The Carabao Cup final takes place this Sunday, with the first silverware of the season on the line. Traditionally known as the League Cup (or EFL Cup if you prefer these days), the trophy is a funny looking old thing. The three-handled design has been used since its introduction in the 1960-61 season, apart from between 1981-1991, where sponsors – the Milk Marketing Board and Littlewoods – chose to award the winners their own design of the trophy. Also, the victorious team has automatically qualified for the UEFA Cup since 1971, although the spot was taken away in 1985 for seven seasons due to the Heysel ban, before being reinstated.
Many top tier sides have chosen to field weakened teams in recent years, as it’s only regarded as the third most important domestic trophy of the season, behind the Premier League and the FA Cup. However, with a place in Europe up for grabs, the League Cup is still an attractive prospect and it shows, with 13 of the last 16 winners coming from the ‘big six’. Some of the best players and managers in the business have lifted the trophy in its 59 year history, but only six men have won it as a player and a manager. So here’s at look at those old school footballers who just love the League Cup.
Player: Manchester City – 1970
Manager: Manchester City – 1976
With his team playing in the final at the weekend, it’s quite fitting to start with a Manchester City legend. Book signed for City in 1966 as a 32 year old, and soon became the club’s most decorated captain of all time – until Vincent Kompany surpassed him the 2010s.
The right-back captained Joe Mercer’s team to the First Division title in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970, as well as lifting Manchester City’s first League Cup trophy during the 1969/70 season. City beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 to win that final in March 1970, with Glyn Pardoe scoring the extra-time winner after Jeff Astle and Mike Doyle’s goals left the match at 1-1 at 90 mins.
Book retired from playing in 1973 and took over as Manchester City manager from Ron Saunders the following year. The former player improved City’s results immediately and in 1976 his side reached the League Cup final against Newcastle United. In another tight final, teenager Peter Barnes gave City the lead, before Alan Gowling equalised for the Magpies. However, just after half-time, Dennis Tueart scored a spectacular overhead kick that is still spoke about now at Eastlands, to secure Manchester City their second League Cup triumph. This victory also gave Tony Book the honour of becoming first man to win the competition as both a player and a manager.
Book took City to a second place finish in the league the following season, with his side well known for playing entertaining football in front of sell-out Maine Road crowds, before his departure in 1979. He remained at the club in several different roles for a further 18 years and retired from football activities fully in 2008, but still holds two honorary positions at Manchester City; the ‘Honorary President of Manchester City’ and the ‘Life President of the Manchester City Official Supporters Club’. It’s great to see that even after all their modern successes, City still look after their club legends and hold them in such high esteem.
Player: Chelsea – 1965
Manager: Arsenal – 1987 & 1993, Tottenham Hotspur – 1999
George Graham had a fantastic scoring record at Chelsea, with a strike-rate of nearly one goal in every two games at Stamford Bridge. His goals fired Chelsea to only their second ever major cup final in 1965, where they faced the holders of the trophy, Leicester City. The match was contested over two legs, as it wasn’t until 1967 that the final was moved to a one-off game at Wembley Stadium. The first leg took place at Stamford Bridge in front of a crowd of just 20,690 – which maybe tells you how unimportant the Chelsea fans thought the competition was at the time. The match itself was an end-to-end affair, with Chelsea twice taking the lead through Bobby Tambling and a Terry Venables penalty, but Leicester equalised on both occasions with goals from Colin Appleton and Jimmy Goodfellow. With ten minutes left, Chelsea full-back Eddie McCreadie received the ball on the edge of his own box and went on an eighty-yard run, dribbling past several players before slotting the ball past the late Gordon Banks. The second leg ended 0-0 despite strong Leicester pressure, giving Chelsea and George Graham a 3-2 aggregate win.
Following a successful spell at Millwall, Graham was appointed Arsenal manager in May 1986 and in his opening campaign won Arsenal’s first major trophy since 1979. The Gunners had squeezed past north London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur in the semis to set up a final against First Division champions Liverpool. An Ian Rush opener for the Merseysiders was soon cancelled out on the half hour mark by Charlie Nicholas, before Nicholas’ deflected shot gave him his second goal and Arsenal their first ever League Cup.
George Graham’s second win in the competition as a manager came in the 1992/93 season, when Arsenal were going for an unprecedented League Cup and FA Cup double. What made it even more remarkable was that in both finals they faced the same team; Sheffield Wednesday. The final was the first occasion in English football history that squad numbers and players names were printed on the back of their shirts – a feature that became compulsory for the following campaign. John Harkes gave Wednesday the lead after 8 mins, before man of the match Paul Merson equalised on 20. Merson then set up midfielder Steve Morrow to give Arsenal the 2-1 victory.
