By George Willoughby
The Carabao Cup, the Checkatrade Trophy and the FA Cup. The three main domestic cup competitions for English clubs, but are we seeing their demise more than ever before?
This has been a trend for a short while now with clubs seeing cups as more of a hindrance to them. The noticeable changes are the drop off in crowds and the sheer number of changes made to starting line-ups.
Lower league clubs still try and persevere with cup football as a good cup run can be extremely beneficial.
Lincoln City are a prime example of what success in a cup competition can bring. The Imps reached the FA Cup quarter-finals as a non-league club two seasons ago. A feat that no other National League club has achieved in over a century. It wasn’t just about the money either. The performances of Danny Cowley’s men touched the hearts of thousands, and in doing so brought the Lincoln community together.
There is a cliché that is continuously used after a team in the third, fourth or fifth tier of English football have a great cup run. It’s the usual ‘they’ve re-discovered the love for cup football’ or something along those lines. But, every year we see the decreasing prominence of cup football within the English footballing pyramid.
It’s become almost a given now for top flight teams to make near double-digit changes to their usual starting eleven which is resulting in declining attendances. We’re seeing significantly lower crowds as the fans have lost the interest to watch a second team play in a competition that the club has no intention of progressing in. Club managers and chairman’s will try to defend their decision and claim they want to advance into the next round. Unfortunately, it’s clear to see that the general feeling is to focus completely on league campaigns.
Given the strength that Premier League squads have at their disposal, it’s not surprising to witness the changes.
However, teams like Bournemouth, Huddersfield, Brighton, Crystal Palace and many others notoriously make household alterations to their squad for cup matches, despite the fact it’s their only chance of silverware. Granted, some may have a relegation battle to fight, but even so, a good cup run or even a big upset is especially great for the fans who will not experience winning all that often.
Keeping it local, Cardiff are no exception to this either. A Carabao cup tie saw Neil Warnock’s men host Championship outfit Norwich. As expected, nine changes were made, and they ultimately paid the price with The Canaries impressively running away 3-1 winners. Only 6953 people attended that match, which is a 78% drop in attendance compared to Cardiff’s average home gate so far this season.
The sad reality is that cup football in England is in a worrisome state. They only become relevant when it reaches the later rounds which is having profound negative implications for the earlier matchups.
The Checkatrade Trophy tries to offer an alternative with its format. Although, despite the motives behind the competition to try and promote young English talent, it faces mass rivalry from fans who have protested by boycotting matches since its introduction in the 2016-17 season.
It seems that even with the English Football League offering something different, fans are refusing to accept it but that’s a completely different topic in its own right.
Whether a solution can be found as to why cup competitions have become so insignificant remains still unknown. As it stands, they are far from being a priority this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.