Crystal Palace vs Newcastle: Capital One Cup snub shows numbers rule over romance for Mike Ashley

Ashley’s sums mean Wednesday night’s game at Selhurst Park is virtually meaningless for the Magpies

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The Independent Online

If Saturday afternoon for Alan Pardew felt like he was tied on a spinning wheel with knives being thrown at him – none hit thanks to Papiss Cissé – then the relief will have been short. On Wednesday night, he must walk the high wire, without a safety net.

At least the mandate in the Premier League is simple, seventh, eighth or ninth please. In the cups, the waters are more murky.

It is four months since Newcastle United’s board revealed one of football’s worst-kept secrets, that they don’t care much for cup football.

It is just over seven years since Mike Ashley took full control of Newcastle United, at a cost of £133 million. A club, which in the previous seven seasons had reached four quarter-finals and a semi-final (not to mention two finals in 1998 and 1999), has not progressed past the fourth round of either the FA Cup or League Cup since.

It never felt like a coincidence and last May, when the Newcastle fans’ forum met the board (minus Ashley), it was confirmed in print.

The club told the meeting: “The board outlined research into Premier League clubs in relation to domestic cup competition in the last five years, with Swansea the only club outside the traditional six to win a domestic cup and not be relegated in the same season (Wigan and Birmingham were both relegated).”

The board was then asked if a more concerted effort to win a cup could be made if the team was higher up the league. They said: “The club’s priority is the Premier League.”

 

Who would have thought the club that the incomparable Colin Veitch led to five FA Cup finals between 1905 and 1911 (Newcastle also won the league title three times in that period) and three successes in the same competition between 1951 and 1955 would now hold cup competitions in such scant regard?

Here is why. When North Shields, who play in the Ebac Northern League, lost to Scarborough Athletic, of the Northern Premier League Division One North, in the FA Cup at the start of September, after a game that had four sendings-off, five penalties, eight goals and a penalty shoot-out, the cost of defeat was just shy of £2,000 – the prize-money given to preliminary-round winners.

Even at that level, the financial implications of victory and defeat are huge.

Neither the League Cup (currently named the Capital One Cup) nor the FA Cup have been won by a team that was not in the top flight during the Premier League era.

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Alan Pardew

 

Sheffield Wednesday were the last side not from the top flight to lift the League Cup, in 1991, while West Ham United were the last team outside the top tier to lift the FA Cup, in 1980.

The FA Cup winners will gain £1.8 million in prize-money this season. The context to that possible six-game run (plus replays) is the £500,000 fee paid for every appearance on Sky television in the Premier League and the £800,000-per-place prize-money in the richest league in the world.

Last season, Hull City were in 12th place on 6 April, having just beaten Swansea. Their next fixture was an FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United that they won 5-3. They drew two and lost four of their final six league fixtures, with an FA Cup final at the forefront of everyone’s mind. They finished 16th and the four places they dropped cost them £3.2 million. Hull lost the FA Cup final in extra-time against Arsenal. The losing finalists receive £900,000.

This is what Ashley and Newcastle see, but in that desire we move away from the essence of football; its romance, the things that, thankfully, cannot be placed on a balance sheet.

Pardew, who did not speak to any media about Wednesday’s League Cup game at Crystal Palace (where both sides are likely to field weakened teams), had said ahead of the second-round tie at Gillingham that his club were too honest.

“Perhaps at board level we say what other boards don’t say,” Pardew said. “The Premier League is the be-all and end-all because of the TV money, you can’t hide from that. We have actually said it, perhaps to our detriment but we’ve said it, that’s our priority, but of course we want to win a cup, our fans want to win a cup.”

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley

 

Any negative affect on Premier League form from a cup run (as was the case in 2013 when Newcastle reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League) brings uncomfortable boardroom conversations. Pardew spends much of his time between rocks and hard places.

There is still enough nostalgia from the 1950s to stir something among Newcastle fans when the cups come around. They do not have the same history in the League Cup, but given that Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea have all won it this millennium, it appears their best hope of a trophy since the Fairs Cup (Uefa Cup) win in 1969.

Sunderland had the glory of a thrilling League Cup run last season, which took them to Wembley and a weekend in the capital to remind their neighbours about the excitement of which Newcastle’s philosophy starves their fans. Sunderland might not have made much money (nor win the cup), but they made some memories. Priceless ones.

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