Football League Cup
Capital One Cup logo
|Number of teams||92|
|Current champions||Manchester City (3rd title)|
|Most successful club(s)||Liverpool (8 titles)|
|Television broadcasters||Sky Sports
BBC (highlights only)
|2014–15 Football League Cup|
The Football League Cup, commonly known as the League Cup or by the name referring to the title sponsor (currently the Capital One Cup), is a football competition played by teams in England and Wales. Similar to the FA Cup, it is played on a knockout (single elimination) basis. Unlike the FA Cup, where 758 teams entered in 2012–13, only 92 clubs can enter the League Cup – the 20 Premier League clubs, and the 72 clubs of The Football League, which organises the competition. Also unlike the FA Cup, the semi-finals are played over two legs. The winners qualify for the UEFA Europa League, unless they have qualified for the Champions League through their league position, in which case the Europa League berth goes to the highest-placed team from the Premier League not already qualified for Europe. The current champions are Manchester City, who beat Sunderland 3–1 in the 2014 final to win their third League Cup.
Although the League Cup is one of the three major domestic trophies attainable by English league teams, it is perceived by larger clubs as a lower priority than the league championship, UEFA Champions League, and the FA Cup. League Cup winners receive £100,000 prize money (awarded by the Football League) with the runners-up receiving £50,000, considered relatively insignificant to top-flight teams, compared to the £2 million prize money of the FA Cup, which is in turn eclipsed by the Premier League's television money (awarded on final league position) and consequent participation in the Champions League.
Some clubs have made a point of fielding a weaker side in the competition, making the opportunity for giant-killing of the larger clubs more likely. Many of the top English sides, Arsenal and Manchester United in particular, have used the competition to give young players valuable big-game experience. In 2010, in response to Arsène Wenger's claim that a League Cup win would not end his trophy drought, Alex Ferguson described the trophy as "a pot worth winning".
The women's game has its own League Cup, which is open to the 36 women's clubs in the three divisions of the FA Women's Premier League, although the women's competition is governed by the FA and not the Football League.
The original idea for a League Cup was that of Stanley Rous who saw the competition as a consolation for clubs who had already been knocked out of the FA Cup. However it was not Rous who came to implement it, but Alan Hardaker. Hardaker, the Secretary of the Football League initially proposed the competition as a way for the clubs to make up on lost revenue due to a reduction in matches played for when the league was to be re-organised. The re-organisation of the league was not immediately forthcoming, however the cup competition was introduced regardless.
The trophy was paid for personally by Football League President Joe Richards, Richards was proud of the competition and he had his own name engraved on it. Richards described the competition's formation as an 'interim step' on the way to the league's re-organisation. Richards' priority was the re-organisation of the leagues; 'perhaps by cutting down the number of clubs in each division, as has already been suggested, and even given more consideration to the system of four up and four down'.
Hardaker felt that the Football League needed to adapt to the times as the English game was losing prestige and he felt that the Football League should take the lead in revitalising football in the nation: "It must be obvious to all of you that the time has come to do something, and it is up to the Football League to give the lead. I hope the Press will not immediately assume that the League is going to fall out with the F.A. or anybody else... the time has come for our voice to be heard in every problem which affects the professional game."
The League Cup competition was established at a time when match day attendances were dwindling. The league had lost 1 million spectators compared to the previous season. It was established at a time when tensions between the Football League and the Football Association were high. The biggest disagreement was how revenue was shared between the clubs.
During the late 1950s, the majority of senior English clubs equipped their grounds with floodlights. This opened up the opportunity to exploit weekday evenings throughout the winter. The League Cup was introduced in the 1960–61 season specifically as a mid-week floodlit tournament, to replace the Southern Professional Floodlit Cup.
The League Cup was criticised by the better endowed clubs, The Times ' correspondent at the time felt that the League Cup was a step in the wrong direction, the European Cup had been formed in five years prior to the League Cup and the correspondent felt the League Cup's introduction was adding to existing problems. The Times published on May 30, 1960: "Where a drastic reduction is required in an attempt to raise quality, no doubt quantity and a further spread of mediocrity will be the dose. Where men like Count Bernabeu with his wider horizons, think in terms of a European-league for the future in which a lead could surely now be given jointly by our leaders, the Football League propose next season to implement their useless Football League Cup to be played in midweek. It gets the players, the clubs and the public nowhere."
Aston Villa were the inaugural winners in 1960–61 defeating Rotherham United 3–2 in the final over two legs. Football in England was considered to be of a low quality compared to what was being played on the continent, unfashionable clubs Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers were England's representatives in Europe that year. Richards referred to the appetite for European football as 'continental fever' and was keen for the league to re-establish itself . 'We must be prepared to put the interests of the League and the game before individual clubs.' Sixteen clubs opposed the competition's creation, thirty one approved it. The average attendance across the League Cup was 10,556, just higher than the average gate in the Third Division. The total attendance of the Football League competition had fallen by 4 million from the previous season. Richards is reputed to have told Hardaker that he foresaw the League Cup final being held at Wembley, but that it wouldn't be during his lifetime. The first League Cup final to be held at Wembley was Third Division Queens Park Rangers' win over First Division West Bromwich Albion on 4 March 1967. Richards died in 1968.
