* Prices may differ from that shown
I am a man who loves his football. I can sit and admire the brilliance of Manchester United or Arsenal, backed by Sky and their magnificent television coverage. But above all, I love the real thing. It gets no more real than the League Cup. A competition that many big clubs will only field reserve teams in. A competition with limited television coverage. A competition sponsored by the beer Worthingtons. Leading to it being called the Worthless Cup by the cynics. It is, however, for the less fashionable clubs, a possible route to wealth. The winners of the competition qualify for a potentially lucrative place in the UEFA Cup. My own team, Stockport County, defeated no fewer than 4 Premiership sides before being knocked out in a controversial semi-final in 1997. The income generated from that extraordinary run was huge for a business surviving on meagre crowds of around 7,000. For me as a fan, it was a fabulous 6 month adventure to heights beyond my wildest dreams. Sheffield United, Blackburn, West Ham, Southampton and a very lucky David Elleray assisted Middlesbrough may recall that run! There is nothing better than being there. The real thing. No messing about with action replays. No opportunity to judge the offside from 4 different angles. Just raw pride, passion, despair, and joy. My stepson is an ardent Oldham Athletic fan. A team so comfortably entrenched in Division Two, far beneath the heady heights of Premiership riches. He persuaded me to leave the armchair last Wednesday night and make the treacherous journey across the Peak District to Derby. A town boasting an impressive new stadium in the guise of Pride Park. Replacing the atrocious hovel of The Baseball Ground (where, some 10 years ago, I was forced to stand in an overcrowded paddock full of urine, three feet below pitch level, watching the socks of my heroes lose in the last minute of an FA Cup tie). As I was accompanied by 2 Oldha
m supporters, I thought it wise to throw away my own partisan prejudice and follow the Latics (Oldham, to the uninitiated) on a mild October evening. This is the second round of the Worthington Cup. Derby County, by Oldham standards, are giants. Freshly relegated from the Premiership, their squad boasts international stars such as Ravanelli and Barton. It is a game that, on paper at least, the minnows of Oldham should not win. The people of Derby obviously feel it is a walkover. They do not bother turning out. A crowd of marginally over 9,000, perhaps 2,500 from Lancashire, leaves the stadium three quarters empty. The Oldham fans behind the goal produce most of the noise throughout the game. Clearly, for Oldham supporters, this game has significance. Almost half their home crowd has travelled. Now, the match report I am going to give you will not name many names. Sat in a stand watching my first Oldham Athletic match, and knowing little about the Derby County team, I am unable to tell you who passed to whom in a flowing move. I can only try to recreate the moment from my own perspective and knowledge. Kick off came, and the early pressure came from Oldham without seriously threatening to score. The Oldham fans sang relentlessly, with only occasional response from the Derby faithful. Then, seventeen minutes in, a Derby striker burst in to the penalty area. He left the Oldham defender for pace and then inexplicably fell over in the box. Immediately, the linesman indicated a foul, suggesting a tug of the shirt had felled the striker. The referee pointed calmly to the penalty spot. Thoughts of Oldham being the giant killers quickly dispersed as the reality of the likely outcome hit home. No replays. This is real football where you only get one look at it. From where I was sat, there was no tug of the shirt. But the linesman was perfectly placed to make the call and there were few arguments. Former Manchester
Unite d reserve Darren Higginbottom calmly slotted home the penalty and thoughts of the inevitable defeat sank in. But they sang. Those Oldham fans responded to despair with positive singing. They had travelled across some of the trickier A roads that England can offer to enjoy the evening and support their team. And sooner than they expected, they got their reward. Just seconds from the restart, the ball moved from the right side of the pitch across the edge of the Derby penalty area. A gaping hole seemed to open up in the Derby goal with Latvian international keep Mark Poom seemingly well out of position. The ball fell kindly to David Eyres. 38 years old, but still full of fitness and with one of the sweetest left feet football has. It was same left foot that had me in tears 8 years earlier, when it gave Burnley an equaliser at Wembley in a play-off final against Stockport. Another match tarnished by Elleray. Tonight, it struck sweetly again, straight in to the bottom left hand corner with Poom nowhere near it. 1 goal apiece after 18 minutes play and, despite Oldham defenders offering Derby every encouragement to head for goal, Derby could not muster a worthwhile effort before half time. Indeed, it was Oldham in the form of a Dutchman who went closest. Clyde Wijnhard. Once of Huddersfield Town. More recently, suffering life threatening injuries in a motor accident. Back in professional football at Oldham and scoring for fun. He spun away from the last defender, sprinting in to the box with the ball at his feet. A man in form. He must score. The shot was hit low, hard, and on target. But Poom dives to his left and comfortably pushes the ball round the post. A great chance and a great save. The second half follows a similar trend for the first twenty five minutes, with chances at either end, none of them particularly menacing. The managers make occasional substitutions. Derby, managed by John G
regory (a man who captained Aston Villa to European Cup glory) and Oldham led form the touchline by former Northern Ireland striker Iain Dowie. My best memory of Dowie was in the Stockport League Cup run of 1996/7, when, as a West Ham player, he headed a magnificent own goal to set Stockport on the way to a memorable victory. This is his first season as a football manager, and in only his second month, he has won a Manager Of The Month award. With around 20 minutes left things start to change. A relatively well-balanced game swings dramatically to Derby. They hammer away at the Oldham goal. Shots cleared off the line. Scrambles in the six-yard box. And four exceptional saves from the Oldham second choice goalkeeper David Miskely. Oldham looks dead and buried, but limp to full time all square. So, extra time it is. Both sides have now used up all their substitutes. 30 minutes of football to go. The possibilities of a penalty shoot out as well. But, based on the last twenty minutes of normal time, it is Derby who looks like winning. The short break of just 5 minutes seems to have aided Oldham. They have a better shape and suddenly look capable of getting the ball out of their own half. Even to the point of forcing corners! From one, the ball floated in to the heart of the penalty area and another of those incidents happened. I thought it was a push. But perhaps there was a hand too? My stepson swears it was handball. The next day newspaper clearly says push. We will probably never know the truth. But, it is a penalty to Oldham. The underdogs have a chance to take the lead against the might of Derby County. Wijnhard is given the job. Poom is booked for arguing over the decision. I am not aware of a single case in footballing history where a referee has changed his mind as the result of a goalkeeper arguing. The distraction obviously helped Wijnhard who sent Poom the wrong way and the Oldham fans in to raptures.
