What To Do About The League Cup?

3 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   August 28, 2008  |     10

It’s the end of August. This means, of course, that it’s time for our annual dissection of what is wrong with the League Cup. This year’s Second Round has already been played, and it has already provided a couple of surprises, including Northampton Town beating Bolton Wanderers and Rotherham United knocking out Wolverhampton Wanderers on penalties at Don Valley Stadium. One can’t help but suspect, however, that supporters of those bigger clubs won’t be too bothered about these results should their teams win at the weekend.

That is the sad truth of the League Cup at the moment. It used to be that the biggest clubs didn’t care much for it. Now, the fact of the matter is that no-one really cares much about it, and the proof is in the half-hearted attendances posted this week. The crowd of just over 19,000 at the match between Coventry City and Newcastle United was the biggest of the round, but this was the exception rather than the rule. The crowd for the match between Wigan Athletic and Notts County was 4,100. Less than 3,500 people saw Hartlepool United beat West Bromwich Albion out of the competition. Maybe no-one cares about the League Cup at all.

The bitter irony is that the biggest clubs, in spite of their not caring about the League Cup, still have the best chance of winning it. Arsenal’s youth team reached the semi-finals last year. Ultimately, the gap in quality is so great that this can be done. Even when they fail, it doesn’t really matter that much. In recent seasons, Southend United and Coventry City have both knocked Manchester United out of the competition, but it hardly affected United’s reputation beyond the next match. No club’s reputation is going to stand or fall on the League Cup. Few other Premier League clubs seem to take it that much more seriously, perhaps fancying their chances of getting into Europe better through finishing just below the Champions League clubs in the league table.

How, then, do we revonate the League Club, considering that the Football League is hardly likely to abandon the competition after over forty years? Well, firstly, it is surely time to ditch the Big Four. The League Cup offers Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool nothing whatsoever, apart from the opportunity to give some of their very youngest players a run out and flex their muscles at Wembley ahead of the run in to the domestic season. Trimming them out of it would ease their fixture congestion slightly (although it probably wouldn’t stop them complaining about fixture congestion, which is a subtly different thing) , and wouldn’t damage them in anyway. Taking this a step further, it might be an idea to bar all teams that have been managed to qualify for the UEFA Cup, as well. The UEFA Cup place that comes with win it is the biggest single draw for the League Cup and, for the following season, potentially the biggest money-spinner. Barring clubs that are already feeding from the trough of European football would, just maybe, create a little more equality within the Premier League.

It would probably be a step too far to bar all Premier League clubs from the competition. The League Cup can cope with out six or seven clubs, but barring them all would probably be the death knell for it. The argument that Premier League clubs are no longer members of the Football League is a misleading one. Removing all Premier League clubs from it would almost certainly mean the end of that all-important European place. I would suggest that the final should be moved back to a later point in the season. The current final date, in February, is simply too early. It would be better off as it used to be, in March, acting as the beginning of the end of the season.

Nothing, then, too radical. The single matches with penalties on the night are a good innovation, but playing matches so early is not, and if we are going to bother keeping the League Cup at all, we might as well have it as a means for somebody else to win something. If we can’t increase interest in the competition at all, though, one has to start wondering whether it’s worth playing it at all.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • August 29, 2008 at 11:21 am


    Removing the Premiership from the tournament is an interesting idea, but I guess it would become more like the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Removing the Big Four is also tempting but you can imagine the generous sponsors would throw a fit, and certainly the TV companies would expect a discount when it came to renegotiating rights.

  • August 29, 2008 at 3:38 pm


    I’m a Fulham season ticket holder and can assure you I do care about the League cup. I didn’t go to our second round game with Leicester City though. Not many people did – only 7,584 did. We closed one whole stand and from the pictures I’ve seen had another end almost empty. Does that really matter though. In todays credit crunch climate is it really that big a surprise that people cannot afford to go to EVERY game their team plays. I have a wife and two sons and whilst a Fulham season ticket is excellent value compared with most other Premier League sides find it hard to justify to going to many additional games not covered by that initial investment. I’m eleated that we got through to the next round, however lucky we were to do so, and maybe I will go to the next round (if it’s not too far and an affordable price). I won’t be too upset thought if it’s another low crowd. It wasn’t that long ago a crowd of over 7000 would have been a great turnout for Fulham and who really hurts if there’s not a packed stadium? The club maybe doesn’t make so much money and it’s possibly harder for the team to put in a top class performance but it’s really not the end of the world – is it? I’m happy that the League Cup continues just as it is, because winning it IS important and an attempt to remove the bigger clubs from it would devalue the competition much more than a few low attendances.

  • August 29, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Allan Moore

    Im not too sure that the English League Cup had that much stature, compared to the Scottish equivilant. then again in the heyday of the Scottish League Cup (when it was sponsered by Skol Lager), it was a competetition which was completed over a short space of time with a couple of rounds in August, Quarter Finals and Semi Finals in September and the final about the time the clocks went back.

    The expansion of European Football has diminished from this, as i suspect it has from your competition…

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