As bad as our league record has been under Ashley, it pales in comparison with our record in the various cups (FA Cup, League Cup and European competitions). The figures below indicate in which round of each cup competition Newcastle United bowed out. As you can see, the period leading up to Ashley’s takeover in the summer of 2007 (marked in green) saw us compete in the latter stages of the cups quite regularly (better than average results marked in bold). Ashley’s tenure (marked in red) has seen cup performances slump dramatically, with only 2012’s UEFA Cup run and last season’s League Cup run worthy of a mention.
Similarly to our significantly deteriorated league record, our failings in cup competitions under Ashley are entirely of our own making, and perhaps even more so in this instance. Whereas we don’t set our aims too high in the league, you could be forgiven for thinking we’d rather not even participate in the cups. Consider, for example, the board’s response to fans questions about targeting the cups as our only realistic chance for silverware in a recent fan forum meeting (23 September 2013):
Phil Patterson – “Realistically, the cups are about the only chance of silverware, but year in year out we don’t seem to target one, why not?
The board said that we utilise the cup competitions to secure match experience for the wider squad. The club is also mindful of injuries following last season’s Europa League. Our primary aim and focus has to be the Premier League and we don’t want to jeopardise that.
Chris Forster – “A cup would be success for fans.”
The board said the financial rewards of being a PL club are so great that we have to make sure that we do everything we can to stay in that position. Examples of three recent cup winners who are now no longer in the PL were given. The board added that the extra 14 games we played in the Europa League and the injuries sustained had contributed to a lower league finish.
If you thought a renowned professional sporting institution openly admitting they have no interest in competing for honours was depressing, wait until you see what they had to say at the end of that season. Taken from another set of Fan Forum meeting minutes (12 May 2014):
CF: “Do the club not think it is worth a cup run next season?”
The board outlined research into Premier League clubs in relation to domestic cup competitions in the last five years, with Swansea City the only club outside the traditional top six to win a domestic cup and not be relegated in the same season (Birmingham and Wigan Athletic were both relegated). Independent research into the cost of relegation over the past ten years showed there is a 50% chance of not gaining promotion back to the top flight and a 30% chance of being relegated to League One or further. In addition, if clubs do return to the Premier League, it takes four years on average.
GG: “If the club finished higher in the Premier League, would they aim for a cup?”
At this moment in time, the club’s priority is the Premier League.
The club have actually performed research into the negative effects of long cup runs and have come to the conclusion that they represent a risk to league survival!? Apart from the ridiculousness of even doing such “research”, the conclusion is flawed for a number of reasons:
- Cup final runners-up have as many (extra) fixtures as cup-final winners. Including them in this analysis, and assuming the “traditional top six” mentioned consists of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs, the percentage of non-“traditional top six” cup finalists getting relegated in the past five years amounts to 30% (3 out of 10).
- One out of the 10 non-“traditional top six” cup finalists in the past five years even got promoted (Cardiff City in 2012).
- Taking out the “traditional top six” from sides that need to worry about relegation (which is questionable in itself) from the Premier League, that leaves 14 clubs trying to avoid 3 relegation league finishing positions, ergo a 21.4% chance of the drop. Compared to 30% who actually were relegated and 10% who were promoted, the correlation between long cup runs and relegation becomes quite tenuous to say the least.
- Even if a slight correlation existed between long cup runs and the chance of suffering relegation, this does not mean there is a cause and effect relationship between these two, as is suggested by the club. Based on the data at hand, one could just as feasibly conclude that teams threatened by relegation perform better in cup competitions, or that teams sporting Blue kits have more chance of getting relegated than teams playing in other colour kits.
- It is not uncommon to see clubs in the relegation zone going on cup runs and through the confidence this brings also starting to do better in the league. For a recent example, look no further than Sunderland last season. They seemed as good as down after a disastrous start to their Premier League campaign, but went on two (!) good cup runs, reaching the final of the League Cup and an FA Cup quarter final. The confidence these cup runs gave them spurred them on to a 12th place finish in the Premier League, and relatively comfortable survival.
Aside from the (flawed) logical argument (risk of relegation) given for the club’s lack of desire to do well in the cups since Ashley’s tenure started (don’t let recent statements suggesting the opposite foul you), there is no doubt that the fact that the cups (with the exception of the Champions League) are more about history and honour than about the cold hard cash that Ashley will factor into his reasoning. However, for an extraordinarily big and loyal fan base that has not seen their club lift a cup in most of their fans’ lifetime, such arguments are simply completely and utterly unacceptable. Domestic cups represent our only realistic chance of silverware for the foreseeable future (at least while Ashley is here), and to not even try is nothing short of criminal.