The Romance of the Cup

by Kevin Christie

Swansea League CupThey say that success breeds success. While none of us are naïve enough to think that finally winning a trophy would ensure dazzling success for years to come, it is worth remembering that nobody starts out a stud – even the most confident and charismatic Casanova was once a shy and awkward virgin and the League Cup represents Newcastle’s best chance of popping their cherry and hopefully one day developing into a moderately successful club.

If not, however, if it were to simply be a fleeting romance, then we would revel in our wild night of debauchery and cherish the memories – memories to keep us warm on long and lonely winter nights. The likes of Blackburn, Middlesbrough and Birmingham have pulled in recent times, while we’ve returned home alone, drunk and deflated, wondering about what might have been.

So, watching Swansea sweep Bradford aside in League Cup Final left me with a familiar hollow feeling. They imposed their superiority on their plucky opponents with such ease that the game was over before it even got started and if anything the 5-0 scoreline ended up being a merciful and conservative reflection of the massive gulf in class between the two sides.

It got me thinking back on our two FA Cup Final appearances in 1998 and 1999 and how unlucky we were to come up against such devastatingly superior opposition in the form of a rampant double-winning Arsenal team and Manchester United’s swashbuckling treble-winners. Looking back, Newcastle were about as likely to win either of those finals as Bradford were to beat Swansea.

While even reaching the final was a laudable and incredible achievement for Bradford, my over-riding emotions were of frustration and jealousy. Sure, I could appreciate their remarkable giant-killing exploits as they somehow defeated three Premier League sides en route to Wembley but their heroics were a painful reminder that Newcastle consistently spurn their best opportunity to finally win some silverware by getting knocked out in the early stages.

Our interest in the competition was, of course, ended way back in September when an under-strength Newcastle team were inevitably beaten by a Manchester United side composed mainly of understudies and reserves.

Before the trip to Old Trafford, Alan Pardew indulged in the usual bland platitudes about winning a trophy before completely contradicting himself by openly admitting that the League Cup was bottom of his list of priorities and that a top 4 finish would constitute real success. Of course, in one way, he is absolutely spot-on and the fans would be delighted to finish in such a lofty position in the league – although not as happy as the men in the boardroom.

Cup runs are great for fan morale but are nowhere near as lucrative as a Champions League campaign. So, while club owners and supporters may seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet, they are, in fact, not. Club owners want success, while the fans crave glory. Accordingly, the money men dictate that the league must always be the priority and it is this, rather than the fans’ dreams, that will inform the manager’s thinking.

Sure, we all want Newcastle United to be in safe hands and for sensible business practices to be put in place to ensure the financial stability of the club in the long term – but success off the pitch is kind of pointless unless it paves the way for success on the pitch too.

While some tricky ties and a lack of squad depth have often precluded us from having a genuine chance in either of the cups, the fact that teams place cup success so low down in their list of priorities baffles me. The prize money may be paltry compared to what’s on offer in the Premier League but this new-fangled notion of fourth place in the league being the top prize is ludicrous.

Surely the whole point of being in a competition is to try to win it. While it’s a foregone conclusion that the Premier League crown isn’t a realistic target for 17 or 18 of the top flight teams, it must also stand to reason that any team who qualifies for the Champions League by finishing fourth are also on a hiding to nothing. They aren’t particularly likely to go all the way and to lift the cup the following May.

Of course the ridiculous irony of football is that clubs are businesses and aim to make a profit, so while chairmen measure success in financial terms, fans don’t dream about seeing the club captain trudging up the steps in Wembley, bloodied and battle-scarred but still smiling, shaking hands with Prince William and accepting his medal before triumphantly raising a crisp, fresh balance sheet aloft.

Yes, we want a well-run, successful club but we also want the glory of trips to Wembley, of cup finals and open top bus parades. We want to win trophies, to have stories to tell and to make memories that we can cherish in years to come. A trophy is just that – a bloody trophy! It’s not a pit-stop on the way to somewhere else, it’s the destination.

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