Over 100 years ago Lord Roseberry declared the People’s Palace, in Glasgow Green, open by describing it as “a palace of pleasure and imagination”. A fitting setting for the first round draw of the 2018/19 IRN-BRU Cup given the imaginative nature of the tournament this season; the clubs outwith Scotland’s top division who normally compete for this prize will also be joined by the SPFL Premiership’s Colt (under 20 years old) squads and teams from England, Wales and both sides of the Irish border.
The fixtures were drawn by Ross Leighton, lead singer of Scottish band Fatherson, and a true Scottish football great – Billy Dodds. Dodds made 547 appearances in his club career and scored 192 goals for the likes of Rangers, Aberdeen, both Dundee and Dundee United, Partick Thistle and St. Johnstone.
Dodds gained 26 international caps for Scotland, scoring 7 goals, and won each domestic trophy. There really is no better representative for the IRN-BRU Cup than the Ayrshire local and, on the SPFL live stream of the draw, he reflected on his own performance in the the 1990/91 final of the competition when he scored in extra time for Dundee to clinch his first ever trophy.
I still remember scoring that hat-trick against Ayr United.
It was a defining moment for me.
Pure Fitbaw interviewed Dodds after the draw and, just like in his playing days, he held nothing back – giving us his thoughts on the IRN-BRU cup, insight into the Scottish game in general and a look at what might be next in his own career.
We opened up by asking about the importance of Scottish football having the backing of “Scotland’s other national drink” with Barr’s IRN-BRU sponsorship of the competition.
Is the right word refreshing?
I would say that they are a major backer and it’s always nice, hence the funding, and it’s got to be positive that’s been put in to help bring in the Irish, English and Welsh teams to be involved playing against the Scottish clubs.
It’s always nice to have a major backer.
You can get caught up with having things the same and this competition brings us something a bit different as certain teams will play against each other however many times – whereas anything that is fresh and new is good in football.
It’s nice that it can bring different ties, without being disrespectful to the clubs and players and fans, that they might (normally) never get the chance to see or be part of.
This season’s IRN-BRU Cup features our neighbours from south of the border with Boreham Wood and Sutton United from the Vanarama Conference entering in the second round of the competition. Dodds spoke about how this could ignite the “Auld Enemy” emotions and bring a unique aspect to the matches.
It will create a huge rivalry and bring the edge to it.
You will find energy. It will give the players extra determination and yardage in the legs against the English teams.
Having played in England v Scotland games, like when we should have beat them in the Euro 2000 playoff games. Paul Scholes scored two at Hampden but we should have turned them over at Wembley when Don (Hutchison) scored.
It brings out different emotions and things you never thought you could experience as a player.
The inclusion of ‘Colt’ or under-20 age group teams from the SPFL Premiership clubs has been seen as belittling to the other participants by some. However, there are also often complaints about the lack of youth development opportunities in Scotland so this could be seen as yet more imaginative thinking from the tournament organisers.
Dodds was passionate when talking about the importance of “experience” for younger players which resonates given his reserve days at Chelsea as a youth along with Gordon Durie and how it helped shape his career.
It is huge to give these players the opportunity to play competitive games.
Like you saw in the draw with Ross County getting Hearts Colts or (the match between) Falkirk and Rangers Colts – these games are massive for the younger boys and their development so playing against good opposition to test them can only be good.
It’s the younger boys’ cup final and can help give them the bit of an edge you need in football.
We saw it last year with Ross County Colts beating Forfar and (then) a couple of those boys went on to break into the first team squad throughout the season.
Given that Dodds has a playing or coaching link to 8 different teams featuring in the IRN-BRU Cup we asked him how those clubs should approach the tournament. He was diplomatic and avoided talking about a specific side but did explain why it can be important.
There is no need or pressure for any of these clubs.
Like any competition – you want to win it,. Especially the further you go (in it) and especially (for) some of the SPFL Championship teams (as) they will be thinking about how it helped Inverness last year.
They started horribly but because of the momentum and form that they gained in the IRN-BRU Cup with a good run – (it) put them on an unbelievable run (and) they only just missed out on the play offs.
So, it might not be your priority but winning and momentum can help the Championship teams.
He did go on to say that he fancied a couple of his old clubs such as Partick Thistle Dundee United or Ross County to actually lift the trophy and rightly pointed out there are some big clubs in this competition and that they should be looking to win especially with the bigger squad depth that they will have.
Pure Fitbaw asked Dodds for a dark horse prediction of a club which might surprise people in the same way that Dumbarton did when they reached the final of the tournament last season.
Being an Ayrshire boy myself and one thing I can say about (manager) Iain McCall is he gets a team spirit and wants to win every game.
I know a few of their boys and the fact that this time they have gone full-time will help them go far.
Dodds stated that it was a no brainer that the standout tie of the first round was holders Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Dunfermline Athletic. He also pointed out Stranraer v Partick Thistle as a potential banana skin as Stephen Farrell has The Blues well organised and they have caused problems to teams over the years.
Memories and the Future
When Dodds talks about this competition the excitement that these memories bring is clear. He recalled the day on which he won his first trophy; the Challenge Cup (as it was then known) with Dundee in 1990/91.
It never leaves you.
I don’t care what anyone says; it was brilliant and you talk about the progression for these colt teams…this was the start of my progression.
I savour that moment when I won my first Cup Final in front of 12,000 fans and to score a hat-trick and the winner in extra time.
The Dundee fans still talk to me about it and it’s not all about me it’s the memories that this creates for the fans. There is something different about lifting a cup especially winning it in the last minutes.
I have won everything in Scotland but it all started here. The experience that I got from that; it set me up.
The former Scotland international then spoke to Pure Fitbaw about his coaching career and some near misses and plans for the future. There were two occasions on which Dodds almost made a sensational return to one of his old clubs A board member at Dundee United wanted him to take over as manager but it didn’t quite work out on either of those occasions due to split opinions and a committee decision not going in his favour.
There has been a couple of times, a few things have been close but I am realistic there is not a lot of jobs.
I am also just as happy working with Jim (McIntyre). That’s probably a preference but you never know what can come up in football – look at St. Johnstone with Callum Davidson getting the move to Stoke this week.
What I would say to anyone (is) if you get the chance go and grab it. Just look at the Kenny Miller situation. It might never happen again so take it whilst you have the chance.
I have been lucky to flit in and out of media (work) and I will most likely be working with the BBC again this year but you never know what can happen in football.
Dodds’ name will go down in Scottish football history as one of the greats and he left Pure Fitbaw with a real impression of his passion for and knowledge of the Scottish game as well as giving some intriguing detail about being scouted by complete chance and how he has supported a student from Inverness who is conducting a study into Dementia. There was one final, very important, question we were keen to have answered by the likeable ex-pro from New Cumnock though, a question that every Scottish person can relate to;
“Is IRN-BRU better out of a glass bottle or a can?”
Thankfully Dodds confirmed that, like the Pure Fitbaw team, he is a traditionalist in this regard and it’s not even a question – a glass bottle is far superior and always will be.
However, perhaps an even better receptacle is a cup. The IRN-BRU Cup!