Ahead of tonight’s home clash with Reading in the Capital One Cup, I decided to research what a cup run would mean for Pompey, or any Football League club in a similar situation. The Capital One Cup is regularly branded the least important competition that League clubs enter, putting aside the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. However, getting into the latter stages of the tournament can be very rewarding for lower league clubs, as it can give them a taste of the magic of cup football, a possible away day at one of England’s top grounds and, most importantly, a major top up of their bank account. So, what would be in store for Pompey if they could beat Reading and advance into the next rounds of the cup?
First and foremost, the prize money available in the Capital One Cup is the main reason managers strive to get through. Many would otherwise write off the tournament and play youth players in order to keep their key players fresh for more important league games. Although this still happens to an extent, the promise of their budgets getting a healthy boost is enough for most managers to go for a win. The prize money works like this for the Capital One Cup:
Round 1 – £5,000
Round 2 – £7,000
Round 3 – £10,000
Quarter-finals – £15,000
Semi-finals – £25,000
Runner up – £50,000
Winner – £100,000
The winner of the tournament gets £162,000 just from prize money through the rounds. This, an the added bonus of the silverware, shows that it is certainly worthwhile to do well in the cup. Even though winning the cup is somewhat unrealistic for clubs in League 2, a good run would still earn them a substantial amount in prize money. A good run for a club like Pompey would probably be getting to the third round, in which case they would be £22,000 better off than they would otherwise have been, excluding gate receipts and any other cash windfalls that may have been earned from the cup run. A very large amount of money would be earned from gate receipts through the tournament, especially if the club landed themselves an away draw against a Premier League team. In the League Cup, each side gets 45% of all gate receipts, with the remaining 10% going to the FA. This means that if a League 2 team were to be drawn away at a large stadium in the Premier League they would receive huge amounts of money from gate receipts due to the high prices. Last season, MK Dons were drawn away at Manchester United and, as well as recording a 4-0 win at Old Trafford, they bagged £1.7 million in gate receipts. MK Dons’ average attendance last season was 9,274, so they would expect to earn £275,000 from a home match, so to earn over six times what they would normally expect to earn from a home match in a cup game away from home was unbelievable for the club.
Last season, Pompey generally made £147,000 from a home game in gate receipts, meaning that a similar away draw to a top Premiership club would earn them the equivalent of half a season’s worth in gate receipts in one match. With the club being debt free, this would leave Paul Cook in the position to buy several new players for his squad, and would also probably fund many of the ground improvements that are currently being carried out. Additionally, if the match was live on TV, that would lead to the clubs gaining even more money. In last season’s FA Cup, Warrington Town’s first two matches were shown live on TV, earning them nearly £140,000 – more than their total income over the past year. Pompey have already had their first round tie shown on Sky Sports, which will have earned them a substantial amount of money, so if they were to have a game in the next round shown live as well it would provide the club with even more money. With the average wage for Pompey players being believed to be around £1000 per week, Cook would literally be able to buy a whole new team with the money earned from a cup run. Surely this is something that makes the Capital One Cup a very worthwhile tournament.
As well as the bonus for the club, a cup run is something to be desired from a football point of view as well. Fans like nothing better than to find themselves playing against one of the top teams in the country. It gives them the opportunity to finally enjoy themselves as fans, not having to worry about dropped points or league position or being embarrassed by weak sides. When teams such as Portsmouth are drawn against top clubs, there is no expectation on them to perform well or to get a result, all that is expected is that the players try their best and do their club proud. It is nice being in the situation of nobody having any expectations as the fans can simply have a good time, and if by some miracle the underdogs can nick a win, they will have a lasting memory of ‘the day we beat Manchester United 4-0 at Old Trafford’ or ‘the day we came back from 2-0 down to beat Chelsea 4-2.’ In cup football, the pressure is all on the higher ranked side, as Pompey discovered last season when they were given a first round draw against Aldershot United in the Vanarama National League. On that occasion, the Aldershot players just opened up and played without fear, while the pressure got to Pompey, leading to the Shots winning the replay at the Recreation Ground.
As well as the ironic chants of ‘we’re going to Wembley’ and ‘when Doyle goes up to lift the cup’, there is also a genuine possibility of success for lower league teams in the cup competitions. The best example is the 2013 League Cup, when Bradford City went on a miraculous run all the way to the final at Wembley. Along the way, they were able to beat Watford and Wigan Athletic, as well as defeating Aston Villa over two legs in the semi-final. The highlight, however, has to be when they overcame Arsenal on penalties in the quarter-final. Despite receiving a 5-0 drubbing at Wembley at the hands of Swansea City, Bradford showed that it is indeed possible for lower league sides to progress in the cups and have some success, and the moment when Alan Connell, who now plays for Poole Town, slotted home the winning penalty past Wojciech Szczęsny to send Bradord City to Wembley will stay in the memory of all Bantoms fans forever.
In summary, if Pompey were to go on a cup run this season, it could provide the cash to improve all aspects of the club, from the playing squad to the ground. It would provide the equivalent of half a season’s gate receipts and, with the club already debt free, that could mean massive improvement would be imminent. It would also provide plently of excitement for the fans, allowing them to relax and enjoy football – something Pompey fans have seldom been able to do in recent times – and maybe even taste some glory, whether it be a giant killing or even a game at Wembley! But before we get ahead of ourselves, it is important to remember that lower league cup runs are savoured for a reason – because they’re rare. In all likelihood, the Blues will be sent packing against Reading tonight. The only things that go in Pompey’s favour are that it is in front of 16,000 fans routing for a Pompey upset, and that the pressure is on Reading. Whatever the result is, it is important that Pompey fans turn out at Fratton Park, sing their hearts out, and let the players do the club and the city proud.