2-1 up . 26 minutes to hang on. You would have expected Derby to dominate, but to be honest; they seemed to be unable to create much. On the stroke of the half time break in extra time, Poom came out of his area to claim a ball with his hands. Two yards outside the area no less! I was in line with it. The referee knows the rules. Deliberate handball is a yellow card offence. Added to the pointless booking just a few minutes earlier, Poom has to go. Red card. Oldham has a goal advantage and a one-man advantage. And Derby cannot bring on a substitute goalkeeper, as they have already used the 3 additional men the rules allow. It looks good for Oldham. And they cling on. A glorious display of hard work, triumphing over the highly paid men from Derbyshire who, when they needed to be, were just not up to the task. In the great scheme of things, this may not rank as one of the great footballing moments. To a fifteen year old at his first away match, this was a marvel as good as England beating Argentina. A penalty was decisive that day too. But he was actually at Pride Park to witness this feat of giant killing. And the pride was in the visitors. For me, it was a reminder of how good actually being at the match is. A reminder that the referee only has one look at an incident. And probably gets it right on most occasions. And a reminder that the atmosphere within a group of passionate football supporters is unsurpassed by any night on the sofa with a can of lager watching the Champions League. The League Cup may not be important to Manchester United. But it is important to football. It is important in giving hope and excitement to the likes of Oldham or Stockport. Or European football to Blackburn Rovers. Long may the competition continue. And long may the small town clubs survive and occasionally prosper.
I've never understood the vitriolic attacks on the 'worth' of the Worthington Cup. What I do understand is that some of the arguments against the value of this competition are incredibly short-sighted. The phrase 'can't see the wood for the trees' springs to mind. An argument which crops up again and again is that the competition is poor because the top teams don't enter their first choice 11. The likes of Manchester United and Arsenal routinely send out their youngsters, get soundly beaten by lower division opponents and then trudge home whingeing about the value of the competition. This is the key point. THE ONLY CLUBS WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE COMPETITION ARE THE ONES WHICH ACTIVELY DEVALUE IT BY SENDING OUT INFERIOR TEAMS! The Worthington Cup is only deemed a 'worthless' competition by those who conspire to make it such. The other clubs making up the rest of the Football League don't complain. And why should they? Just as the FA Cup is a route into European competition, so is the Worthington Cup. Where is the lack of value in that? That's incentive enough for the majority of the clubs in the League to take the competition seriously. And most of them do. In fact, the only reason I'm writing this article at all is because the few top English clubs who don't want to compete properly have managed to send the media into a typcial frenzy. The 'devalued' competition argument gets all the headlines because clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal have the clout to get the media's attention. As a result, we have the general population up in arms about the value of the Worthington Cup when in actual fact, the majority of teams in the country are of the opinion that it is a perfectly valuable trophy. This is plainly scandalous. I for one look forward to the Worthington Cup next season and especially to seeing my team beat a
reserve side fielded by the Premiership's arrogant elite.
