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Carabao Cup

The League Cup: A pioneering project

Saturday marks 60 years since the first-ever fixtures in the competition

25 September 2020

Since its inception in 1960/61, some 60 years ago, the League Cup has provided endless drama and countless magic moments.

The inaugural Final in 1961, between Rotherham United and Aston Villa, set the trend, not least because the Millers took a 2-0 lead into the second leg.

Villa had a mountain to climb, but second-half goals from Alan O'Neill and Harry Burrows drew them level on aggregate. Villa Park then exploded when Peter McParland scored in the 109th minute to complete the stunning comeback. And it would prove to be an exhilarating taste of what was to come over the years.

It was just what Alan Hardaker, the former EFL Secretary, had envisaged. The League Cup had been born barely 12 months earlier - on 26 September 1960 - following his pioneering proposal as part of the "Pattern For Football" document.

From humble beginnings, the popularity of the competition soon spread. As Hardaker enthused: “If the FA Cup is football’s Ascot, the League Cup Final is its Derby Day”.

For six years, the two-legged final format continued. To Villa and the list of victors, the names of Norwich City, Birmingham City, Leicester City, Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion were added. In 1966/67, the competition switched to a one-off decider at Wembley Stadium - and the first final there did not disappoint. Queens Park Rangers became the first club from the third tier to win the trophy, recovering from 2-0 down to defeat holders West Brom.

Again, it demonstrated the glorious unpredictability of the competition, and interest in it grew further in 1968. A new ruling awarded the winners a European place and, from that point on, it firmly stamped itself onto the football calendar.

Another epic – and certainly the most physically demanding of all the League Cup Final epics - took place in 1977, when Aston Villa needed 330 minutes to dispose of Everton. In the third-time-lucky attempt in Manchester, it was Brian Little who ended the marathon, concluding a triple-header that, in total, had been watched by more than 200,000 supporters.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool's domestic and European dominance extended into the competition as they won four consecutive Finals between 1981 and 1984. But they did it the hard way, defeating West Ham United 2-1 in a replay, Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 after extra-time, Manchester United 2-1 after extra-time and Everton 1-0 in a replay.

With further victories - over Bolton Wanderers in 1995, Birmingham City in 2001, Manchester United in 2003 and Cardiff City in 2012 - Liverpool have established a competition record of eight victories in the Final. Manchester City are the next best, with seven, followed by Aston Villa.

In 1981, The League Cup had become the first major cup competition to bear the name of a sponsor - The Milk Cup - following a ground-breaking deal with the National Dairy Council. Over the next four decades, the competition went on to have a number of different sponsored titles - from The Milk Cup to The Littlewoods Challenge Cup, The Rumbelows Cup, The Coca-Cola Cup, The Worthington Cup, The Carling Cup, The Capital One Cup and, now, The Carabao Cup.

Following the closure of Wembley for refurbishment in 2000, the competition set up camp in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where the Final was staged from 2001 until 2007. However, moving from its spiritual home in North London did nothing to lessen the excitement of the fixtures.

In the first one staged in Cardiff, Liverpool overcame Birmingham 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra-time. It was the first time a spot-kick shoot-out had been needed in a major English domestic final.

Since the Final returned to Wembley in 2008, the closeness of the contests has continued. Tottenham had to go to an extra 30 minutes to see off Chelsea 2-1 in 2008 but, the following year, they succumbed 4-1 on penalties to Manchester United after a 0-0 draw. United retained the Cup next time out, defeating Aston Villa 2-1, before Birmingham stunned Arsenal in 2011 with a 2-1 victory, Obafemi Martins scoring a late winner.

More recent years have seen Manchester City make the competition their own, with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea followed by last season’s win over Aston Villa, the latest in a line of triumphs under the arch.

 

 


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