In the celebrations after the match, Morrow was lifted by captain Tony Adams, who slipped and dropped Morrow awkwardly on the ground. The match-winner was then rushed to hospital with a broken arm and was unable to collect his winners medal with the rest of his teammates. Arsenal went on to beat Sheffield Wednesday again in the FA Cup final four weeks later to win the cup double. Unfortunately, George Graham’s two League Cup final wins at Arsenal remain the Gunners’ only triumphs, as they have lost a record SIX finals in the competition, two more than any other English team. Graham was sacked by Arsenal in 1995 after 9 years in charge, following a year-long ban from football for accepting a bung during the transfer of John Jensen.
A decent spell at Leeds United restored his reputation and Graham controversially moved to his old clubs’ bitter rivals, Spurs, in October 1998. Within 5 months, he had won the League Cup for a third time. Tottenham didn’t have it easy on the way to the final against Leicester City, beating both Liverpool and Manchester United in the early rounds. The match at Wembley was quite uneventful, with Justin Edinburgh’s sending off on the hour being the only talking point. That was until the last minute of the game, when Spurs midfielder Allan Nielsen popped up with a diving header to give Tottenham their second League Cup. This made George Graham only the third manager to win the trophy with two different teams, after Joe Mercer and Ron Atkinson.*
Player: Aston Villa – 1975 & 1977
Manager: Aston Villa – 1996
Spending his entire playing career down at Villa Park, Brian Little quite rightly has legendary status at Aston Villa. On leaving school in 1970, Little signed for Villa as a sixteen year old, where he helped his side to two promotions from the Third Division back to the top tier during the 70s.
Indeed, Little was a Second Division footballer when he won the first of his two League Cups as a player in 1975. Villa faced Norwich City, making the League Cup final in 1975 the only major domestic cup final in Wembley history where neither team were playing in the top flight. Ron Saunders’ Aston Villa were the favourites as they were gunning for promotion at the time, but the game was a close affair, with winger Ray Graydon following up his saved penalty with 9 minutes to go, to send the trophy back to Birmingham.
This was also manager Ron Saunders’ third successive League Cup final with his third different club, having been a losing manager with Norwich City in 1973 and Manchester City in 1974.
Brian Little’s second League Cup victory came two years later in 1977, with the forward playing a major part after two replays were needed. The first match at Wembley ended in a goalless draw, with the replay four days later at Hillsborough being only marginally better in a 1-1 stalemate. The second replay took place at Old Trafford nearly a month afterwards and was certainly worth the wait. In one of the classic finals, Aston Villa came out on top 3-2, with the stand out moment being a 40-yard goal from Villa centre-back Chris Nicholl. Brian Little however, had a bigger influence on the match with two goals, including a winner the dying seconds to give Villa their third League Cup trophy.
Unfortunately for Little, he was forced to retire in 1980 at the age of 26, due to a severe knee injury. It’s incredible to think that Brian Little was only ever capped once by England.
After retirement, Little remained at Villa as a youth coach until 1984 and following successful spells at Darlington and in particular Leicester City, he was back at Villa Park in a managerial role in November 1994. Villa were in relegation trouble when he took over from Ron Atkinson, but narrowly avoided the drop by one point at the end of the campaign. With Little clearing out the old guard and signing several new players in the summer, Villa were a completely different side, eventually finishing 4th in the 1995/96 Premier League season.
In March of that campaign, the Villans had a League Cup final to contest against Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United. The settled side that Little had set up during the season were comfortable winners, beating the Yorkshiremen 3-0, with goals from Ian Taylor, Dwight Yorke and a 30-yard screamer from Savo Milosevic. This was Aston Villa’s fifth League Cup win, giving Brian Little his third winners medal. Little resigned in 1998 and following a further 18 years in management, became an advisor on the Villa board. Last year he recalled his life in the Midlands, in the book; A Little Is Enough. So it’s fair to say that Brian Little will always be a Villan at heart.
Player: Nottingham Forest – 1978 & 1979
Manager: Leicester City – 1997 & 2000
Northern Irish international Martin O’Neill played an integral role in the success of Nottingham Forest during the golden era of the late 70s/early 80s. When Brian Clough took over in 1975, he guided Forest to the Second Division in 1977 and then a year later to the First Division title at the first time of asking. Incredibly Forest then won the European Cup in 1979 and retained the trophy in 1980.
