In defence of the League Cup
One of the many, many solutions mooted as part of the master plan to revive English football in the aftermath of Fabio Capello’s failure to bring home the World Cup this summer was, not for the first time, the abolition of the League Cup. What a terrible shame that would be.
It is tempting to stick the knife into the England squad. We could quote salaries. We could quote results. We could get rather carried away with that particular approach with ease.
After all, it must really be a drain on poor, precious £80,000-a-week midfielders to have to do a bit of legwork in a routine home victory over unworthy lower-league opposition once or twice a year. Extremely tempting.
The real story of the League Cup arrives a long way before two of the big four or five slug it out half-heartedly at Wembley in springtime. The real story lies in Morecambe and in Bradford and in Southend and in Crewe.
This evening, those four League Two clubs have accounted, respectively, for Coventry City, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Derby County. Now they each have their sights on a meeting with one of the big boys in the next round.
It is not just the chance of a giant-killing that generates excitement among supporters of lower-league clubs. Domestic cup competitions also give fans the chance to showcase their often incredible displays of support in a more prominent arena.
On Monday evening, the majority of viewers tuning in to watch Championship side Portsmouth’s trip to Stevenage would have expected to see John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood in action. To be crystal clear, the bloke with the bell.
What they might not have expected was the non-stop noise generated by the admirably enthusiastic home fans. It was an effort that deserved the platform of Sky television and acclaim from the national media.
League Two can be a bit of a grind. There usually is not a great deal of attractive football on show and the names are not the most glamorous for the most part. A host of big clubs have found themselves in League One in recent years but none have made it quite so far down the league ladder as the fourth tier yet.
The League Cup often acts as a welcome distraction, even in defeat. Honourable loss in the face of adversity can feel more heart-warming than a run-of-the-mill victory in an unremarkable league game. At the Walkers Stadium this evening, loyal Macclesfield Town supporters warmly applauded their players off the pitch after a battling 4-3 defeat against a side assembled for millions.
Leicester City have just added the impressive Moreno, from Portuguese top flight outfit Vitoria Guimaraes, to their ranks and he made a fine debut against the Silkmen. His coolness in possession and effortless distribution is something Macclesfield fans cannot reasonably expect to see from their own players on a regular basis.
However, the visitors gave Leicester a real fright with some excellent periods of play which genuinely troubled their Championship hosts. The hardy fans that had travelled from Cheshire were certainly appreciative and a section of the away end was vocal throughout the game.
Ask supporters of Morecambe, Bradford, Southend and Crewe this evening whether they would abolish the League Cup. Ask supporters of Northampton, who knocked out League One side Brighton after a dismal opening day defeat at Torquay.
Or Port Vale, who saw off Neil Warnock’s QPR. Or Rochdale, who went to Barnsley and won. Or Oxford, who put six past Bristol Rovers of League One. Or even Macclesfield.
Maybe some would say yes, but the smart money would say most probably agree that the League Cup should be cherished and maintained in the face of any threatened cutbacks. It matters little who actually wins the thing in the end. The stories along the way are what really matter.