All that glistens is silver: Roger Moore scores

Last updated : 30 August 2008 By Roger Moore

Have you ever read or seen Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible'? The playwright's seminal and magnificent drama, it is set in Salem in the 1600s and charts the impassioned story of the frustrated John Procter.

He fights against the madness of a local authority which finds and condemns witchcraft on scant evidence and even less justification. Salem, we discover, is a town ruled by fear, stoked by hatred and vengeance with Procter its only beacon of hope.

The play is a thinly veiled attack on the McCarthy trials of 1950s America. In these, the innocent, and especially those in creative industries like Miller's, were often accused without foundation of Communism; their crime? Usually nothing more than criticism of the state, exercising an enshrined right to liberty and freedom of speech. The Crucible was Miller's angry and wholly justified response.

The premise of The Crucible is a simple one; challenge the conventional wisdom and mass feeling, when you know it is inherently wrong. Do not follow the herd unwittingly into the slaughter house, but use your own moral compass and cognitive skill to judge the value of what you are being led to believe.

This week, we were presented with a common football convention that I ask you to challenge.

Our game is full of such conventions. They are often created in the media, or by football itself. They are designed solely for a purpose that suits the protagonists and they will promote the convention until such time as it becomes the accepted wisdom.

Take, for example, the idea that football teams need time to gel. Why?

A team of soldiers come together in battle and frequently excel as a unit, interchanging personnel through injury and fatality with no opportunity to 'gel' but purely through superb leadership and direction. The same might be said of the team producing the latest iteration of the Transit on the production line at Eastleigh. How many sub-standard vans are turned out while the production line 'gels'?

Ahh, but football is different to the Army or Ford, you'll say. And perhaps you're right. So let's challenge the real 'crucible' of this piece. It is the idea that The Carling Cup (the Football League Cup) has lost its lustre.

It's not difficult to see why such a convention arises. Premiership teams, with myriad competitions to play for and deep squads are prone to play 'weakened' teams in The Carling Cup since its financial value is far inferior to a position among the European elite.

But a roll-call of the past decade's winners reveals Chelsea winning three times, Spurs twice, Liverpool twice as well as inevitably Manchester United. So, we should not underestimate the value even the biggest clubs place in this apparently tarnished silver-ware.

The League Cup was conceived as a two-legged competition to offer a genuine opportunity to clubs in the lower divisions to both generate additional income and (with a home tie in each round) to earn a trophy that might otherwise be beyond them.

Over the years, the format may have changed but the essence remains. The Carling Cup is an essential competition for teams like ours.

The potential revenue and glamour ties aside, for any club below the Premiership top six, this competition provides one of only three real opportunities to win a trophy: The League Championship, The FA Cup and The Carling Cup (and I deliberately exclude any tin on offer for winning a play-off final, since this is at best a recognition of third place).

What's happened, of course, is that The Carling Cup has always had its detractors. Inevitably those detractors are the big clubs and the media who, by virtue of their revenue, have to pander to the big clubs. It stands to reason. Why, originally, would the football elite support a competition that essentially provided their inferior opponents with an added opportunity to win?

More recently, it has suited the media presentation of football to allow this erstwhile competition to be demeaned in favour of their other, highly touted and over-publicised, events. It would make no sense to give the League Cup equal billing with the Champions League, regardless of the quality of football or opponent when the relative cost is considered.

Few would argue then, that in Olympic senses, the Carling Cup is the Bronze medal of the three, with the League Championship and the FA Cup vying for Gold, depending on your preference (the Champions League the preserve of the Hoys and Redgraves alone). But it is a medal and a permanent place in history. It might seem like a 'lesser medal' until you consider the vast number of clubs who will earn no medals at all, season after season, decade after decade, century after trophy-free century.

So, yes for fans well used to winning Gold, a third place might be considered scant consolation. But for the remainder, and us prime among them, The Carling Cup is an incredible competition, of no less value because a mightier team convince themselves they have less enthusiasm for it.

And on this basis, please (should we be drawn at home again) go and take your rightful place in history. Don't be fooled into denigrating this wonderful competition because the men who manage the Champion's League would have you believe there is no shine from the League Cup.

From down here, all that glisters is Silver. Gold is for another day, another era.