The introduction of the League Cup had given the Football League more negotiating power with the FA and UEFA. Hardaker had threatened UEFA with a boycott of the Fairs Cup unless UEFA gave the League Cup winner European qualification. As a result of the negotiating tactics, UEFA provided the League Cup winner with a place in the European competitions providing the team was in the first division. Tottenham Hotspur were the first team to qualify for Europe by virtue of winning the competition. Although Leeds United has won the competition before Tottenham, Leeds qualified for Europe based on league position. The winners of the 1967 and 1969 editions QPR and Swindon Town did not participate in Europe as they were not in the First Division.
Prior to the agreement with UEFA, the competition wasn't considered worthy of the larger clubs attention. However once a position in Europe was on offer, as was a final at Wembley Stadium, the competition's standing was improved and in 1968/69 season only Manchester United declined to participate. Everton chose not to compete in 1970 so that they could concentrate their efforts on the European Cup.
In the early 21st century, following restructuring of European football and particularly its international club competitions the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, there were considerations of removing the prize of European qualification from the League Cup's winners. It has retained its Europa League berth, however, leaving England the only UEFA member aside from France to offer a European berth to the winners of their second cup competitions. This has allowed the League Cup to retain popularity, especially with fans of clubs for whom success in cup competitions offers their only realistic chance of qualifying for Europe.
In October 2013, UEFA announced that from the 2015–16 season, finishing runner-up would no longer qualify teams for European Competitions should the winner otherwise qualify and instead the places in Europe would be awarded based on league position.
Giant killings are less well remembered in the League Cup than the FA Cup due to the absence of non-league sides and the fact that many big clubs have fielded very under-strength sides when knocked out. However, there have been some notable upsets, such as Fourth Division side Chester knocking league champions Leeds United out 3–0 en route to the semi-finals in 1974–75. In 1995–96, Manchester United were beaten 3–0 at home by York City in the second round, first leg; United could only win 3–1 in the second leg and went out 4–3 on aggregate (York went on to repeat the achievement against Everton the following year). Also,the final of 1967 saw Division Three side Queens Park Rangers come from 2–0 down at half time to win 3–2 against top-flight West Bromwich Albion in the first League Cup Final to be hosted at Wembley Stadium. Two years later in 1969, Third Division side Swindon Town beat Arsenal 3-1 after extra time in the final to win the trophy.
United have also been knocked out by Southend United and Coventry City in 2006–07 and 2007–08 respectively: in the match against Southend they fielded a strong side with 10 internationals, bucking a trend they had themselves started. In the 2014–15 season, Manchester United fielded five international players but lost 4–0 in the second round (in which they entered the tournament) against third-tier side MK Dons.
In 2001–02, holders Liverpool were defeated 2–1 at home by Grimsby Town, then humbled again by Northampton Town in September 2010. Grimsby recorded another giant killing in 2005 by knocking out Tottenham Hotspur. In the 2012–13 competition, League Two side (fourth tier) Bradford City knocked out Premier League sides Wigan and Arsenal en route to a semi-final disposal of another top tier side Aston Villa 4–3 on aggregate to reach the final, becoming the lowest-ranked team to do so since Rochdale in 1962. Swansea City, in their centenary year, became the first team from outside England to win the League Cup on 24 February 2013, when they beat Bradford City 5–0 to win their first major cup. Former League club and now defunct Scarborough defeated Chelsea 4–3 on aggregate, in October 1989, while a Division 4 club. In 1992–93, Scarborough then defeated Coventry City (then a top-tier side) 3–2 on aggregate, before ultimately going out of the competition, narrowly 1–0, against Arsenal.
The League Cup is open to all 92 members of the Premier League and the Football League and is divided into seven rounds, organised so that 32 teams remain by the third round (with the exception of the 1961–62 competition). Since 1996–97, teams involved in European competition during the season have received a bye to the third round; the remaining Premier League teams enter at the second round, and the remaining Football League teams enter at the first round. If the number of byes causes an odd number of teams to enter a round, another team may be given a bye (usually the highest-placed team of those relegated from the Premier League the previous season) or a preliminary round may be played between the two teams promoted from the Football Conference the previous season (or, if only one team is promoted, that team would play against the lowest-placed team not to be relegated from the Football League the previous season); preliminary rounds have only been necessary in the 2002–03 and 2011–12 competitions. Up to 1995–96, all teams were involved by the second round, although some received byes to that stage.
