Sunday, 6 March 2011

Why the League Cup still holds importance in the English game

Sunday the 27th of February. A day that Birmingham City fans will never forget. Arguably it was the proudest day of the club’s history. It was the day that Birmingham City defied all the odds by winning the their first major trophy since 1963, by beating Arsenal. The League Cup now belongs to Birmingham City.

But, some people believe the magic and beauty which made the English domestic cups so popular has gone. I see where there coming from. As some teams field weakened sides in the Cup’s in order to focus on their league campaigns. There is no denying this fact. But that doesn’t mean teams are not interested or bothered in winning the FA Cup or even the League Cup. Just ask the Birmingham City fans. There is still a little bit of magic left in our domestic cups.

The 2011 League Cup final proved two things to me. Firstly, it showed how much winning the competition meant to Birmingham city. Critics of the competition argue the League Cup doesn’t hold any significance in the modern game anymore. But they are clearly were wrong. Birmingham’s triumph proved this, the scenes at the end of the game were euphoric. The celebrations and beaming smiles of the Birmingham fans, players and staff was quite inspiring. Most footballing fans felt a collective joy and happiness for Birmingham. Now, are you telling me League Cup doesn’t hold any significance anymore? If that critique is still believed it’s a hell of a damning view on Birmingham’s fantastic achievements.

Something else I picked up from the 2011 League Cup final was how much the defeat meant to the Arsenal players. Of course, the critics argue the League Cup is a competition that the big clubs don’t even care about. But the reactions of the Arsenal players at the end of the game tell a totally different story. The Arsenal players were shocked, hurt and even tearful after the game. The Gunners were craving to end their trophy drought. And the League Cup final gave them a fantastic opportunity to reopen their trophy cabinet. The reactions of the Arsenal players suggest one thing. They seriously cared about the League Cup. They wouldn’t have responded in such an emotive way if they didn’t have any aspirations to win the trophy.

The magic hasn’t just suddenly appeared in the final of the 2011 League Cup. It’s been apparent throughout the previous rounds. Take the third round tie between the League Two side Northampton and Liverpool at Anfield. Northampton gave it their all and matched Liverpool right to the wire. The league two side ended up embarrassing the Premier League side by winning on penalties. The fact the might of Liverpool were beaten demonstrates the beauty of our cup competitions. This is simply because Liverpool had no right to lose that game. The odds were heavily stacked against Northampton. The most beautiful aspect for Northampton was winning at Anfield. I don’t think the Northampton fans and players will ever forget that night at Anfield. But the critics argue Liverpool fielded a ‘weakened side.’ They did, no one can reject that claim. But Liverpool fielded 5 internationals. In fact three even played in the last World Cup. So there was enough quality out there to beat a struggling League Two side. And if you ask any Liverpool fan or players, they would seriously be content with a good League Cup run. Furthermore, history will tell you, Liverpool have a brilliant relationship with the League Cup. As they are the record holders with 7 League Cups to their name. So arguing the point the club doesn’t care about the League Cup is invalid.

There is the argument that a problem with the League Cup is that all the big teams are continuously wining it. It’s a valid point one has to say. But it has been like that for decades. During the 80’s, Liverpool won the League Cup four times in a row (81 -84.) Doesn’t this prove that even in the 80’s when the League Cup was taken with great seriousness, it was still being continuously won by the best teams? So the point of the League Cup being dominated by the bigger sides doesn’t mean that the cup has lost its magic or appeal. The fact it’s happened for decades suggests it’s the mere nature of the cup to be won by the elite English teams. Take Manchester United. Before being knocked out in this season’s League Cup, they won the cup twice in a row. See the similarities between the 80’s and today’s League Cup?

There is the common assertion that the teams participating in the European competitions couldn’t careless about the League Cup. This is completely wrong. Obviously, they would put their European success over the League Cup. But the English sides playing in Europe do care about the League Cup. As I’ve mentioned before, Manchester United were demolished by relegation candidates West Ham United in the fourth round this season. Again, people will say ‘United played a second team.’ But I’m sure the United fans, players and staff were deeply embarrassed to be smashed by four goals. Especially as Manchester United are a massive club, who are aspiring to win a record 19th Premier League title. Some may feel Man United ‘have no real interest’ in the League Cup, but that would be a huge dis-service to the values of the club and the fans. The club is about winning. Every trophy is a winnable trophy and is a trophy which is cherished.

Birmingham’s League Cup triumph symbolises the importance of the League Cup in the English game. Both teams showed a passion and desire to earn their club a valuable piece of silverware. The League Cup is constantly ambushed with criticisms. But the competition still provides some of the best footballing stories and folklore.

There is something that all football fans love. The underdog triumphing. And time after time, the League Cup offers this spectacle to the football world.

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