What is often forgotten during this period is that they also won the League Cup twice in consecutive seasons in 1978 and 1979. The ’78 final against Liverpool ended in a 0-0 draw at Wembley, and the replay which was played at Old Trafford four days later was full of controversy. Winger, John Robertson, scored from the penalty spot after a foul by Phil Thompson on John O’Hare, which TV replays confirmed was actually outside the area. Another refereeing decision caused further controversy when an equalising goal from Liverpool’s Terry McDermott was ruled out for handball, which again TV replays confirmed was the wrong call. Forest held on to the 1-0 scoreline to win their first League Cup.
In 1979, reigning First Division champions were hot favourites in the final against Southampton, but the side from the south coast provided a stern test. A goal from left-back David Peach gave Saints the lead in the first half, but two goals from Garry Birtles and one for Tony Woodcock was enough for Forest to secure the second successive League Cup trophy in a 3-2 victory – Nick Holmes scored a consolation late on for Southampton. Martin O’Neill started in both finals, adding two more winners’ medals to his impressive collection at Nottingham Forest.
O’Neill went into management after retiring at 32, so following a successful spell at Wycombe – where he gained promotion from non-league to the Second Division – and a short period at Norwich City, the Ulsterman joined Leicester City.
In his first season at Filbert Street, O’Neill won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs and until his departure in 2000, Leicester finished in the respectable positions of 9th, 10th, 10th and 8th in the Prem. Without a doubt though, his biggest achievements during his time at Leicester, were the two League Cups that he won in 1997 and 2000. The ’97 final was against a struggling Middlesbrough side at Wembley and ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. Fabrizio Ravenelli opened the scoring on 95 mins and ‘Boro nearly held on to win their first ever major trophy, but Emile Heskey equalised in the final minute of the match to take the game to a replay. Ten days later it took place at Hillsborough, with another extra-time goal from Leicester’s Steve Claridge, securing the League Cup trophy for the Foxes.
O’Neill’s second triumph came three years later, in the last ever League Cup final to take place at the old Wembley Stadium. They took on second tier Tranmere Rovers who were managed at the time by John Aldridge. Captain, Matt Elliott, gave Leicester the lead in the first half with a trademark header and the game looked over when Tranmere’s Clint Hill was sent off in the 62nd minute. But Rovers rallied and came back to equalise through veteran striker David Kelly on 77. Tranmere couldn’t handle Elliott on corners however, and the skipper scored another towering header to secure Leicester their third League Cup trophy.
Martin O’Neill is the only man in history to win the League Cup twice as a player and twice as a manager. In fact it could’ve been even better for O’Neill, as his Leicester side lost the 1999 League Cup final (see above) to Tottenham, and in 2010 he lost another final whilst in charge of Aston Villa, this time to Manchester United. He was clearly a man who respected the competition, unlike many of his counterparts.
Player: Liverpool – 1982, 1983 & 1984
Manager: Blackburn – 2002
No-nonsense Graeme Souness was at the heart of Liverpool’s success when they dominated European football. He won five league titles, three European Cups and three League Cups for the Reds during his glittering career.
Souness actually missed out on a further League Cup medal in 1981. Despite playing in the first match at Wembley, he was injured for the replay at Villa Park when Liverpool beat West Ham United 2-1. That was the start of an unrivalled record of FOUR straight League Cup wins for Liverpool between 1981-84.
The 1982 final was so nearly lost, as a Steve Archibald goal gave Tottenham a 1-0 lead which lasted right up until the 87th minute, when Ronnie Whelan equalised to send the match into extra-time. Whelan scored again in the 111th minute before Ian Rush secured a 3-1 victory for Liverpool two minutes from the end.
The next year, Manchester United were the challengers as Liverpool won 2-1, again in extra-time. An early Norman Whiteside goal put United ahead, until Alan Kennedy equalised late in the second half and Ronnie Whelan secured a 2-1 win in extra-time. Captain, Graeme Souness, insisted that manager Bob Paisley collected the trophy, as he had announced his retirement at the end of the season. It was the third consecutive final that Liverpool had come from behind to win.
The final League Cup victory out of the four was an all Merseyside affair, between Liverpool and Everton in 1984. The initial final ended in a dour 0-0 draw, despite Everton having a penalty appeal turned down following Alan Hansen’s handball on the goal line. The replay was held at Maine Road and was equally a poor match, with Souness scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win. Souness left Liverpool that summer to play for Sampdoria and then became player/manager at Rangers.