The decline in stature of the League Cup competition is England has been a drawn-out affair, but is none the less sad for that. In the last decade, the top teams in the Premiership have treated the early rounds of this cup as little more than an excuse to give the reserves a run-out in front of a few thousand fans. However, this was not always the case – the early years of the competition may have seen the likes of Rochdale reaching the final, but in the 70s and 80s especially, the League Cup gained a great deal of prestige, due in no small part to the prize of a UEFA Cup place for the winners. My first distinct memory of the League Cup is a sweet one, as I went to Wembley in 1987 to see Arsenal beat the mighty Liverpool in the final. It was the first time that Liverpool had lost a game in which Ian Rush had scored (not that I was aware of that at the time, my Dad filled me in on the important trivia on the way home!), and watching the likes of Charlie Nicholas and Perry Groves beat one of the best teams to grace the top division is one of my earliest and most cherished footballing memories. This season, Arsenal beat Manchester United in the same competition, and although the match was played in front of a large crowd, it featured only a handful of players who had taken part in the Premiership match between the two sides the previous week. Arsenal fielded promising youngsters such as Inamoto, Aliadiere and Pennant and their opponents did the same. While it was undeniably a valuable part of the learning curve for the younger players, I would have felt just a little bit cheated to have laid out top whack for a ticket to this most inviting of fixtures, only to see a collection of fringe players on the pitch. Why does this happen? Manchester United were the first side to start putting out bit-part players, as they fielded a reserve side in a defeat at Port Vale a few years back. The outcry at the time was massive, with calls for them to
be fined or even banned from the competition, but more and more teams do the same each year, and the protests become more and more muted. Even Bolton Wanderers, currently battling against relegation back to the Nationwide League, fielded a second string in their tie with Tottenham, and paid the penalty as Spurs’ experienced team put them to the sword. It seems a shame that a competition that once guaranteed large crowds, even in the early rounds, has lost so much of its glamour. Much of the blame for this can be laid at the door of those responsible for the huge influx of money from satellite TV contracts and the excessive expansion of the Champions League over the past 10 years. The big club sides want to protect their top players from burning out by playing too many games in a season (I could mention here that many non-league sides play 50-60 games a season without complaint, but that would be a wholly different argument), and prefer to concentrate on success in the Premiership, followed by European competition, with even the FA Cup relegated to third place in the list of priorities. The League Cup is no longer seen as a worthwhile exercise, and the whole thing is one huge vicious circle – the clubs rest their star players, the fans stay away, and then the clubs tend to use the low crowds as one more reason for not putting their first XI on display. However, should a club stumble through to the latter stages, then suddenly the competition assumes more importance again – see Liverpool’s (arguably lucky) triumph over Birmingham City last year for proof of this. A derided competition was hailed as the club’s finest hour with videos, t-shirts and all sorts of merchandise released to commemorate the ‘famous’ victory. All this strikes me as being very unfair on the smaller clubs. At least the early rounds have been reduced from two legs to a single match, but perhaps one idea would be to copy the Frenc
h formula. In the French FA Cup, the draw is made as normal, but if the teams are from different divisions, then the lower-league side automatically has home advantage, guaranteeing good gate receipts and increasing the chance of an upset. In this year’s League Cup, Arsenal were paired with Grimsby at Highbury – and only the most insane optimist would have sensed a shock there. Had the match been at Blundell Park, more people would have turned out and it would have been an entirely different proposition, and for supporters of lower division sides, a heavy defeat by a top club is no disgrace, but turning out to watch someone else’s reserves borders on the humiliating. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy on the part of the bigger clubs – they refuse point blank to take the competition seriously until it suits them, and then just roll out the superstars if the youngsters do well enough to get the club to the semi-final stage. They might ‘only’ be playing the likes of Hartlepool or Luton in the early stages, but in many ways Arsenal, Manchester United and others do the smaller clubs a great disservice. This is an opportunity for them to bring some money into circulation in the lower reaches of professional football, but instead they prefer to concentrate their attentions elsewhere and treat the League Cup as little more than an annoying diversion. This probably all sounds very altruistic, but I see no reason why the League Cup competition can not continue and prosper – but only if the prize of a UEFA Cup place is retained for the winners. However, UEFA’s proposed reconstruction of this competition threatens the very existence of the League Cup, as more European games mean less midweek dates to shuffle around and fit cup games in. Many people in the media sneer at the League Cup, making easy capital of it being a worthless competition, but if clubs approached the competition in the proper spirit (and perha
ps if the French model explained above was to be followed), then there is every reason to retain this competition as a valued part of the footballing calendar.
The Worthington cup this year will be one by one of these four teams: Tottenham Hotspurs, Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers or Sheffield Wednesday. I feel all three of these teams have a good chance of winning the cup but personally I feel Chelsea have the best chance. The two semi-finals are Blackburn playing Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham are playing Chelsea, the games consist of two legs, one to be played at the home venue and one to be played at the away venue. Here is what I think each teams chances are in this cup and the results so far between these teams from the first leg. Sheffield Wednesday I feel they are the outsiders with a slim chance to win against Blackburn because they lost the first leg at home 2-1 but you never know their could be an upset. I feel even if they get through against Blackburn they will not win the final against whoever wins the other game. They are outsiders because they are in the first division struggling and the other three teams left are in the Premiership. Blackburn Rovers I personally feel they should easily beat Sheffield Wednesday because they are the Premiership team and have the upper hand from the first leg. Blackburn have a good chance of winning this cup if they get through to the final because they have already matched both Tottenham and Chelsea like for like when they have played them in the Premiership. Tottenham Hotspurs I feel Tottenham will not make it through to the final because of this 12 year period where they haven’t beaten Chelsea is hanging over them and they will not be able to cope with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, if Hasselbaink is playing Tottenham will not get through to the final but if he is not playing then they will probably make it through to the final. If they do get into the final and play Blackburn then they will probably get beat, but if they get through and Sheffield Wednesday get through then I feel Tottenham will be league
cup holders 2002 Chelsea Beat Tottenham 2-1 in the first leg at home but now face a tough game at Tottenham to get through to the final. I feel they will make it to the final and win the competition if there are no major injuries for the game against Tottenham. They will face either Blackburn or Sheffield Wednesday if they get to the final and that shouldn’t be a problem beating either of these teams. So overall I feel Chelsea will win the Worthington cup and get into Europe if everything runs smoothly.
