Stranger Things Have Happened

As the horrific Covid-19 virus envelops our planet, primarily, our aim is to preserve life, but when the beautiful game returns, we’ll incur a fixture pile up that’ll appear to have no beginning or end. Amazingly, it’s happened before in this country; I’m going to take you back to a year when the League Cup Final was played twice within the same season.

The Football League Cup, now referred to as the Carabao or EFL Cup, was founded in 1960 and has run concurrently with the FA Cup ever since. The first ever final was staged over two legs and was won by Aston Villa, who beat Rotherham united 3-2 on aggregate. However, due to the fixture congestion it caused, embarrassingly, the final was  played at the beginning of the following season.

The inception of a second major domestic cup competition was initially greeted with a mixed response by the English clubs. After all, most of the major leagues in Europe were happy with just the one. Nottingham Forest were one of the many clubs that welcomed the three handled trophy but others would simply not entertain the concept. Arsenal, Sheffield Wednesday, West Brom, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur all refused to take any part in it.

Forest started brightly in the new competition, they swept aside Halifax and Bristol City before losing away at Turf Moor to Burnley who went onto make the Semi Final. It was a tough task for the new Reds manager Andy Beattie, who had huge boots to fill following the departure of the great Billy Walker. Walker had of course masterminded the FA Cup win at Wembley just two seasons previous.

Having progressed to the final, remarkably, both Rotherham and Villa then had to endure a pre-season before finally finishing what they’d started a calendar year ago. The Millers had one hand on the famous old trophy having won the first leg by two goals to nil. However, in front of 31,302 supporters at Villa Park, the West Midlands side pulled off a stunning 3-0 victory to become the inaugural winners of the English league Cup. The prize money for their endeavour’s was just £750.

Here’s where we begin to draw some real comparisons between then and now. Having eventually won the first of their five League Cup’s on Tuesday September 5th, 1961, Aston Villa were required to defend the same trophy just eight days later. At a time when smoking and habitual drinking were not out of the ordinary for a professional footballer, I’d confidently assume that one or two of the Villa team wouldn’t have been in peak fitness for that first round tie at Bradford City. The scoreline would suggest as much, the holders squirmed through in a 4-3 nail biter on Wednesday September 13th. The ensuing fixture pile up would prove to be too much for the Villa, they crashed out in the third round at the hands of Ipswich Town.

Going forward, the possibility of completing the 2019-20 season behind closed doors is still up for debate. It’s highly unlikely that any football will be played before August of this year but a conclusion without fans is plausible at some stage.

Again, you’d have to go way back in time to witness anything of the like. In 1915 Norwich City and Bradford City contested the first ever FA Cup game behind closed doors. The tie had produced a draw and another stalemate in the replay. In not so different circumstances to which we are facing right now, the British government stepped in to order a closed doors replay at a neutral venue.

The reason for the political intervention? Not to distract possible supporters from the important war work they were undertaking. However, it was reported that as many as 1000 fans sneaked into Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank to watch Bradford end the proceedings courtesy of a 2-0 win.

Who knows how the current situation will pan out, if at all? However, the safety of the human race is paramount as sport pales into insignificance. Therefore, I hope you enjoyed this tenuous journey back in time and I wish you all the very best of health.

Steve Corry

*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @independent Nottingham Forest winning the League Cup for the second time in 1979.

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