How the disgraced cup had a happy ending
The recent attempted revamp of the EFL cup was met by sneers of disgust and cries of inequality for the lower leagues by many fans, including me.
This year’s competition featured not only the normal 48 League 1 and 2 teams, but also 16 category 1 academy teams in an attempt to improve the future of young English players. They were the unwanted guest at a party, your strange uncle that is only invited due to the fact your father, the person with the most power, decides that they should attend.
There were many issues with this. One of which was that it was the worst option for developing a player. If a club want a young prospect to develop isn’t that what loans are for? Players would benefit far more from playing 30 games a season in a highly competitive league, than playing 10 cup games against opponents who don’t mean anything to them. The most catastrophic issue however, was the fact it could potentially deny a lower league player or fan of a chance to go to Wembley. Many young boys dream of one day playing at Wembley and, by adding the academy teams in, you are taking away an opportunity for a playing who has played the game he loves for years from fulfilling this dream. Supporting a team in the lower leagues is also very difficult. The grey clouds that can surround a team could occasionally be replaced by short bursts of sunshine, which can turn a miserable campaign into an unforgettable season.
I mean, just look at finalists Coventry City.
Coventry are a club in turmoil. With a serious divide between the fans and the clubs owners ,SISU, the Sky Blues look certain to drop down to fourth tier of English football for the first time in the clubs history. This is a team that featured in the premier league up until 2001, and their fans haven’t had much to cheer about since that period. This however is a chance to momentarily forget all the poison that is infecting the club they love, and celebrate their first Wembley appearance since they beat Tottenham 3-2 in the 1987 FA cup final.
They played Oxford in the final, a match I was fortunate enough to attend.
Walking down Wembley Way I was immediately surrounded by a sea of blue and yellow. Cries of “Come on you U’s” were swiftly countered by choruses of “Sky Blue army”, almost giving the impression that today’s battle would be held in the stands, not on the pitch.
If that were the case then Coventry would have surely been victorious. The 43,000 Sky Blue fans were in fine voice all afternoon, their balloons littered the air and their rendition of the Sky Blue song was performed with such passion that it mirrored the Kop’s captivating “You’ll never walk alone” chorus. The stage was set, and as the players emerged from the tunnel over 74,000 people rose to cheer their heroes.
Despite their lowly league position Coventry started strongly, taking only 11 minutes for them to find the back of the net. A throw in from the right hand side led to a ball being delivered into the Oxford box and, after a fortunate ricochet, the ball eventually fell to Coventry’s Burundian midfielder Gael Bigirimana, who calmly slotted the ball past a helpless Eastwood. Despite this, chances in the first half were at a premium. Kyle Reid, who was a nuisance down the left hand side all afternoon, put a handful of decent crosses into the box that were met by an Oxford head each time. In the last 20 minutes Oxford grew more comfortable, applying pressure to the Coventry goal. Their only real chance however came when Johnsons cut back to the 6 yard box was fired wide by Hall, in what proved to be the last chance of the first half.
As the second period kicked you got the impression that the next goal would win the match. Despite looking on the ropes for the latter stage of the first 45, Coventry started the 2nd half much like they did in the first. After a great deal of pressure the Sky Blues managed to double their advantage in the 55 minute. After good work by Kyle Reid down the left flank, the Englishman managed to find an unmarked George Thomas. His first touch set him up well as he fired a sublime half volley into the back of the Oxford goal from the edge of the box. Now there was no stopping the Coventry fans. Their chants reverberated around Wembley, bouncing off its walls and hitting you with a large dosage of passion. Their songs however, turned to nerves 15 minutes from time, when Oxford managed to reduce the deficit. A corner was only headed out to the edge of the box where it was met by a low Liam Sercombe volley that evaded everyone as it whistled into the corner, past a goalkeeper that saw it late. For the final 15 minutes Oxford piles on the pressure and it was only thanks to Coventry’s 23 year old goalkeeper Lee Burge, that they were able to hold on. He spread himself well to block Rob Halls shot, after the 23 year old broke free of the Coventry defence, and in the 95th minute, he produced a remarkable one handed save during a goal mouth scramble following a corner. Just moments later the full time whistle went, and a deafening cry of joy exploded from the 43,000 Coventry fans.
This final was the perfect example why it was wrong to add U23 teams into the competition. If one of these teams had got to the final would there have been the same passion? Would there have been the same celebration? Would it have been a day that their fans would remember for the rest of their lives? Even though it wasn’t my team that won the trophy, as I watched Coventry’s Jordan Willis lift the cup, a wry smile spread across my face as I realised it could have been worse.