The Worthington Cup aka the Worthless Cup. Why? The reward isn't big enough. Now that sounds a bit silly because the reward for winning the Worthington is an early passage into Europe, qualification for the UEFA Cup. I must admit the UEFA Cup has been devalued by the massive success of the Champions League. Every club wants to qualify for Europes' premier competition as it generates mega bucks for it's competitors. Aparently, I don't know if it's totaly true, but for each point the club gain in the Champions League the club will receive approximatly £250,000. If a club won the UEFA Cup they recieve £2million. That is after playing 7 Rounds of the competition. When you compare this to the Champions League the club only have to win 3 games out of the 6 group games to receive £2.25million. Because the prize for winning the Worthington Cup isn't good enough for some clubs eg. Arsenal and Manchester United they further devalue the competition by fielding weaker teams. But why shouldn't they? These two teams are more or less gauranted Champions League football by how well they perform in the Premier League. What the Worthington Cup needs is a bit of spicing up. Maybe the organisors could gaurantee that the winners qualify for the Champions League, I don't think this idea will be too popular as it means a Lower League team could potentally represent England in the Champions League. Maybe the organisors can give the winning team more money for winng the competition, but at the end of the day this would be down to the sponsors. Or finally and in my opinion the best option, the organisors should invite all the Scottish League clubs to compete. Rangers and Celtic had said that they want to compete in the English League so it will suit them plus it means the quality of football will raise as more teams will take the competition more seriously.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO The league cup, currently under the name of drink sponsors Worthington has come under heavy criticism in recent years. Some see it as a useful backdoor into Europe, and can add some silverware to the trophy cabinet of a manager under pressure, while others say it adds too many games to an already busy calendar and see it as a waste of time. Here is my view of both sides and my eventual decision. THE CASE FOR: The league cup can bring two main benefits to clubs, depending on how ambitious the clubs are. Top teams that may not be in the challenging for an automatic play in Europe like a Tottenham or an Ipswich the league cup can be a useful backdoor into Europe. It also offers a reasonable trophy that will look nice in a clubs new cabinet, so a manager under pressure a chance to win the league cup. It adds a bit of glory and a chance for a celebration, a cheap, but effective way to take off the pressure. The other main benefit for clubs down the other end of the league spectrum is the money that can be brought in for a decent run in the league cup. Each game can bring in a decent fund raiser for the tickets sales and all the programs, pies and pasties sold. A lucky run of three home games in a row can be very useful with all the prize money included. As an Exeter fan I have a good interest in this, many clubs down there do need the money to keep the administrators away for another week. Money can be very useful at this level, and the league cup can provide a good source of this income. Around £80 million is used as part of live TV games, prize money and other stuff, all for clubs in the league and not even clubs at the very top will say no to a bit of extra money. For the argument that sides field weakened teams, it is hard to deny that people do put out poorer sides in the games, but this is an over represented fact. Paul Scholes is famous for refusing to play earlier this year, but all the
top sides reserve team are still very good. There is always a selection of first team players on show, with a few of the reserves and out of favor players getting a look in when they are still very good players. Youngsters at clubs can also get a great chance to play a meaningful game. The stars of tomorrow can get a game, and improve themselves as players. I have very little sympathy for players who say they play too often. Maybe I do not play to quite the same level as the Premiership players, but I would be willing to play at least four games a week. They are paid more than well enough, this is a stupid amount of money that some get. This should give the managers and effectively the public who are playing their wages through gate money and merchandising. A football career is only short, so should get maximum value from that. Physical fitness should not b a real consideration, for the money they get, I would expect a dedicated attitude to the game, with great training, while not going drinking on a Thursday night before a game (like Sean ’14 pints’ McCarthy, Exeter City). It is not a big demand, a very small price to pay for the professionals. THE CASE AGAINST: So many managers take the league cup as a joke, that it devalues the competition. Manchester United with Alex Ferguson and Arsenal with Arsene Wenger and the two main culprits, but many top teams will field weak sides in this competition. Even if it does give the youngsters a run out they are playing against other young teams, so does not give them the big match experience that they need to move on to be better players. It is much better for them to have been introduced to full games in the league and other cups as substitutes or rare starts. This would give them a fuller start, and give them better education in the football world. Look at some of the matches that the league cup has thrown up in recent times. Can you remember any of the games in the earlier
