Cup football is a strange phenomenon in this modern world, whether that be at the top level of the game or at the bottom. Even competitions like the FA Cup are being disregarded by the top sides with a Champions League place of more value to their greedy owners. The same trend trickles down into non-league football, however the FA Cup can provide much needed cash for struggling clubs. No, at this level it’s the League Cup that ‘gets in the way’, writes Thomas Ritchie.
Despite being a piece of silverware, there is little prize money and at lower levels of the football pyramid, like the NCEL the funds from staving off relegation or achieving promotion are more significant and of a greater priority to the clubs. In the NCEL League Cup last season for example, two of the top three Premier Division sides failed to make the last 16 with their eyes on promotion. These are competitions of relatively low fan interest, with smaller attendances for cold, midweek cup games, especially when the Champions League is on TV. It is not until the semi-finals fans sit up and take notice.
However, It is of course a chance for clubs, no matter what their league position, to add a trophy to their cabinet. Every manager, player, chairmen and supporter likes that of course. Wayne Benn, the Hemsworth Miners Welfare manager echoed this when he said “ I think that the NCEL League Cup is a good competition. Once upon a time there were 3 cup competitions and now only the League Cup remains. It gives teams an opportunity to win silverware and class their season as successful. I can only think that teams with realistic chances of promotion and maybe reaching the later stages of the FA Vase would class it as an inconvenience but the majority of teams embrace it and play strong teams in it. You only have to look at the teams who have contested the last few finals to see how much importance is given to the competition.”
Many big clubs have won the NCEL League Cup, with the likes of Guiseley AFC, Farsley Celtic, Alfreton Town and North Ferriby United being successful in their times in the division, and have all since gone onto play in the top tier of non-league football within the last ten years. Since Farsley Celtic in 2010/11, no side has won the league and league cup double, however up until 2011/12 there was also the NCEL Presidents Cup and the NCEL Wilkinson Sword Trophy, meaning the treble was available. In 2011/12 Handsworth did the double, with success in Division 1 and the Presidents Cup.
We also asked Spencer Fearn, the former manager at Maltby Main (Currently Frickley Athletic boss) who also offered an alternative way of playing the cup. He said “There are too many league games between August and November so we play weakened sides as it’s another game and the lads are fatigued enough from the heavy programme. The league is the priority. An idea would be to start it in mid July for 2 weeks, play 3 games in this period and it could be used as pre-season preparation like they do in Scotland. Maybe a group format would generate more interest. As they are competitive games it could well generate more interest and funds for clubs, except for those that have the good fortune to play football league opposition in friendly games.
Moreover, we also spoke to former Cleethorpes Town Assistant Manager Matthew Powell and the Manager at Westella, Leon Sewell (At time of press, Leon has now stepped down). Leon said “ It all depends on what the clubs ambitions are, for us at Westella it’s an opportunity to look at all of our squad players and to also look at different formations, given that we’ve not got passed the first round as of yet.” Matthew agreed with Leon, as he said ” If I’m honest when we plan for the season and set out our priorities it’s never been our main priority but to win it is a great feeling and day for any club so it’s not an inconvenience.”
Cleethorpes were the winners two seasons ago as they defeated Premier Division title winners Tadcaster Albion, and with their eyes on the same prize last year as Tadcaster won, have already relinquished their title with a different winner in the name Penistone Church who beat Bridlington Town 4-1. No matter what your priorities are, knockout football is enthralling and exciting and if you turn up on the day anyone can beat anyone. And everyone loves a good piece of silverware don’t they?