EFL Cup (League Cup)
The English League Cup has undergone more reinventions than the sadly departed David Bowie over the years, but unlike the ‘Thin White Duke’ it is an entity that has never quite captured the imagination of the British public.
Why that is the case remains open to debate, but two obvious reasons would be the lack of prize money on offer as well as a less than exciting end result. The League Cup winner qualifies for a place in the next season’s Europa League; often considered a distraction rather than a tournament of any prestige.
In time for the 2016/17 campaign the League Cup was rebranded as the EFL Cup, with many of the Premier League teams using the competition as an opportunity to blood fringe players and talented youngsters. Even if nothing else, the EFL Cup is an excellent place to see the stars of tomorrow, today.
But the League Cup doesn’t offer a crucial function; offering a pathway into European football for the nation’s smaller clubs, who otherwise would have no chance of qualifying through their league placing.
League Cup Format
Despite all the changes that the League Cup has experienced over the years, the format has remained pretty much consistent with that of a straightforward, knockout cup competition: an open draw with single matches per round (no replays), with extra time and penalty shootouts deciding the winner where required.
The semi-finals are the only round to be two-legged, with the two winners meeting in the final at Wembley Stadium in February, typically.
A prize pot of just £100,000 is trousered by the EFL Cup winner.
League Cup History
Introduced for the 1960/61 campaign, the League Cup was a reaction to the growing popularity of televised football, and also took advantage of the fact that many grounds throughout the English pyramid now had floodlights to host midweek matches.
In headier days, Aston Villa were the inaugural winners, defeating Rotherham 3-2 in the final. The Villains have gone on to win the tournament on five occasions – bettered only by Liverpool’s haul of eight. The likes of Luton, Swindon and Oxford are some of the less illustrious names engraved on the trophy.
It was only in 1970/71 that the competition grew in stature with a place in Europe up for grabs as well as the final being shifted to Wembley Stadium from a rotational, neutral venue policy.
The name of the League Cup has varied over the years and usually been rebranded to coincide with a new sponsorship deal. Since 1981 to the present day it has been sponsored by drinks ranging from Milk to Coca Cola to Carling, with other commercial, non-liquid enterprises also jumping on board at various points during the past three decades.
David, Goliath and York City
It is the giant-killings that have taken place in the FA Cup that have garnered the most press attention, due in part to the fact that non-league teams have secured some pretty hefty scalps over the years (the League Cup is only open to the Football League’s 92 member clubs).
That said, there has been a number of notable casualties taken in this competition too, and the chief architect has been York City. Generally plying their trade in the lower reaches of English football, the Minstermen romped to the semi-finals in 1973/74 – knocking out champions of England, Leeds United, along the way, and then in 1995/96 they were up to their old tricks, defeating Manchester United 4-3 on aggregate.
A number of third division, or League Two as it is known now, sides have had their names engraved on the trophy, including QPR and Swindon in the space of three years in the 1960s.
With the greater riches on offer these days big shocks are few and far between, but few stories in football are as heart-warming as Bradford’s run to the final in 2012/13. In a desperate financial plight, the future of the club was uncertain until their incredible run, which saw the Bantams overcome Premier League sides Wigan, Aston Villa and Arsenal on route to the final. There they lost to Swansea City, but the prize money has helped to stave off the tax man for a little while longer at least.