stages last year? In fact how about this year? The finals are never memorable, last years final Liverpool vs Birmingham was a prime example. The lack of non-league opposition reduces the number of potential giant killing acts that the FA Cup can throw up, aside from Grimsby this year there have been relatively few major upsets. The Manchester United vs Arsenal game this year was a fine example of some of the lack of action. I had not heard of many of the players, the game did throw up some goal, but was easily not the games of the past between the two teams over the years. The removal of the two legged system for the first two rounds may have reduced the number of games played, but it now also could hit back on the clubs. With the old system clubs were guaranteed at least two games and one at home, even if they were knocked out in the first round. This could cut it down dramatically the amount of money that clubs can bring in, if they do get put out early. However, even if the league cup can add a few extra games, attendances are generally down. A club that can get 4,000 to a home game in an average league game could only get 2,000 for a league cup game, with people not exactly getting turned on by a poor tie between two low third division teams on a wet and cold Tuesday night. True fans will turn up, and I like to include myself in that, but some people may not. Prize money from the FA Cup is now vastly improved, second round winners will get £30,000 each, and again though there is a good amount of money involved it cannot compete with the league cup. The extra place in the UEFA Cup comes at an expense. As other league in Europe do not have a secondary cup competition the extra place must come from England’s allocation of UEFA Cup places in the league, so one club in the league will miss out due to the league cup. A common complaint of players and managers alike is the number of games played in a season. With the introducti
on of the new format of the champions league with two tiers of league stages clubs can play up to 60 games a season if they are a success. The league cup can add unnecessary games to pros that want to look after their bodies will not be interested to play in a risky game with potential damages. A bad tackle from a division three player can break a top players leg and put him out for the rest of the season. Not a good idea. Of the two-cup competitions the FA Cup is going to take priority. The years of history is going to have a major effect on the lack of publicity for the league cup. Other nations do not have a secondary cup competition. Italy have their Coppa Italia but only one of them, and correct me if I am wrong but Spain, France and Germany arguably three of the strongest leagues in Europe if not the world do not have two cup competitions. MY COMMENTS: The league cup certainly has its merits, as well as its fair share of down sides. I am happy to keep with it, some good games can be thrown up, while my particular interest is the money that lower league clubs can make. Young stars of tomorrow also get their chance, but at the same time it will always be undermined my big clubs fielding under strength teams. Of course you will never be able to live the league cup to the magic of the FA Cup, but to compare these two is unfair.
Well, it was a good idea while it lasted but of recent times the old League Cup competition (is that the Milk Cup, the Worthington Cup, the Twenty Bob Shield or the Eastern District Badge?) has fallen rather more than somewhat into disrepair. The other night's spectacle of the reserves of Arsenal thrashing the youth team of Manchester United 4-0 brought home exactly how little regard the bigger Premiership clubs have for this very jaded old pot. Look at these line ups - Arsenal: Wright, Grimandi, Stepanovs, Tavlaridis, Luzhny, Parlour, van Bronckhorst, Edu, Pennant, Wiltord, Kanu. Subs: Lauren, Taylor, Halls, Inamoto, Ricketts. Man Utd: Carroll, Wallwork, Phil Neville, Roche, O'Shea, Stewart, Chadwick, Djordjic, Yorke, Davis, Webber. Subs: Van Der Gouw, Clegg, Tierney, Nardiello, Tate Arsenal at least made the pretence of opting for this as a first team game, but Sir Alex Ferguson, bruised by his side's battering at Anfield on Sunday kept his big stars strictly under wraps ... I guess that tells Dwight Yorke what he thinks his current status is. This sort of approach has been pretty much standard for Fergie in the last few years, remember even the FA Cup wasn't big enough for them a couple of years ago, and all they care about these days is Europe with even the Premiership being merely a chance for their second stringers to get a run out. If truth be known, only Arsenal and United normally exhibit this flagrant disregard for the status of the Worthington Cup, but for most other top teams it's not exactly a reason to weep if they go out. I remember last season when Leeds went out at Tranmere, the instant feeling was, 'Well, it doesn't really matter, now does it?' And I guess that's pretty much par for the course, because the truth is that until you get down to the semi finals and a sniff of Wem... err, I mean Cardiff, it's difficult to get any sort of enthusias
m up for a Cup competition whose only value is in disrupting a long hard autumn evening as the weather is drawing in. The League Cup was conceived by former Football League secretary Alan Hardaker back at the start of the 1960's as the third competition for English clubs, but only really rose to prominence when the final was switched to Wembley and third division QPR and Rodney Marsh pulled off a shock win in 1967. Leeds had cause to thank Hardaker (for probably the only time in the reign of Don Revie) when it was their first major trophy win in 1968 and Swindon flew the third division flag again in 1969 in the churned mud and saw off Arsenal. For a very brief period it looked like a decent thing. After all it gave another chance of European qualification, but things quickly settled down so that the League Cup fell into its rightful place as strictly a pale imitation of the FA Cup. Lesser teams regularly made it through to the later stages of the competition because the bigger sides simply could not raise the interest, although for a time in the Eighties an all-conquering Liverpool side made the trophy a permanent addition to their trophy cabinet. It's about time now that we took a hard look at things. The bigger sides aren't bothered. The lesser Premiership lights see it as a distraction. Even Blackpool manager Steve McMahon has said that he isn't too bothered, so exactly who wants this tinpot competition to carry on? Well, Celtic and Rangers, I guess, whom the English authorities have hinted may be admitted in the near future to the competition ... aah, yes, the Anglo Scottish Cup, brings back fond memories of the Anglo Italian Cup and the Watney Cup. Still, at least Phil Neville got a game, eh?
