had been postponed and East Fife had been hugely accommodating. The first time, as it happens, was because the quarter-finals were scheduled for three weeks after the season here finished and while Bohemians offered to pay their squad for an extra week or two in order to get the game played early, their opponents declined. The Dubliners drew the line at three weeks extra wages.
If his were an outfit to which this was all hilariously small beer then Young’s tone might be a little easier to fathom but they got 725 supporters at their last home game. He made a point of the fact that his team is part-time. They should know what it’s like.
This time, in any case, Bohemians had agreed to play two weeks ahead of their competitive season starting but the downside was the weather wasn’t great. “It’s a joke,” said Young, somewhat unsympathetically.
Asked what he now thought of Irish clubs having been invited to participate in the competition, he recalled that he had thought it was “a good idea at the time; it’s a wee bit exciting to see how it works out, but to bring a team in who are unable to fulfil their fixture is baffling.
“Would you see it in the Scottish Cup? Would you bring them into the Europa League? The Champions League?”
Well, probably not but then this is a competition in which the second round attracted crowds of between 208 and 1,637, with the latter figure larger than the attendance at any of the eight third-round games. Its history goes back all the way to 1990, and if you exclude the two finals in which Rangers competed, just another two have drawn more than 10,000, both in the first four years.
Which is not to sneer in any way at those numbers; just to say that in an era when the Premier League and other four big European leagues along with European club football threatens to swamp absolutely everything else, it is good that competitions like this, Scotland’s fourth most important, are used for a bit of experimentation. Clearly, though, a little more understanding is going to be required if the initiatives don’t quickly wither.
Young isn’t the only one to have sounded fairly begrudging about all of this. Peter Johnston, general manager at Peterhead, who Bohemians put out in an earlier round, expressed concern around the time of that game about the amount of money going out of the Scottish game because of the involvement of Irish, English and Welsh clubs – the figure mentioned was around €90,000, roughly a quarter of the total prize fund.
This is made up of a mix of actual prize money – Sligo would have received just over €9,000 for their third-round exit and Bohemians will get just short of €13,700 if they do not play again now. They will also receive expenses, with sides obliged to cross the Irish Sea, in either direction, getting €11,400 to help cover costs.
Now, that €90,000 is actually more than was up for grabs in the last Setanta Cup, another competition plagued by scheduling problems arising out of conflicting seasons, but it surely should not be enough to scupper something even vaguely worthwhile.
Maybe, the Scots don’t feel this though. Then Dunfermline manager Allan Johnson made it clear that he didn’t when he said last year: “I think it’s a Scottish competition. I think it should be for Scottish clubs.” Sure enough, there is some uncertainty at the moment over whether outside clubs will be invited to participate next season.
But if 80 grand carved up how many ever ways can divide the small clubs of Europe, can prevent them from even exploring new ways to attract crowds and build a better future at a time when the biggest clubs are eyeing up just about everybody else’s, the game really is up.