Not only do Cups competitions make for interesting subplots to seasons that run as long as eight months, but they also pit different league levels against each other. This gives Millwall fans a pleasant (and utterly nonviolent) away day at Manchester City, or the Glovers of Yeovil Town a lucrative home fixture against Chelsea.
Smaller clubs are offered a puncher’s chance against larger, rather more talented teams. When a titch takes on a bigger rival, the results are usually quite predictable. However, sometimes they’re not – this is called “sport” – and the nebulous concept of romance is subsequently thrown about by punditry at large to describe acts of giant-killing.
The romance or glory associated with a lengthy domestic Cup run is perhaps somewhat overstated; or at least much more so for larger clubs. Of 76 inter-divisional matches in this year’s League Cup competition, thirty were won by the club in the lower division, through luck, tactical genius or most often probably they had more to gain.
The allure of an enduring – and profitable Cup run – is still very appealing for small fries. Cross-league pollination is the lifeblood of many smaller clubs and often keep competing in the face of mounting costs: apparently the prize money received by third-tier Oldham Athletic for defeating Liverpool in the FA Cup will allow them to keep their youth academy from closing.
But no matter that pundits cling to the hope of a Rocky-style underdog victory, that floaty feeling isn’t usually associated with ultimate victory.
The history books say that lower-tier teams rarely take home the chocolates when it comes to finals. Since the institution of the League Cup in 1960-61, only twenty-four teams outside the top flight have competed in a League or FA Cup final. Two of these teams were victorious, the 1975 iteration of Aston Villa (against fellow second-division club Norwich City) and, most recently, Sheffield Wednesday.
That Wednesday won in Ryan Giggs’ debut season (1991) hints at how rarely the outsiders win.
Feel free to use the word “romance” as often as you choose. But be aware it’s more likely the temporary infatuation inspired by celluloid rather than something more substantial.