It’s been a competition derided by many, looked down upon by those who follow clubs in the top flight of Scottish football.
But today Hibs star Callum Booth claimed those who have been all too happy to knock the Challenge Cup will think again after seeing the Easter Road side pitched against Rangers.
Alan Stubbs’ players, however, will have to wait until another day for their trip to Ibrox, the Glasgow ground’s utilisation as one of this summer’s venues for the Commonwealth Games ruling out the initial date of July 26 when all the other first-round protagonists will be in action.
Nevertheless, Booth believes having two of the Championship’s “big three” going head-to-head can only help enhance the image of a competition now known as the Petrofac Training Cup following a sponsorship deal.
And as a winner of last season’s cup when Raith Rovers’ dramatically defeated Rangers in extra-time in a final staged at Easter Road, 23-year-old Booth believes there’s no reason why he can’t anticipate another triumph over Ally McCoist’s side.
Back in Edinburgh after two seasons on loan initially at Livingston and then in Kirkcaldy after Stubbs’ predecessor Pat Fenlon cast him into the wilderness, Booth said: “I’m sure there are people who are dismissive of the Challenge Cup. But just look at last season, Easter Road was packed out, Rangers sold all their tickets and could probably have taken more, while Raith fans probably had their best day out since the Coca-Cola Cup win over Celtic 20 years ago.
“The game was live on television, the build-up was like any other cup final, with Rangers just as determined to win as Raith – they weren’t taking it lightly at all. I think when you get to the quarter-finals or semis then there’s a real interest, all anyone talks about is winning it.
“Winning was brilliant, the highlight of my career so far, but I’m sure everyone will be talking about it right now, never mind the latter stages, because Hibs and Rangers have been drawn together. I’m sure the new sponsors will be absolutely delighted at the thought of having such a game so quickly after they gave it their backing.
“Obviously it means one of us going out early, but as far as I am concerned, if you want to win any cup you have to play the big teams at some point. I’m sure the boys will look forward to it although we don’t know when the game is going to be. I’d imagine, though, that it will be midweek under the floodlights which always adds to the occasion.”
Having spent two years away from Hibs, Booth, naturally, is anxious to get what will be the final year of his current contract up and running, admitting he’s returned to a much-changed group of players at East Mains training centre where, following the shock of relegation, new head coach Stubbs has been left with only 14 first-teamers following the departure this week of Ryan McGivern.
However, he is confident Stubbs will be quickly adding to that number. “I’ve settled back in well, I know the likes of Paul Hanlon, Lewis Stevenson, Jordon Forster, Danny Handling, Sam Stanton; it was only the older boys such as Paul Heffernan, Michael Nelson, Liam Craig, Scott Robertson and Owain Tudur Jones I hadn’t met before.
“But we’ve all been working hard in pre-season training, Some of the boys have said it’s the hardest they’ve had. I’m only 23 and so haven’t had too many of them, but it is up there with the previous ones – you can see me hobbling up steps! Hopefully we’ll be looking back in a couple of months’ time saying it was all worth it.”
While all the players Stubbs inherited are anxious to impress their new gaffer, Booth admitted his enforced absence had given him an added determination, saying: “Every season is a big one but for me it’s the last year of my contract and I hope to get the chance to show what I can do. I can’t take anything for granted but maybe I am that little bit more motivated.”
There is the danger, of course, that having emerged from the under-19 side which won a League and Cup double, the fans’ expectations of Booth may prove a touch unrealistic but, he insisted, he’s returned as a vastly more experienced player, one with almost 150 first-team appearances to his name.
He said: “I don’t know what the fans will expect from me, all I can do is go out and play to the best of my ability. I feel a lot more experienced both on and off the pitch, a lot more settled in myself. I had spells on loan at Arbroath and Brechin, came into the first team at Hibs and then I’ve been out on loan for two seasons.
“Obviously things haven’t gone too well at the club while I’ve been away. All I can do is look to the future and hopefully play my part in taking us back up as quickly as possible.
“We’re maybe a bit short in numbers, but I’m sure the gaffer will be bringing plenty of new players in over the course of the next couple of weeks.”
Petrofac Training Cup first-round draw
North Section: Arbroath v Alloa Athletic; East Fife v Forfar Athletic; Montrose v Peterhead; Elgin City v Stirling Albion; Dunfermline Athletic v Raith Rovers; Cowdenbeath v Brechin City; East Stirlingshire v Falkirk; Brora Rangers v Stenhousemuir.
South Section: Queen’s Park v Berwick Rangers; Rangers v Hibs; Stranraer v Dumbarton; Heart of Midlothian v Annan Athletic; Airdrieonians v Albion Rovers; Queen of the South v Livingston; Morton v Spartans; Clyde v Ayr United.