When Capital One took on the sponsorship of the League Cup, as it is traditionally known, it may perhaps have been dreaming of a showpiece final pitting Manchester United against rivals and Premier League champions Manchester City.

All aboard the Bantam bus | Bradford City fans celebrate their side's victory over Aston Villa. (Image | The Guardian)

Bantams of the opera | Bradford City fans make their voices heard following the two-legged victory over Aston Villa. (Image | The Guardian)

As a worst-case scenario, the banking firm would surely have expected two teams of a similar calibre to Everton and Liverpool to be contesting the final at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 supporters.

Not in a million years would Capital One have ever anticipated that its brand name and image would be projected around the world on the basis of 90 minutes of football played between Bradford City, of League Two, and top flight outfit Swansea City.

Given that these two sides last met six years ago in League One, drawing 2-2, many have argued that the final represents a vindication of the much-lauded but often absent “fairytale” element that made both the League and FA Cups so popular in the first place.

Phil Parkinson, manager of the Bantams, said after his side’s victory over Aston Villa across two legs that a team from the fourth tier of English football may never reach the League Cup final again.

He may well be right, for Bradford’s journey followed a relatively conventional pattern as far as a prolonged cup upset goes: they started with a win against Notts County and simply moved up a gear each round.

By the time Arsenal visited Valley Parade in December, City were confident that they could pull off a shock, and this was despite the Gunners putting out a side that was not far off being at full-strength.

That victory alone netted the club £1million, enough to secure their future, according to the director of operations, Dave Baldwin.

Yet what of the competition itself? The pendulum does appear to have, if not swung the other way, then gently eased in the general direction of a either a greater number of upsets or shocks of a more high-profile nature.

In the League Cup there was obviously Bradford twice seeing off Premier League opposition, the Swans beating Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge and League Two Burton Albion winning 4-2 against Leicester City, of the Championship.

Further giant-killings were inflicted upon Everton by Leeds United in round three, Villa on Manchester City, and Bradford once again, this time seeing off Wigan Athletic on penalties.

Just this week three top-flight teams were eliminated from the FA Cup: Queens Park Rangers endured a 4-2 humiliation at home to MK Dons, non league Luton Town snatched a 1-0 victory away to Norwich City, and Tottenham Hotspur were beaten by Leeds.

So are the cups becoming more exciting, with bigger, better and increasingly frequent upsets?

Or are pundits and supporters so desperate for both competitions to rediscover past glories they will seize upon any shock, or mild surprise, and label it a momentous giant killing?


It is difficult to tell which is most accurate, and the real truth may in fact be a hybrid of both diametrically opposing options.

For the League Cup is not suddenly enjoying universal awed respect simply because it has been slightly more exciting this year.

Similarly, a few unexpected results last weekend do not take away from the fact that the FA Cup is usually a rather predictable, tedious affair, and one that has been losing credibility, interest and prestige for years now.

Come the big day for Capital One, Bradford will be bold, brave and fearless, as they have been in every round on their incredible journey to Wembley.

Yet the quality that is usually on show in the typically all-Premier League finals will be lacking.

This is where the romance falls down somewhat, and to use a left-field analogy, the final could be a rather short-lived, unsatisfying affair after months of breathtaking romance and a couple of weeks of steamy foreplay.

Swan break | Swansea City players congregate after a goal from Wayne Routledge, and may have more to celebrate come February 24. (Image | Talking Baws)

Swan break | Swansea City players congregate after a goal from Wayne Routledge, and may well be holding the League Cup trophy aloft for the first time come February 24. (Image | Talking Baws)

None of which will matter for either set of supporters, however, and why should it?

By 6pm on Sunday February 24 the League Cup will have a new winner, and there is a realistic chance that it may be a side from npower League Two.

Perhaps it is wrong for any football club to be known better by tragedy, but the fire at Valley Parade in 1985 was one of the worst disasters in the history of the sport anywhere in the world.

To have City’s long-term financial future safeguarded and the team perform an astonishing feat to reach the League Cup final 28 years after such a shocking, terrible tragedy seems very fitting indeed.

With modern football made up of ruthless agents, unscrupulous billionaire owners, overpaid, disinterested players, soulless, clinical stadia, and priced-out fans, the magic that is so often mentioned can be rather hard to find.

To have one of the best run clubs in the entire country, in Swansea, facing the plucky minnows that stole the nation’s hearts, in a winner-takes-all final at the expense of the other 90 league clubs is the fairytale we have all been waiting for.

Clichéd it may be, this truly is the people’s cup final. So enjoy it, because these games do not come around very often.

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