It’s all a bit quiet of late isn’t it? After the drama of last weekend with the time-keeping in the Manchester derby vociferously questioned in certain quarters following on from the previous controversy surrounding Manchester City’s clash with Arsenal, or rather Adebayor’s clashes with Van Persie and the Gunners’ faithful, it seems like football is collectively taking a bit of a breather. A typical Carling Cup week then.
But that’s an interesting thing really, because for me to say that a Carling Cup week of football is a bit like a breather isn’t exactly controversial, given that that’s exactly how it’s treated by many Premier League managers. It’s the one competition that no one is ever really disappointed about being knocked out of, the one from which elimination is actually a ‘good thing’ because it “allows us to concentrate on the league”. But that’s rubbish really isn’t it?
Well I don’t know really. To be perfectly honest I would like Everton to go on and win the Carling Cup, but I wouldn’t be overly bothered if we got knocked out of it. For a fan then, it’s a sort of win-win situation: if come the end of the season we have the League Cup added to our trophy cabinet then I can be pretty chuffed and say “look, some silverware!” which is a great feeling. If not though, I can easily just turn around and say “ah well, I’m not bothered, it’s only the Mickey Mouse Cup”, and mock the fans of the team that did win that they’ve earned some worthless silverware.
And that all seems a bit wrong to me. Shouldn’t a competition like this actually mean something? And given that it doesn’t seem to mean anything, should it even continue to take place? I know that there are plenty of managers out there who, at least publicly, have suggested that they’d be happy to see the competition disbanded and removed from what is continually bemoaned as an overloaded footballing calendar.
Secretly though, I think many of those managers don’t really want to see the League Cup scrapped. After all, for the sixteen clubs that aren’t the ‘big four’ it has been, for many seasons now, the one trophy that from the outset you feel like you have a chance of winning. Because we know that the ‘big four’ (perhaps Chelsea aside) will almost always play youth or ‘B’ teams in the competition, it makes it far more winnable that the coveted FA Cup or the Premier League title which I’ve never had the audacity to assume Everton could win.
So shouldn’t we as fans value that? It gives us the hope of success in an age of modern football where a large percentage of us have rarely and will rarely experience it. My greatest footballing memory at present is when Everton won the FA Cup in 1995. I was five years old and we could only get two tickets so I watched it on TV and when we scored me and my twin brother ran out through the patio doors squealing with delight and ran around the garden a few times. It was brilliant.
Last season, Everton again made the final of the FA Cup and when Louis Saha scored inside about 0.3 seconds I leapt out of the seat that I hadn’t yet properly settle into and almost tore a hamstring with the veracity of my celebration, shouting so loudly that when Chelsea went and ruined my day I didn’t have a voice left to swear with and so I punched the arm of the sofa so hard that I had difficulty taking notes when I returned to lectures on Monday.
For those minutes when Everton were ahead and I felt that we were reaching out towards that iconic trophy I was as excited as I’ve ever been. Imagine if we’d have won! I literally would have been smiling for a week I think, I’d probably have smiled so much that I’d eventually exhaust the muscles in my face and have to peg them back a bit to give them a break. The ability to experience that sport of joy from a Cup competition is surely a good thing (even if questions do need to be asked about the level of obsession I possess).
So why don’t we feel the same way about the Carling Cup? I mean, yeah, it doesn’t really have the same sort of history as the FA Cup and it’s only open to the 92 League clubs and so the potential for Havant & Waterlooville to do a spot of giant killing isn’t there, but the clubs from League Two and League One often give it a damn good go. And it’s a trophy at the end of the day. Winning a knockout competition involving 92 teams is no mean feat either, because unlike a League campaign you have a limited window to prove your quality – it’s all about pressure in a way.
So why do we shun the League Cup? Well, I guess in a way it is seen as a poor man’s FA Cup. But the FA Cup doesn’t mean a great deal in one sense anyway – the best team in the country are not the FA Cup winners, they’re the Premier League winners. The FA Cup just adds a different and exciting format to our beautiful game, and don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant and I adore it. I suppose, the League Cup is the younger brother – it’s just not as special the second time around. But that’s no reason, as far as I’m concerned, to treat it as we do.
And in fact, I think the reason we shun it is largely because of the ‘big four’, and their changing attitudes towards it. With so much importance now placed on the Champions League and the massive revenue and prestige that it brings, the ‘big’ clubs now focus all of their efforts between that and the Premier League which has to remain their bread and butter. Of course they’ll also spare a relatively string squad for the FA Cup when pushed, but another cup. I can almost see Wenger or Ferguson heaving a great sigh as they quickly scribble down a line up for a third round tie away at Grimsby.
They regard the Carling Cup as the least of their priorities and that is, in many ways, fair enough. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should does it? Of course, knowing that you won’t necessarily be playing against the ‘real’ Arsenal or Man Utd does devalue the competition slightly, but af the end of the day you can only beat whatever team walks out of the tunnel and so it’s nothing to do with you if they deem themselves too good to take it seriously. It’s almost like the ‘big four’ have become the cool kids in the school playground, and the Carling Cup is algebra – it’s cool to not take it seriously.
But that’s bollocks I’m afraid. If they don’t want to win it, fine, great in fact, that means that we actually stand a chance because we don’t have to compete against clubs who spend more on the goldfish in the chairman’s office than we do on players. In fact, we could even re-name it as The Real-Football League Cup, and ban Champions League clubs from it entirely, seeing as they’re increasingly playing Fantasy Football these days any way. At the end of the day, if Everton win the League Cup I’ll be chuffed, and that’s a good thing.
So I think that we should try and recover some respectability for the Carling Cup. Sure, it will never challenge the FA Cup for ‘cup supremacy’ but it’s a route into Europe, it’s a title and it’s a big shiny trophy. At the end of the day, football is a competitive sport and we all want our clubs to win as much as possible, so we should stop fooling ourselves and admit that we want to take it seriously, and that having the Carling Cup in our trophy cabinets is far better than having nothing at all in them.
So who wants to win the Carling Cup? Well in fact, I do. I hope you’ll all join me in that and we can begin to add some spice and desire back into this increasingly forlorn competition. If you don’t well, that’s OK too, everyone can just continue fielding weakened sides and Everton can keep beating them all 4-0, before adding a nice shiny trophy to our collection. That’d be fine by me.
Have your say:
So what do you think? Are you too cool for the Carling Cup or are you willing to embrace the secret, repressed desire to win it? Please leave me your thoughts in a comment below…