The worthington cup is a closely contested cup tournament, played by teams across the country, in the top 4 divisions, plus some non-league teams who have to qualify to take part. I really enjoy watching the worthington cup. Some real upsets are caused when the non-league teams cause problems for premiership clubs, such as dagenham and diamonds, who last year took a top team to a replay, and a few years back, stevenage borough got the chance to play at st. james park in newcastle after they forced a draw in the stevenage leg of the game. Players in the smaller clubs get a chance to shine through, such as neil diamond, who played extraordinarily well in the worthington cup a few years back, and was about to be snapped up be a big club like barnsley, (or was it brentford?), but he suffered a bad injury, and the transfer was put off, and never brought back to life. It is this magic of the cup that is really enthralling, although the drama is not as intense as in the FA cup, but that is a different story. Thw Worthington cup has gone under many different names, but, strictly, it is known as the League Cup. Sponsors have their name added to the cup, such as Worthington, a few years back it was Coca-Cola, and before that the Milk Cup. Some information you may not have known!! Vodka
The Worthington Cup may not be the greatest domestic competition through its checkered and less glamorous life but it offers some great betting value. Manchester Uniteds delayed round three tie against Arsenal at Highbury has confused the bookies. So there are some excellent odds available. Read on……. ASTON VILLA 2 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 0…Villa are playing good stuff at home and are keeping that poser Gregory in work unfortunately. These two clubs have a great history in this competition with both sides beating Man United in a final last decade. But Villa are top six at the moment with Wednesday bottom six in the league below so it should be a waltz. Vassell and Hendrie are the form men here. FULHAM 2 TOTTENHAM 2…. Fulham are struggling in the top league and may have only one chance of a cup this year in this competition. Hoddle has got old and new buzzing in North London and I reckon if they can contain Sahas pace extra time high scoring match will take them through. Ziege and Ferdinand are the key men here with Anderton to staying fit and playing well. LEEDS UNITED 2 CHELSEA 2…Leeds are at home but the bookies favorites may have a battle on their hands if they have all their EUFA and court commitments out of the way come match day. The case starts today in Hull and they are pretty guilty by all accounts. Bowyer is one of the top three midfielders in Britain for me and they will surely miss him. It will be close with Hasslebaink and Leeds Kewell being the critical class here. Home advantage should be enough as O`Leary always puts strong sides out regardless of the competition. They have yet to win a domestic knock out cup in recent history so the bookies could be right at 7-2. BLACKBURN ROVERS 4 MANCHESTER CITY 2…..If City are on form then anything could happen here. Blackburn are of course coming of the seven one thrashing of the pathetic Hammers.The other Manc
hester team under Keegan are capable off anything,especially with that Algerian guy playing like a God. Lots of goals and action guaranteed with the Premiership side coming out on top at home.Jansen looks to be the man for the Rovers. BOLTON 1 SOUTHAMPTON 1(Pens)……Two of many poor premiership sides currently playing their trade in the top league.I don’t think I have known a year with so many crap sides around there. Bolton have home advantage but haven’t scored many lately with Southampton as equally negative up front. Extra time and pens with Pahars the real danger. Penalties look very possible though. WATFORD 2 CHARLTON 1…. Possible upset here for Viallis lower league experience. Charlton are another poor prem team this season and I expect the only turn over off a big side here. Even with Johanssen and Bartlett amongst others at the Valley, the Londoners are still not doing much. Small ground and home advantage should make for an exciting night on the commuter belt. NEWCASTLE UNITED 3 IPSWICH TOWN 1…..Bobbys looking good at home with the team elevated into the top six on that form alone. Ipswich suck away from home unless they play in Russia.I can’t see them travelling 300 miles and getting anything here. Unless Reuser gets the ball 25 yards out late on…. ARSENAL 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 2…..This is the real value here with Man United at 12-1 to win a domestic trophy. I know they don’t take it seriously normally,but in Alex’s last season I’m sure everything’s up for grabs. The advantage these two teams have in playing stronger than normal teams is theres a home match against Grimesby and an almost guaranteed two leg semi who ever wins this game. United proved they can win at tough grounds on Saturday with half a side by beating Sunderland easily. This game will be delayed until after the first round of Champions League q
ualifying and well short of FAC3. Ferguson has every reason to play a good squad against Arsenal as Arsenal do back. The winner is sure to make the semi final and who’s not going to go for it then. Man United have never lost a domestic semi-final under Alex so why start now. A first final in the National stadium in Cardiff will be a new experience for both managers. And a nice send off and insurance for Fergie if he doesn’t make another one this year. The bookies very rarely get it wrong you know and I believe they have here. Both Arsenal and Man United at 12-1 with their tie four weeks away isn’t something not to be sniffed at. A couple of quid to win will see you twenty-six better of come March. If you have any money then an E/W bet is a must because you effectively get 4-1 pay out if either make that semi final paying quarter odds.Valueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
