It was rumoured, only a few months ago, that Birmingham City had been forced to sell the League Cup for scrap metal in order to keep themselves afloat. They may be competing alongside the likes of Roma and Sevilla in the Europa League this season, but Rapid Decline and Inter Administration are the opponents they really need to watch out for.
These were the types of gibe that got bandied about relentlessly following Birmingham’s relegation to the Championship. I bring them up only to illustrate a sad truth … the importance of league status is now so great that the once proud League Cup has become a bit of a joke!
It’s probably fair to say that a large proportion of Blues fans would have chosen survival in the Premier League over victory in the League Cup Final. The financial impact of relegation from the Premiership is so devastating that no trophy can compensate. This filters down to the fans, who were left crying into their champagne buckets on the final day of last season. The Birmingham saga has placed the value of the League Cup under intense scrutiny.
Over the last decade the ‘big clubs’ have been sitting in their ivory towers, pouring scorn on the competition from on high. They bemoan the fixture congestion it creates and subsequently field weakened teams for the majority of ties. This has set a trend amongst the majority of other clubs, who see the cup as an unnecessary distraction from the all-important league. Once again this influences the views of fans, who greet the fixtures with a large degree of apathy.
The League Cup, which is sometimes referred to as ‘the Mickey Mouse Cup’, has been severely undermined to the point where nobody really cares about it anymore, but in my opinion its standing in the modern game can still be salvaged if clubs like Forest begin to take it seriously again.
What Birmingham City winning the League Cup did for the competition was ignite hopes of silverware for teams from outside the upper echelons of the Premiership. The last time a club of similar stature won the trophy was when Steve McClaren triumphed back in 2004 with Middlesbrough. If he achieves the same feat whilst managing Forest, I will happily name all my children after him, regardless of gender.
Realistically, I’m not expecting us to win it this year but I’d really like to see us have a go. The League Cup is an important part of Nottingham Forest’s proud history and I for one would be hugely disappointed if it lost its place within this country’s footballing tradition. Winning the League Cup is exactly the same honour as it was back in 1990, when we last won it; all that’s changed is that league status is now an integral part of a club’s business model, and cup success is not. Epic fixtures like tonight’s derby serve as a gentle reminder that football need not be all about money; perhaps there is still a place for the romance of the cup?
I appreciate that football is big business these days and that the main sources of revenue are the Premier League and the Champions League. While the FA Cup remains perched precariously on the mantel piece of English football’s lavishly decorated living room, the League Cup has been thrown into the garden for the dog to chew on! But it can be revitalised if just a few clubs adopt the philosophy that winning any trophy is the mark of a great team.
Call me greedy but I’d like to see Forest win every single game this season. I want to see our players ruthlessly destroying all opposition, whether it’s in the league, the cup or a charity match against West Bridgford Cub Scouts. I believe that developing a winning mentality is an essential part of becoming a successful team and if we can beat Notts County tonight it may well trigger a run of victories in the league. After all, winning is a good habit to get into.
The League and League Cup used to be such happy bedfellows and all that’s really come between them is money. It may be a foolish hope but I’d like to think there will still be a League Cup by the time little Steve is old enough to go to her first game; the thought of seeing Forest in a Cup Final at Wembley gives me goosebumps, irrespective of the prize fund.