Liverpool named Graeme Souness as their manager in 1991, and a year later he won the FA Cup – ironically the only domestic trophy he failed to win there as a player. His resignation in 1994 was no surprise as Liverpool had had a terrible run of form in league and cup competitions. Spells at Galatasaray, Southampton, Torino and Benfica followed before he won his only other English domestic trophy as a manager in 2002, at Blackburn Rovers.
The League Cup final that year pitted his injury-plagued Blackburn team against an ageing Tottenham Hotspur side managed by Glenn Hoddle. Rovers were on top most of the match, but went in at half-time drawing 1-1, thanks to goals from Matt Jansen and Spurs defender Christian Ziege. In the 68th minute however, Andy Cole scored a typically instinctive goal to give Blackburn their first ever League Cup trophy.
Souness stayed for another couple of seasons at Ewood Park, before taking over at Newcastle in 2004 for a further two years. He’s currently working at Sky Sports, getting angry about Paul Pogba most weekends.
Player: Liverpool – 1981, 1982, 1983 & 1984
Manager: Liverpool – 2012
Unlike Souness, Kenny Dalglish played in all of Liverpool’s League Cup final wins between 1981-84, including the 2-1 replay win against West Ham in ’81 – which was extra special for Dalglish, as it was the only one in which he scored. His equalising goal gave Liverpool the momentum for their win.
When Dalglish took over as player/manager of Liverpool in 1985, he was at the helm of one of the greatest teams the English league had ever seen. Indeed, he oversaw the league and FA Cup double of 1986, First Division titles of 1988 and 90, and a further FA Cup trophy in 1989.
Restricted to domestic football because of the European ban, the only trophy Dalglish failed to win whilst in charge of Liverpool was the League Cup. He was a beaten finalist in 1987 to George Graham’s Arsenal and reached the semi-finals in 1986, but that was as good as it got for Sir Kenny.
But in 2011, Roy Hodgson was sacked as Liverpool manager, and with all his history at Anfield it was no wonder the fans were deliriously happy when Dalglish got the job, nearly 20 years after leaving his post. And the one trophy Dalglish won during his return spell at Liverpool, was the League Cup. It had to be.
However, it wasn’t a straight forward victory in the final against Championship side Cardiff City, as the Bluebirds took the lead in the first half with a Joe Mason goal. Liverpool equalised on the hour mark through Martin Skrtel, sending the match into extra-time. In the 108th minute, Dirk Kuyt scored what seemed to be a winning goal for Liverpool, before Ben Turner equalised for Cardiff to make the score line 2-2 and send the game to penalties.
Captain, Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam missed the first two pens for Liverpool, before Kenny Miller and Rudy Gestede missed two for Cardiff to send the shootout into sudden death. Liverpool’s Glen Johnson scored before Anthony Gerrard (cousin of the opposing skipper, Steven) missed to ensure a record seventh League Cup went to Anfield. You forget that that Liverpool side had the likes of Adam, Craig Bellamy, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing all in their matchday squad (Oh, how their squad-depth has improved since!).
Up until Liverpool’s Champions League triumph last year, this was their last major trophy win. An honour that you might say will be overshadowed in the coming years, with a league title and further trophies surely coming this season. But this was the last trophy Kenny Dalglish gave the Reds, so in no way will this triumph be forgotten.
An honourable mention for…
I can’t finish this article without touching upon former Italian international striker, Gianluca Vialli. He’s the only player/manager to have won the League Cup in it’s history, but unfortunately doesn’t quite make it on to this list, as he wasn’t included in the matchday squad for the 1998 League Cup final win over Middlesbrough. This meant that he only received a winners medal for managing, not for playing, unlike the previous six names mentioned.
It seems strange how Vialli chose not to include himself in this final, but then named himself for the European Cup Winners Cup final two months later. Maybe it was something to do with him being more used to playing European football; he did win the Champions League just two years earlier with Juventus. Or it could have been the injury to star playmaker Gianfranco Zola in the lead up to the final against Stuttgart – who eventually came off the bench to score the winner.
Either way, Vialli knew what he was doing, as he won both finals. Put those with an FA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and their first ever qualification to the Champions League, and there’s no doubt Gianluca Vialli was Chelsea’s most decorated manager in their history, pre-Abramovich.
* Jose Mourinho has since become the fourth manager to win the League Cup with two different sides – twice with Chelsea in 2005 & 2007 and once with Manchester United in 2016.
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