It’s Only the Carling Cup

Arsenal and Birmingham are set to contest the Carling Cup Final on Sunday. The first silverware of the season is set out and the spot at the season celebratory table is ready to be claimed. Supporters of every team that’s been eliminated, and – once the sting wears off – those on the wrong side of the result will remind us all that “it’s only the league cup.”

On the morning of Sunday, 27 February 2005, I sat in front of my grandmother’s computer with my coffee. It wasn’t particularly early but I was the only one up. Outside a couple feet of week-old snow was graying beneath low, spitting clouds that seemed to have lost their way heading over to Atlantic. I was listening to a BBC feed of the Carling Cup Final between Liverpool and Chelsea.

Not so long ago there wasn’t much television coverage to be had of English football in that corner of the world, tucked next to the swollen expanse of the Connecticut River before it hits the spillway of the hydro-electric power station a few miles downstream. This is the town where Carlton Fisk grew up and with my Grandfather as his coach dreamed of playing NBA basketball.

The high-quality streams of 2011 that regularly rescue me from agonized boredom at work on Champions League match days had not yet come to fruition. Twitter, the social media drug that helps American footie fans feel less alone during those fleeting 90 minutes, wasn’t created for another year and wouldn’t take off for another 5.

I’d been going to Chelsea fairly regularly at that time. A year earlier, I’d watched Arsenal become the last team to beat us at home for a lengthy stretch that Liverpool eventually ended. Mourinho arrived that summer, proclaiming himself special, and we believed him as he turned the Abramovich circus into real contenders.

After comedic exits and unmet expectations of the previous season, finally there was a chance for glory as the Millennium Stadium roof held off February darkness. But on the first day that season when silverware was on the line, I was returned to the states with my son, his age registering a handful of months.

My window onto the match was a tiny one: disembodied voices out of tinny speakers, constantly hitting F5 to refresh the Guardian’s minute-by-minute report. But there was something exhilarating about blindly feeling my way through a game-winning goal-line scramble with only the commentators quickening voice and the rising volume of the crowd. (I’m only now seeing the best header Stephen Gerrard ever scored bring Chelsea level with 10 minutes left.)

It’s only the League Cup, right? Try telling me that as I jumped up and down celebrating the trophy in a solo victory dance, for any soul to see through the glass panes of my Grandparent’s sun room.

There are a few Arsenal fans I know who’d like a trophy. When your trophy cupboard has run bare for a few seasons, the Carling Cup is as good a place to restart your collection as any. No one will confuse Birmingham for Barcelona, but the vagaries of one-and-your-done cup competition have led them to the final. And as football has shown us time after time, any team can ride their luck to beat any other on any given day. For Birmingham, an upset would be a highlight of a season spent trying to avoid slipping down into the league below.

If Arsenal overcome the adversity of losing their talisman captain, it won’t be any less a victory than winning any other competition. A club with ambitions will always consider the Carling Cup a jumping off point for greater things. Yet the emotions of the singular cup final moment might even rise above clinching the league on the back of a season’s work and a series of results that ran your way on a particular spring day.

For me, winning the League at the end of the 2004-2005 season couldn’t top that Sunday morning in February, alone at the computer. I was instantly transported to Cardiff, to the impossibly green pitch of my imagination, to share in a first taste of the season’s glory.

18 responses to this post.

  1. Wow, that video is a trip down memory lane…Fernando Morientes! Harry Kewell!! Petr Cech without a helmet on!!!


  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/27 at 9:00 AM

    The League Cup has always been down the pecking order, even in the beginning. Since more money has flooded into the English game, from the restructuring of the European Cup and the old Division One, the League Cup has lost even more of it’s glamour. Top clubs have used their squad players, and some have even used it to blood their youngsters, but with an increasingly congested fixture list, you know it is the competition that rewards the least money that is going to give way. Yes, Arsenal haven’t won anything since 2005, but to be honest, qualifying for the Champion’s League means more than winning either of the domestic cup competitions – ask any fan or the chairm€n. Once the League Cup loses it’s UEFA Cup berth, just watch the middling Premier League teams enter the competition with their squad players…


    • Posted by Aaron on 2011/02/28 at 9:45 AM

      I agree, that’s what I’ve been saying. Its lost its thunder. Add more winnings in terms of money or Champions League Berth and it will worth something to the big clubs again.


