In Celebration of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy
As attention in the national media is increasingly dragged towards the top flight and the Champions League, domestic cup competitions seem to be seen as an afterthought. Already this season, I have felt the need to write a vehement defence of both the FA Cup and the League Cup. Charlie Johnson goes one step further…
Make a list of all the trophies that you can win in English football with the most prestigious at the top and you can be certain that the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy will come pretty close to the bottom. Along with, perhaps, the North East Derbyshire schools with low footballing ability contest, the Women’s Institute five-a-side trophy and, of course, the Carling Cup. However, every season that Huddersfield Town languish in League One, it is always second on my wish list for a forthcoming season ahead of an FA Cup run or winning Best Family Club at the Football League Awards.
For me, winning the trophy symbolises growth at your club. A determination to win every game. Proof that you can compete with any of the teams at your level and keep your nerve into the far reaches of a cup competition. For the teams of the lower divisions, so often ignored during the season by the mainstream media – apart from on FA Cup third round day when lower league footballers are spoken of as if they walk around on all fours and have little to no experience of kicking a football – it is a chance to shine, an opportunity to enter a competition you actually have a chance of winning.
Despite this, very few teams seem to take it very seriously in the early stages, and fans hardly turn up in their thousands with most only going out of a sense of blind loyalty or because the club have given away tickets for free with a copy of the Beano. However, there won’t have been a Huddersfield Town fan who wasn’t on the edge of their seat when Alan Lee scored the third goal in the second leg against Carlisle, who had destroyed us 4-0 in the first. With the most unlikely comeback on the cards, I for one was sat with all fingers crossed hoping for us to complete the miracle turnaround.
This game took place in a competition that many will consider to be about as important as a pre-season friendly. At semi-final stage, though, it is no longer an inconvenience but an actual shot at a trip to Wembley. Add to that a chance to contribute some silverware to a trophy cabinet that has hardly been bothered since the 1920’s, and it was little wonder we were all hoping for that rarest of beasts, the never-spotted Alan Lee hat-trick.
Alas it wasn’t to be and Carlisle’s blushes were spared. I was delighted to see them win the trophy after so often being the also-rans of the competition, and especially after they were thrashed by Southampton in the final last year. It is a trophy that gains greater significance at final stage, after teams have lumbered through the first few rounds, fielding players that not even their agents have heard of. When it reaches the final, it is a true chance to put your team on the map and show the football world that your side are on the up.
A look at the winners of the trophy in recent years will verify this viewpoint, with Premier League teams like Stoke, Blackpool and Wigan all winning the JPT in the last decade and Swansea and Southampton also having their names on the cup. 40,000 attended Wembley for the final, an impressive statistic considering the relative size of both clubs, and although nothing compared to the 70,000+ who saw Southampton win the trophy last year, it is still an incredible turnout for one of football’s lesser competitions.
It seems that everything about the contest is a little low-rent, particularly the name of the competition. I say this with all due respect to Johnstone’s Paint and its predecessors LDV Vans and Auto Windscreens, although I don’t suppose it’s any worse than being named after an awful lager or being sponsored by a morally corrupt bank.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a competition that teams should genuinely go all out to win, as a day out at Wembley and a chance to win some silverware is ultimately what football in this country is all about. Perhaps most significantly, it cannot be won by a Premier League club. The more glory that lower league clubs can achieve, the better.