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The ‘Snarling’ Cup: when in doubt, start a fight

The Chelsea/Arsenal brawl was great entertainment, but it wasn't enought to revive the Carling Cup.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Can one dramatic game of football serve to revive the much-maligned Carling Cup?

Despite countless obituaries, some people are now claiming that the Carling Cup has risen Lazarus-like from the mortuary slab. ‘After Sunday’s gripping final, it may be time to reassess the Carling Cup,’ suggested Nick Szcepanik in The Times (London). The Football League’s director of communications John Nagle hailed the ‘recent rejuvenation’ of the tournament. ‘This has undoubtedly been a very good year for the Carling Cup and certainly one of the best in recent memory’, crowed Nagle.

Certainly, last Sunday’s dramatic clash between Arsenal and Chelsea was more memorable than most. Three goals, Cesc Fabregas pelted with celery, John Terry stretchered off unconscious and, to top it off, a hugely enjoyable mass brawl that resulted in three players being sent off. You can’t ask for more than that. Well, maybe a streaker or a pitch invasion might have added a nice finishing touch but you can’t have everything.

Frank Lampard thought that the mass brawl was a sign of how much both teams cared about the trophy. ‘People talked about the Carling Cup a few years ago and criticised the fact that teams don’t want to win it but this was a game both teams wanted to win,’ said the Chelsea midfielder. ‘However much you want to criticise what happened at the end and say it should not happen, and this and that, we should all be happy it was a great battle’.

But just because the final was keenly contested, it doesn’t mean that the Carling Cup’s lustre has been miraculously restored. If Arsene Wenger really valued the trophy would he have sent out a team of children in the final? Of course not. Certainly, both teams wanted to win the match but Wenger won’t be losing any sleep over this defeat while Chelsea will consider the season a failure if the Carling Cup is their only piece of silverware. Sky’s cameras didn’t even manage to find a single shot of a weeping Arsenal fan at the final whistle – and that tells you everything about the tournament’s relative worth, namely that the Carling Cup is still as valueless as an IOU from Lord Lucan.

Inevitably, both Chelsea and Arsenal have been charged by the FA for failing to control their players. Two Arsenal players, Emmanuel Eboué and Emmanuel Adebayor, have also been charged for their part in the fracas. Personally, I think they all deserve a prize for livening up our Sunday afternoon. I can’t usually be bothered to watch the Carling Cup final but last Sunday I was visiting friends who (a) had a Sky Sports subscription and (b) had a 42-inch flat screen high definition TV and, well, it would have been impolite not to watch the game with them. I wasn’t particularly bothered about who won as long as there were a few thrills and spills; some goalmouth action ideally spiced up with a bit of needle, a couple of X-rated tackles and maybe a red card or two for good measure. It would have been a half-decent game without the aggro but the mass brawl really was the icing on the cake.

The mass brawl is an under-rated phenomenon. A violent meleé is capable of enlivening even the most meaningless exhibition match. Take, for example, the exemplary 30-man brawl that led to the ‘friendly’ between Queens Park Rangers and China’s Olympic team being abandoned. Fans wouldn’t be moaning about extortionate ticket prices if they were treated to first-rate entertainment like that every week. Moreover, thanks to television footage of the scrimmage, QPR’s name will now be recognised and, quite possibly, feared throughout China. It’s the kind of global brand recognition that Chelsea’s marketing men would die for.

Of course, the FA will always take a dim view of such violent incidents. Yes, fighting is unprofessional and petulant but – whisper it – there are plenty of fans like me who love to see a bit of argy-bargy. Football certainly needs rules and a mass brawl is, quite rightly, outwith the laws of the game. But equally, the game wouldn’t be so dramatic or compelling if its laws were always adhered to. Amid all the usual handwringing over the fracas, BBC pundit Lee Dixon provided a rare moment of common sense. ‘The FA will punish these players as they see fit but I don’t think it was that bad,’ said the former Arsenal defender. ‘We want to see passion.’ Quite right. If players behaved like saints and never lost their tempers the game would be a much poorer spectacle.

We’ll always remember moments of sublime skill, like Maradona’s second goal against England in 1986 or Marco van Basten’s volley in Euro 88. But we’ll also fondly recall Zidane’s headbutt or Cantona’s kung-fu kick. I’m not sure that this year’s ‘Snarling Cup’, as the caption writers have dubbed it, will acquire the same iconic status as these other great acts of violence but, while most Carling Cup finals will be quickly erased from our collective memory, this one might linger a little longer. Therein lies the moral of this story: if you haven’t got the footballing talent to achieve immortality, start a ruck instead.

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