  3. Posted by dth on 2011/02/27 at 10:57 AM

    To be fair to poor Szczeny, he’s had a number of fine games this season…

    but how many more points would Arsenal have had if they had went and spent on a competent goalkeeper at the beginning of the season? Trophies?


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/27 at 12:44 PM

      If only it were that simple! Sure, it is well documented that they need a keeper, but it’s their centre-back pairing too. Been like that for far too long now. Wenger hasn’t had two solid CBs since Sol Campbell-Kolo Toure [in front of Jens Lehmann].

      Enough of the bargain basement players, Wenger! The stadium has been built and the finacials look rosy! The likes of Manuel Almunia, Lukas Fabianski and Laurent Koscielny, Sebastien Squillaci, Johan Djourou are OK if you want to be a constant in the Top Four and perhaps CL QFs, but they lack the steel, physicality, mentality and presence to take Arsenal to the title. I hope I am wrong…


      • Posted by dth on 2011/02/27 at 1:28 PM

        Arsenal has to put a premium on quality centerbacks + GK, because they often operate without much of a defensive shield–Song and Wilshere get forward so much. And that’s obviously fine; both are pretty good players, though Arsenal could stand to upgrade Song’s position, but it does necessitate a shift in strategy elsewhere.


  4. Posted by Christopher on 2011/03/01 at 1:32 PM

    Ha ha! How was the Dudu’s situation not fair, but Frimpong’s different (or Rossi or Vidošić or Boateng)? To be honest I really do not see the difference in the situations…at least from the purist’s point of view playing where you were born. Please, enlighten me.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/01 at 1:53 PM

      Erm, I never said it wasn’t fair. I said it was bad news [ for England because he is a very promising player]. Frimpong’s situation mirrors Holden’s – born in Scotland, but primarily raised in America, BUT he chooses to play for America. But nobody would have begrudged him if he did want to play for Scotland.


      • Posted by Christopher on 2011/03/01 at 2:40 PM

        Ok. Then I misread your reply… or I wasn’t clear in my response…in stating “fair play” for Frimpong. I didn’t claim it wouldn’t have been fair, and agree it is bad news for England. What I did claim is that I find it funny that the Brits…even with recent revenge…have not let the Eduardo situation go…(with a true but “fair” multi-million-pound a year hired gun of their own).


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/01 at 2:52 PM

          Apart from a holiday destination [fantastic coastline!], Croatia has never been on my radar. And I have never really considered them to be a major threat nor do I get pumped up before a game with them [like I would with Germany or Argentina, and perhaps Scotland/Wales/Rep. of Ireland].


        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/01 at 2:55 PM

          Wally with a brolly ring a bell?


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/01 at 3:03 PM

          McClaren made some huge selection mistakes and tactical errors, which was why the press slaughtered him [for the loss], but mainly because we failed to qualify for Euro2008.

          It was nice to see the Croatians pipe down, but they aren’t considered to be our rival. Not by me anyway.


        • Posted by Christopher on 2011/03/01 at 3:50 PM

          I have heard the same thing too about the Croatian coast….and maybe some day I’ll make it there too, but like you it is not high on the destination list.

          And I agree. Considering the very young history of Croatia…especially in England’s affairs (unlike the country’s you mentioned)…. I wouldn’t expect a big rivalry between the two…McClaren did make mistakes, but Croatia was not exactly San Marino…as exemplified by their run…beating Germany and having a maximum point for the group stage in the Euros. I was however hoping England would have done better in the WC though (aside from playing the U.S.).


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