The term ‘romance of the cup’ is often banded around in English football, as fans get swept away with the stories produced by knockout football.
But, what is this ‘romance’ and why is it so evident in competitions such as the Capital One Cup?
Although each game is essentially a football match, the differences between league and cup ties can be staggering, with the tournament mentality suggesting that anybody can win on their day. Unlike a gruelling 38-match campaign, cup competitions can allow a lesser team a quicker route to potential glory, so long as they perform in the reduced quantity of fixtures.
This acts as a real incentive, which makes each match a big event, and a stage for players to demonstrate what they are capable of with an almost instant reward. As a result, we often see teams going for broke, performing with greater vigour than can be seen from them on a weekly basis. Reading offer a fine example of this during this year’s Capital One Cup, as they took on Arsenal. The Royals raced into a 4-0 lead, taking full advantage a lacklustre Gunners team. Swansea also pulled off a similar result, beating Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield, a game that they would, ordinarily, been expected to struggle in.
The Cup also allows for a phenomenon all football fans love: the underdog story. From a neutral standpoint, there are not many finer sights in the sport than a lesser team triumphing against the odds, a set of unlikely heroes toppling one of the powerhouses of the modern game. The Capital One Cup provides this spectacle with Championship teams competing from the first round and the Premier League giants parachuting in for the second set of fixtures. In this season’s competition Fulham and Stoke discovered the perils of cup football, slipping to defeats at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon respectively.
Perhaps the greatest ‘David vs. Goliath’ moment came in the quarter-finals, as Arsenal took on the lowest ranked team left in the competition Bradford, from the fourth-tier of English football. The Bantams immediately displayed the kind of battling spirit and intensity expected in such a clash, taking an early lead through Garry Thompson. Thomas Vermaelen looked to have broken the hearts of the League 2 team with a late equaliser, but they remained strong to take victory via a penalty shoot-out.
The one-off nature of the single-leg League Cup also brings late drama to the table. With the losing team not afraid to throw caution to the wind, late equalising goals are a frequent occurrence. Eden Hazard kept his cool against Manchester United to slot home from the penalty spot, after Ramires had been felled, as the Blues piled forward. Arsenal also provided a good example of going for broke as Theo Walcott equalised deep into stoppage time at the end of the second half against Reading.
The Capital One Cup provides all of the necessary ingredients for ‘romance’, providing what all football fans love in the sport: goals, drama and excitement.
This season’s competition is far from finished, but it would appear that the love affair is still going strong.