The Worthington, or worthless cup gets series mid week as the big boys second reserves crash, err handbags head on. The not so big match is a Man United X1 v an Arsenal X1.I hear that guy who got on their team photo in The Champions league might be playing. But at the moment he’s opening the batting for England in Zimbabwe. Monday night kicks off with Bolton beating Forest by one goal. This is probably The Wanderers only chance of further upward momentum this year as they slide down the league. Bolton Wanderers 1 Notts Forest 0. Barnsley should hold or even beat an under strength Newcastle with Coventry under new management giving Chelsea big problems. They are unbeaten in six under Nielson and you can expect everything but a roll over like the usually do. Crewe should get an Ipswich mauling by Fini George and Gillingham worked over by an improving Southampton.Cant see Leeds being interested in this fare and a second string will deliberately lose on pens. Liverpool will try and lose it with a second team but pride will take over. Tranmere won’t topple any Glen Hoddle side who will give this cup a real go. Watford and Vialli are not good bedfellows in this weird lower league move. But they should nip this one on home advantage. West Brom are finding last years form again and should give Charlton big problems. I think they could nick it on pens or et. Watford 2 Bradford City 1. West Brom 2 Charlton 1 (et). Tranmere Rovers 1 Tottenham Hotspur 4. Liverpool 4 Grimsby 0. Leicester City 2 Leeds United 2 Barnsley 2 Newcastle 2 (et). Coventry 2 Chelsea 2 (et). Crewe 1 Ipswich Town 4 Gillingham 0 Southampton 4 Wednesday night games and attendance’s have to compete with the rearranged Champions League games. Aston Villa should rub out Reading easily with Blackburn Rovers have the second of the three all premier league ties and should just squeeze out the poor
Middlesborgh. Fulham Athletic are my favorites for this tournament and should sweep Jim Smith and his Derby County out of the cup and his job. With Manchester City anything could happen with fifty goals in their games so far. But they lost 0-4 at home to Wimbledon last time out so expect revenge here with a plus four. Trevor Francis will be another one to be canned with a Worthington Cup exit. The fans that cheered him and their team in the final to a near victory against the all conquering Liverpool will turn like and strike like a wounded spitting Cobra. The final game should see the Palace winning at Wednesday in extra time. Aston Villa 3 Reading 0 Blackburn Rovers 2 Middlesborgh 1 Fulham Athletic 3 Derby County 0 Man City 3 Birmingham 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1 Crystal Palace 2 I think its fair to say that this cup is on the way out and wee need to invite the Scottish clubs in quick. Dump the LDV vans thing or what ever it’s called. Get your money on Fulham.
If you were a casual football fan, and just looked at the results of the matches in the Worthington Cup then you would be surprised. Many of the Premiership's top teams have crashed out of the Cup in the opening rounds. Now, if you then saw the line-ups that the teams put out, you wouldn't be surprised. Since 1995, Manchester United decided that there were just too many games in the English calendar and so decided to field their reserves in what was then the League Cup. Now almost all Premiership sides are doing it, and the FA have fined the sides for doing so, but to no avail. So now the 'Worthless Cup' as football fans have now christened it, is normally being won by one of the lesser Premiership sides, to the exception of last season's winners Liverpool. And so, to those lesser sides, like Leicester, the Worthington Cup is not a disgrace, but a lifeline financially. But those bigger sides, like Man Utd, Leeds and Arsenal might as well have abandoned the competition. But this year, at least, Manchester United have said publicly that they are going for the Treble – the Premiership, the FA Cup, the European Cup AND the Worthington Cup. So, with Sir Alex Ferguson retiring at the end of the season, and a new manager coming in, could Manchester United once again change the scene of football by once again playing a full-strength team in the Worthington Cup? LET’S HOPE SO!
I can't understand why so many people write off the League cup, better known as the Worthington cup. It may not have the glamour of the FA cup, and the league is more important, but at the end of the day it's the third best competition in this country. It's a route into Europe, and being in Europe is so important nowadays. OK, so maybe not all the Premiership teams field their full-strenght team, but any player and TRUE fan who sees their team go out of the Worthington cup will be dissapointed. Not only is way into europe gone, but also the chance of some silverware, which is so important. Evertonians and others who laugh at Liverpool for winning the Wor. cup are only conning themselves. Realistically, the only chance of a europe spot for at least half the premiership teams is via a cup. Think about it, Birmingham were a whisker away form a place in Europe. That would have done wonders for their bank balance. Anyway, Im off to remember our treble...
