I KNOW this is going to sound like a bitter and twisted rant, and to be honest it is, but what is the point of having a cup competition if you’re going to leave the romantic storylines in the dark?
When Swindon Town drew Aston Villa in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night, it provided all the elements a traditional cup yarn could ever wish for.
It pitted a flamboyant rookie manager of a third division team up against one of the biggest football clubs in the country.
It paired a club which has managed eight – yes, that’ s right, EIGHT – giant-killings in just 16 months, including two against Premier League sides and three in a row in the League Cup this year, against a team with a rich pedigree in knockout football.
It pulled up Swindon’s history in the competition, having won it as a third-tier team in 1969, and the individual tales of Shay Given and James Collins.
But, let’s be honest, the clash between Chelsea reserves and Manchester United thirds epitomises the tradition, drama and intrigue of this 50-year-old trophy. And Reading never play Arsenal.
I know it’s all driven by commercial greed/know-how (delete as applicable) but it still rankles that, between them, Capital One and Sky came to the conclusion that what’s best for the competition as a whole is to show two all-Premier League games, one of which they are already scheduled to broadcast live in the immediate build-up to the League Cup fourth round.
Of course, I’m not that naïve as to think that they are looking out for what’s best for the competition, but anyway… Let’s think about it logically, guys, if Chelsea and Manchester United are playing each other in the league on the Sunday, and you’re also showing United against Arsenal the next Saturday lunchtime, what are the odds on Sir Alex deciding it’s better if he puts his crèche out at Stamford Bridge on the Wednesday?
Pretty high I’d say. It’ll be a half-hearted sequel, like being forced to watch Basic Instinct II - nothing like the real thing. We’re overfed so much top-quality football today that we forget about what the cup competitions really mean.
They were designed to give smaller clubs a chance to shine, in this case smaller clubs like Swindon.
Nowadays, even FA Cup third-round day will be dedicated to a Manchester derby if the draw produces such a tie. The bricklayers and postmen and factory workers, who’ve juggled jobs and training to make it through seven rounds of qualifying, will have to make do with a two-minute segment at midnight rather than enjoy their well-deserved 90 minutes of fame.
Swindon chairman Jeremy Wray was absolutely right when he came out on Friday to tell the Advertiser how the age-old traditions of cup football would die if sponsors and broadcasters don’t realise they, as much as the teams involved, are responsible for keeping their spirit alive.
We watch Premier League versus Premier League week in, week out – it’s sensational sport, we love it.
But when it comes to the FA Cup or the League Cup, we can do without the love-hate triangle between Mancini, Ferguson and Wenger or the ongoing feud between Ferdinand and Terry. When it comes to the cup it really doesn’t matter.
Please, for the sake of the sport, let’s get our priorities right.
- IT’S A pretty astonishing time to be commentating on Swindon and Wiltshire sport right now.
Let’s leave the exploits of Swindon Town alone for one second and have a little peek around the region, and it seems wherever you turn there’s a success story unfolding.
Swindon Robins are massive contenders for the Elite League play-off crown.
As if imitating the achievements, or lack thereof, of their footballing counterparts across the town, they’ve bounced back from a miserable 2011 to challenge perennial shale giants Poole for the title.
It’s great to see there’s still a healthy appetite for speedway in Swindon, if our internet viewing figures are anything to go by anyway, and in Alun Rossiter they have a man who, amongst Elite League managers, is the sport’s Paolo Di Canio.
Oh how he’ll love that comparison.
On the rugby pitch, remarkable things are happening at Greenbridge Road where, under the tutelage of Neil Loader, Swindon are flying.
Loader & Co have a very real desire to turn Swindon into a National League side in the years to come – an ambition that should be applauded.
All over the south west there are small towns with big rugby clubs and Swindon is sandwiched between several juggernauts in Bath, Gloucester, Bristol, London Irish and now London Welsh at Oxford.
Wouldn’t it be great to have top-quality rugby on our doorstep?
Our Olympians did us proud, from the pool to the gymnasium, Goatacre and Lechlade cricket clubs continue to excel and in Laura Collett we have a young equestrian rider destined for greatness.
The list could go on and on and on and on.
So yes, to those who asked last week, there is sporting life outside of the County Ground.
And my word is it thriving right now.
- THE Ryder Cup got underway in Illinois yesterday, with Tiger Woods hoping to lead the Americans to victory for the first time since 2008.
I don’t know how Tiger can sleep ahead of these events, what with the prospect of foursomes, holes-in-one and European WAGs laid on a plate over a long weekend.
- A LONG, long time ago, I used to be a Shrewsbury fan. I use the word ‘fan’ in its loosest sense, seeing as I was five and watched less than half-a-dozen games at Gay Meadow before moving to Wiltshire, but a fan nonetheless.
Apparently, though I cannot remember it, my first ever game of football involved Chesterfield and the Shrews competing to see who could hit the man in his coracle on the River Severn most often.
No wonder the guy sat next to my father and I jumped up midway through the second half and started laying into his own team.
Evidently, in his eyes, every Shrewsbury player deserved some form of abuse. I’m not sure how my mum ever let my dad take me to a game again when I darted through the door when we got home, scuttled into the living room and asked her what a “f***inw***er” was.