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Time Tunnel - The Scottish Cup

montrose v Hearts 1975/76The Scottish Cup is the oldest knock out cup competition in the world and Montrose FC have participated in it for a lot longer than many history books will tell us.

The Scottish Cup was first played for in the 1873/4 season some 6 years before the present Montrose FC was founded and our first appearance in the Scottish Cup was in 1887 which was over four years before we entered a formal league structure, the Northern League, in 1891. The new book about Montrose FC The Journey so far published earlier this season detailed amongst other things every Montrose result in the Scottish Cup and a few results from the Scottish Qualifying Cup as well.

To be honest I was never entirely happy or comfortable that the full story had been unearthed and I felt sure that the Qualifying Cup should be given more prominence – but the problem was in finding more detail and results for the Qualifying competition. Trawling through micro-film in Montrose library gave me some results but posed just as many questions as well. For instance why was there a big gap between one set of Scottish Cup results and the next – must be because we had to enter the Qualifying Cup some years. But why only some years? After all we were a non-league side until 1923 so why were we in and out of the Scottish Cup proper?

I think I now have the answer. It doesn’t alter the results but it does give me more Qualifying Cup results and the reason why we were in and out. So here’s how it went.

Our first ever Scottish Cup tie of any description was in the 1887/8 season when we won 7-5 away at Broughty Ferry. We then played Dundee Our Boys in the second round and lost 3-5 away. Those results are properly recorded in The Journey so far as Scottish Cup (proper) games because in those days there was no Qualifying competition, every entrant went straight into the ‘hat’ for the first round although the first two rounds were played on a regional basis until the system was changed in 1891. The reason why the system was changed was that in the 1870’s and early 1880’s there were not many teams and therefore not so many entrants in the Scottish Cup but by the late 1880’s the number had swelled significantly. That presented two problems. Firstly there were too many rounds to play. Secondly every team went into the draw together and some very uneven ties emerged which resulted in ludicrous results such as 20-0, 35-0 and the infamous 36-0 which our friends down the road still bang on about.

So how did the system change? The SFL league structure started in 1891 and with the existence of various other regional leagues by that time a pecking order of the more powerful clubs could be established. Those more powerful clubs went straight into the first round of the Scottish Cup whereas the rest who wanted to compete went into what started off as the second tier which was known as the Scottish Cup Preliminary Rounds, and that included us. A variable number emerged from those Preliminary rounds to join the elite/SFL clubs in the first round proper of the Scottish Cup. In the first season of the Preliminary rounds, 1891/2 17 teams qualified, 16 qualified in 1892/3, 16 from 1893/4 and 16 from 1894/5 – and no, I don’t yet know why the number varied.

The above paragraph answers the question of why our Scottish Cup results become somewhat erratic after 1894/5. From 1894/5 onwards the Scottish Cup system was changed again but remained a two tier system with the SFL clubs being exempt until the first round proper at which point they were joined by what looks like a variable number from the second tier which was then (and still is) called the Scottish Qualifying Cup. That explains why there are no more results for Montrose from the Scottish Cup until the 1921/2 season when we qualified for the first round proper by winning the Scottish Qualifying Cup for the one and only time. By 1923 we were elected into the new Third Division of the SFL but that did not give us automatic qualification to the first round proper and we still had to go through the Qualifying Cup but at least we didn’t have to win it to qualify, we only had to reach a certain round which was usually the fourth or fifth. I haven’t yet established how that worked but that must have been the case because in the mid 1920’s we were knocked out of the Qualifying Cup in the later rounds yet still also competed in the first round proper of the Scottish Cup. All a bit hard to understand at the moment, but from 1923 until 1955 we were in and out of the SFL three times and so our participation in the first round proper of the Scottish Cup was not always the case.

What all this has made clear to me is that we needed a complete record of not only our Scottish Cup results, which are already in The Journey so far but we also needed a complete record of all of our Preliminary and Qualifying Cup results as well to complete our full Scottish Cup system database.

W ell, I’m pleased to tell you I now have all those results so all will be revealed in a further update soon when I’ve had a breather to collate it all into some semblance of order. Quite honestly I continue to be staggered by the amount of history this football club of ours has and every time I think I’ve bottomed it out there is another avenue to go down and explore. At least we’re getting there!

Steve Doyle (Sassmo)

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