1985 and English clubs are banned from europe following the Heysel Stadium diaaster. Suddenly there are several spare midweek football slots to fill. What do you do? Well obviously you create a competition for the top two divisions in English football to fill that void. Could this be something to excite the masses and rival the league cup and of course the world’s oldest competition… The FA Cup?
Well in a nutshell…. No!!! However, there were exciting games during the 7 seasons it ran for. Crowds weren’t exactly sellouts, but nonetheless it had a place… sort of.
The Cup was the brainchild of long serving Chelsea chairman Ken Bates. Yes, the former dairy farmer who bought the club for a quid and then sold them to Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich for £140m.
Now, it’s fair to say the competition wasn’t everybody’s ‘cup of tea’. Actually if it was a cup of tea it would be one those weak poor brews that your mate that doesn’t like making you one serves up. Many clubs pulled out some years and in particular Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham declined the invitation completely.
The format was pretty simple as teams were broken into a regional draw… North and South. They did trial a first round group system but It a was in the most part a knockout competition that included a two legged regional final before the regional winners faced each other in a Wembley showpiece final. Who wouldn’t want a day out at the twin towers to cheer on their team?
The first final took place on a Sunday between Bates own club… Chelsea, and Manchester City. Surely not great to have to rearrange a league fixture for a ‘meaningless’ cup game you might say. Well, no because both clubs played league games the day before. ‘Excuse me, what? How would today’s players feel about that? Could you imagine Eden Hazard and Sergio Aguero facing off in a cup final only 24 hours after a league game? No nor me.
As it turned out it was an entertaining affair as Chelsea ran out 5-4 winners. The blues were 5-1 up at one stage before a City comeback was too little too late.
So after the great advert the final gave the competition it continued. Blackburn Rovers defeated Charlton Athletic 1-0 and the competition them gained sponsorship in the form of Italian Sportswear manufacturer Simod.
Reading were the winners next in what was a rare success for the royals. Following a sponsorship change with the competition being called The Zenith Data Systems Cup… Nottingham Forest won the competition twice in 1989 and 1992, Chelsea added a 2nd title in 1990 and Crystal Palace enjoyed a day out in 1991.
So was it all worth it? Yes I believe it was. As a Chelsea fan I was there in 1990 at the tender age of 12 to see Tony Dorigo curl in a fabulous freekick in what was the only goal of a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough. I’d hope there were fans like me who enjoyed their club having a dream day out and seeing their club lift a trophy.
On the whole I can’t see there being a ‘Bring back the Full Members Cup’ campaign in the near future, but it is one that for some brings back some happy memories of how football used to be.
What are your memories of this competition?