Matches in all rounds are single-legged, except for the semi-finals, which have been two-legged since the competition began. The final was two-legged from 1961 to 1966, but has been single-legged ever since. The first round was two-legged from 1975–76 to 2000–01, and the second round was two-legged from 1979–80 to 2000–01. Single-legged matches would be replayed as necessary until 1993–94, when penalties were introduced to settle the first replay; the last single-legged tie to require a replay was played in 1996–97. Until 1974–75, two-legged ties that remained level after extra time in the second leg would be replayed; in that time, three ties reached a third replay. Between 1975–76 and 1979–80, ties would still be replayed, but a penalty shoot-out would be used to settle ties that could not be decided after a replay; replays of two-legged matches were finally abolished for 1980–81, with the away goals rule and penalties being adopted instead. The semi-finals were the exception to this, with level ties being replayed until 1986–87, after which the away goals rule and penalties were introduced.
For the first six seasons of the Football League Cup, the final was played over two legs, with each leg being played at the home ground of each finalist. Since 1967, the final has been played as a single match at Wembley Stadium, although the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was used between 2001 and 2007, following the demolition of the old Wembley. Between 1967 and 1997, finals that finished level after extra time would be replayed at an alternative venue until a winner was decided. The only final to require two replays was the 1977 final between Aston Villa and Everton. The venues that hosted replays were Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, Old Trafford and Maine Road in Manchester and Villa Park in Birmingham. Since 1998, finals that have finished level after extra time have been decided by penalty shoot-out.
Since 1990, the best player in the League Cup final – as chosen by the Sky Sports television panel – has been presented with the Alan Hardaker trophy, named after the former secretary of The Football League who devised the Football League Cup. The current holder of the trophy is Manchester City's Samir Nasri. Ben Foster is the only player to win the award more than once (in 2009 and 2011).
Since 1982, the League Cup has been named after its sponsor, giving it the following names:
|1960–1982||No main sponsor||Football League Cup|
|1982–1986||Milk Marketing Board||Milk Cup|
|1986–1990||Littlewoods||Littlewoods Challenge Cup|
|2003–2012||Molson Coors||Carling Cup|
|2012–2016||Capital One||Capital One Cup|
From the 2009–10 season to the 2011–12 season, Sky Sports broadcast selected Round 1 to quarter final matches. The BBC broadcast Tuesday semi final first legs and second legs while Sky Sports broadcast Wednesday semi final first legs and second legs. The final was co-broadcast by the BBC and Sky Sports. From the 2012–13 season, up until at least the 2017–18 season, Sky Sports have a contract to broadcast 15 live matches per-season, including semi-finals and final. Since the 2009–10 season up until at least the 2014–15 season, the BBC broadcast highlights from each round.
Three different trophies have been presented to the winners of the League Cup since its inauguration:
- The original trophy, given to the winners since 1990–91
- The trophy presented from 1986–87 until 1989–90 during Littlewoods' sponsorship of the competition
- The trophy presented from the first season of the Milk Marketing Board sponsoring the competition, 1981–82 to 1985–86
As of 2014[update]:
- Most tournament wins (team): 8 wins, Liverpool.
- Most final appearances (team): 11, Liverpool. 
- Most tournament wins (individual): 5, Ian Rush for Liverpool.
- Most final appearances: (individual): 6, Ian Rush for Liverpool (1981–1984, 1987, 1995) and Emile Heskey for Leicester City (1997, 1999, 2000), Liverpool (2001, 2003) and Aston Villa (2010).
- Highest goalscorer (career): Geoff Hurst, Ian Rush 49 goals.
- Highest goalscorer (season): Clive Allen, for Tottenham Hotspur, 12 goals in 1986–87.
- Most goals scored in a match (individual): 6 goals, by Frankie Bunn for Oldham Athletic vs Scarborough, 25 October 1989.
- Biggest win: Liverpool 10–0 Fulham, second round first leg, 23 September 1986 and West Ham United 10–0 Bury, second round second leg, 25 October 1983.
- Biggest aggregate win in a semi-final: Manchester City 9–0 West Ham United (6–0 at the Etihad Stadium and 3–0 at the Boleyn Ground), January 2014
- Biggest win in a final: Swansea City 5–0 Bradford City, 24 February 2013.
- Highest scoring game: Reading 5–7 Arsenal, fourth round, 30 October 2012. and Dagenham & Redbridge 6–6 Brentford, first round, 12 August 2014.
- Most penalties taken in a game: 31. Liverpool 14–13 Middlesbrough (23 September 2014)
- Youngest player: Ashley Chambers, 15 years 203 days, for Leicester City vs Blackpool, 2005.
- Youngest goalscorer in the final: Norman Whiteside, 17 years 324 days, for Manchester United vs Liverpool, 1983.
- Youngest captain in the final: Barry Venison, 20 years, 7 months 8 days, for Sunderland vs Norwich City, 1985.
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