I have to say what a waste of time the Worthington Cup has become. The top teams no longer contest it with the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal only sending out youth and reserve teams. It only serves as a competition for the mid-table Premier League teams such as Leicester and teams who are good but can't win any other cup eg. Chelsea and until recently Liverpool. The only reason the lesser Premier League teams don't send out reserve teams is that generally it is their only chance of getting into Europe and making money which could make them into a better team. I think that the F.A. have not thrown it on the scrapheap yet so that they can make more money through sponsorship and television rights. If it is ever to be considered as on a par with the F.A. cup it must be restructured so that only teams who will play full strength sides should enter so that only teams who want to win the cup will play in it. The only reason some clubs play under-strength teams is that they have too many matches to play due to European commitments. I think this could raise the standard of the matches although the Worthington Cup will never have the same magic as the F.A. Cup.
Tranmere Rovers FC must be heartbroken after 2 seasons in which 1 they reached Wembley(yeah, the 1 getting knocked down), and another getting relegated from the promised land, the 1st division. Really you'd think Worthington would of kept them up as they provide great entertainment for the neutral in cup matches. Yet next season a tie against the big boys is unlikely as they'll probably loose to Torquay or someone before they have even entered the draw, sad really. but for Tranmere the close and pre season is all about trying to hang on to players such as:- 1-Jason koumas-Earnt his first welsh cap on Wednesday and impressed, won't be long before he's in the Premiership 2-Clint Hill-A rock at the back for Rovers but hopefully his injuries will have kept him out of the spotlight so he'll have another season at Prenton Park. 3-Andy Parkinson-A young bright talent with a great future if he's picked up by a big club, but next season could make or break him after under performing this week. Rovers will be looking for promotion back to the good times and possibly a trip to Cardiff because i can tell you, Wembley wasn't bad at all!!!
I normally only write about things that I like for some reason - whether I just like to erase things that I don't like from my memory I don't know, the exception to this being when I like a good rant. Prepare yourself for one of the latter...... I just don't see the point of this competition and it's plain to see that most football clubs see it the same way. The way it's going now most clubs seem to prioritise in the following order: 1. Champions League 2. Premier League 3. UEFA Cup 4. FA Cup 5. Worthington Cup 99. Autowindscreens Shield (Please don't get me started on this one!!!) This evidence is backed up by the fact that Liverpool won three trophies this year and yet claimed that none of these were anything like as important as securing a spot in the Champions League by finishing in a high Premier League position. As a fan of Wigan Athletic I endured a fourteen hour journey down (Reason to abolish No.1 - it's no longer regionalised) to Selhurst Park to watch my team play at Wimbledon along with less than 2,000 others (Reason to abolish No.2 - it doesn't pull the crowds in, in fact it drives them away!) I love football but a 0-0 draw and a good soaking en route for good measure severely tested my patience!! It is turning into one of those competitions where if your team has anything to pay for on the League or European front, then your team is better off out of it. (Reason to abolish No.3 - it's a meaningless distraction) It's even filtering through to that grand old bastion of football, the FA Cup now. Later on in the season I was to comically witness, my team's then manager, Bruce "nil-nil will do me fine" Rioch play a virtual reserve team in an away cup replay at Notts County because it was deemed not as important as the League game. (Which we only got a draw in anyway!) We also saw two farcical situations versus Oldham and Walsall in the
AWS Cup Shield thingy where I could swear blind that BOTH teams were trying to lose the game, but I said I wouldn't mention that. So I won't! I guess the point I am trying to get over is that money rules in this day and age, priorities have changed and the Cup(s) are becoming less and less of a fairy tale and more and more of a distraction to most clubs. The fact that so many First Division clubs make it to the final suggests that the big boys aren't taking it seriously at all. I can see the logic of having the competition seeded and played over two legs, as it gives the smaller clubs - the Rochdales, the Torquays, the Prestons, of this world a crack at the bigger clubs, and the two legs means that someone has the potential to get a decent pay day. However, if the second leg is at home and you have seen your team stuffed by Newcastle at St James or whoever in the first leg, then it devalues it somewhat. It just prolongs the agony in most cases, and gives a clear advantage to the higher ranked side, if they could only be bothered taking advantage of it! It's not even a big game if you follow a lower division side and you draw out a Premier League team anymore because the bulk of them will simply wheel out the usual motley crew of youngsters, has-beens and those exiled in the reserves due to disciplinary proceedings. The people who are really being conned are the paying fans who find themselves paying full whack for a ticket but do not end up watching a full team. Consequently many stay away and who can blame them. (Reason to abolish No.4 - paying full price to watch your club's reserve team) Personally I wouldn't be too bothered if the Worthington Cup was got shut of, but surely the very least that they can do is reduce all the games to one leg. I read somewhere someone suggesting an “Anglo-Scottish” type revamp. What a brain wave! – Inverness Caledonian or Ross Cou
nty on a Tuesday Night anyone? It’s been done before, as has the Anglo-Italian Cup – it will not work!!!! Get shut of it altogether, football is expensive enough in these times I am afraid. The Worthington Cup - we don't need it and we don't want it! Footnote - if anyone from Worthington is reading this and would like to send me several crates of Worthingtons in order to reaffirm my opinion - I am sure we can come to some arrangement :-) I'm very cheap y'know!
For your opinions on the progress and future of the Worthington Cup.