When I first started following English football, the League Cup was the competition I had the most trouble wrapping my head around. The FA Cup, but not, and with fewer teams. When Liverpool played Manchester City in the 2016 Final I was still trying to figure out what to make of the competition and decided it was the Gator Bowl to the FA Cup’s Rose Bowl, with the Premier League and European Final serving as Super Bowls. I was so green then, but I still rather like that metaphor (even if it did little to dull the pain of losing a trophy on a freaking penalty shootout).
In the years since I’ve become rather bemused by the tournament. Six rounds of single elimination with a two-legged semi-final? Okay…. offering £100,000 in prize money for the tournament winner and then not moving Liverpool’s quarterfinal with Aston Villa and acting surprised that Liverpool instead went to Qatar where the Reds were guaranteed $2,000,000 for getting off the plane, and could (and did) get $5,000,000 for winning it? The lack of self-awareness was hilarious.
Its quirkiness became its defining feature in my mind when I learned its origin story. When English stadiums got the floodlights we take for granted now at the start of the 1960s, the Football League saw an opportunity. Playing midweek games under the lights meant more butts in seats and would thus be a big boost to football revenues. As the Champions League grew it took over those slots with more prestige and TV money – because TV rights deals have made match day revenue small potatoes – the Cup endured. So now we have a 1960s business model running around the 21st Century calling itself a major trophy? You can’t make this stuff up!!
Leave it to Manchester City…
To make me want to win a trophy I usually would chuckle at. City’s winning four straight League Cups (and six of eight) made me hate watching Pep inflate his trophy count with so many soft draws that it’s hard to believe Meyer Wolfsheim isn’t Sheik Mansour’s business partner. With each one, I more deeply wished we could grab it on the way to bigger glories and keep the Pep v Klopp trophy score within the margin of error. So with each passing round, I’ve found myself saying “okay, let’s take it seriously now. Let’s do it this time!” louder and louder. Now that the final is on offer against Chelsea, I’m awaiting the game with an eagerness usually reserved for a Manchester club or one of those fabled European nights. There’s a shiny piece of silverware waiting at Wembley, let’s go win it!!!