LEAGUE CUP 1, CHAMPIONSHIP NIL
The three-handled piece of garbage now known as the Rumbelows Littlewoods Woolworth Debenhams Milk Eggs Yogurt Lard Carabao Panda Pops Turps Fags Booze Cup was established in 1960 by Football League mandarin and notorious Europhobe Alan Hardaker, in an effort to deflect interest away from the midweek glamour of Uefa’s recently minted Big Cup. But the gambit backfired spectacularly. Nearly all the biggest clubs of the day refused to enter, and lower-league sides enjoyed disproportionate success during the early years. Rochdale of the old Fourth Division made it to a final; third-tier clubs QPR and Swindon actually won one. As did another team not used to lifting silverware, Don Revie’s Leeds, but let’s not muddy the water here.
All of this sounds great, of course, not least because it would have got right on the end of Hardaker’s xenophobic tit. But with the glorious exceptions of Aston Villa in 1971 and Bradford City in 2013, the days when clubs from the lower two divisions of the League could consistently make the showpiece have long gone. Or so it seemed until now, because 14 of the 19 sides from the Championship who played their first-round ties this week have made a right show of themselves by getting knocked out. Throw in Millwall’s defeat at Cambridge last week, plus one of West Brom and Sheffield United being sure to go after the final whistle of the round’s last tie on Thursday night, that’ll be 16 second-tier clubs cashiered from this year’s tournament at the first hurdle in disgrace. Oh clubs! We hardly knew ye (x16).
This sorry state of affairs seems to have come about as a result of a few managers cosplaying as Arsène Wenger circa the turn of the millennium, and making more changes than was possibly wise. Wigan and Luton both named completely new starting XIs before their defeats against Fleetwood and Newport, while only one Cardiff player kept his shirt from last weekend’s Championship fixture, and they were spanked 3-0 for their sauce. Admittedly by a Pompey side who had made six changes themselves, but again, let’s not confuse the general thrust of the issue with facts.
Only six Championship sides saved themselves, so even though Burnley and Watford top up the number when they enter in the second round, this is a collective fiasco of record-breaking proportions for English football’s second tier. Or, put another more positive way, a record number of sides from the third and fourth tier have made it to the second round. So yes, the big boys of the Premier League are about to enter the fray … but as you can be sure plenty of top-flight tinkermen will also be trying on Arsène’s clothes for size, the chance of, say, Bradford or Rochdale making another final isn’t half as unlikely as it seemed just a couple of days ago. Statistically speaking, anyway.
It’s going to be Manchester City or Liverpool again, isn’t it?
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The fans were very helpful, they relayed my words down to the field. They understood my instructions well” – Dalian Pro head coach Xie Hui, exiled to the stands due to a touchline ban, explains how supporters managed to relay his messages to players over the crowd noise as they watched him frantically wave three fingers and scream “three defenders”, before chanting his words at them during the 1-1 Chinese Super League draw with Shanghai Port. On that basis, do managers have less-than-warm thoughts about away-team goalkeepers at games then?
“Tony Adams on Strictly Come Dancing (yesterday’s Quote of the Day)? Surely every routine for him should involve four steps towards the camera, a thrust of the arm in the air on the last one with CGI versions of Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn doing the same in a perfect line, and then cutting to a judge to the side of the ballroom, flagging for offside?” – Ian Sargeant.
“Re: Tottenham’s latest signing. One of life’s eternal questions – how much is Udogie in the window – has finally been answered” – Grant Taylor.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Grant Taylor.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Morocco have fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic just three months before the Human Rights World Cup, a pretty impressive third time that he’s been given the boot by teams after they qualified for the tournament. “Given the differences and divergent visions on the best way to prepare the national team for the [HR] World Cup, the two parties decided to separate,” parped the Royal Moroccan Football Federation.
Southampton will have to make do with a reduced capacity and new security measures at St Mary’s for the time being due to misbehaving fans. “It is really important to get this right because it will hopefully prevent the installation of a solid boundary wall between home and away fans in the Itchen North corner,” tooted a letter to season-ticket holders.
Teenage Liverpool tyro Harvey Elliott has agreed a new five-year deal with the club. “There is no better place in this world to be than playing … and to put the shirt on and go out and play for the team and the fans,” he hooted.
It’s 14 new signings and counting at Nottingham Forest, who are set to bring in Remo Freuler from Atalanta for £7.6m.
Leeds boss Jesse Marsch won’t ditch his pressing style despite the stifling heat enveloping the UK. “One thing about football or sport in the [USA! USA!! USA!!!] in the summer is it’s hot,” he purred. “It’s blistering and so there are things that I have learned about how to handle fatigue, heat and managing matches that way.”
New Fulham forward Manor Solomon will undergo knee surgery which will rule him out for much of the season.
And Alfie Mawson, a £20m signing for Fulham who also made it into the England squad in 2018, has rocked back up at former club Wycombe in League One.
STILL WANT MORE?
Thirty years of the Premier League are here. Barney Ronay looks back at greed, profit and a whole new ball game.
Serie A kicks off this weekend so here’s Nicky Bandini to set the scene.
Adrien Rabiot looks to be on his way to Manchester United. But he could very easily have been a poster boy on the other side of town, explains Will Unwin.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!