Gift Horses. A wise man once said you should never look one in the mouth. It’s hard to ascertain where this unusual idiom originated, though a quick internet search suggests it stems from the theory that you can tell a lot about a horse from the condition of its teeth. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I believe I have found the ideal use for the phrase, and that is when referring to the chance to lift a trophy in a Wembley cup final by playing just seven games against teams of a standard no higher than League One.
Yes, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is here again. ‘Isn’t it a little late?’ I hear you cry. Well yes, that is because a first round bye has put Oldham Athletic into the second round for the first time since 2007.
That’s a long time, and its been a long time because the JPT is treated as something of a mickey Mouse cup. It should really be to League One clubs what the FA Cup is to Premier League clubs. Clubs such as Oldham should be desperately trying to win this competition just as clubs such as Sunderland, Everton, Stoke & Newcastle should be gunning for the FA Cup, yet they don’t seem to bother.
So why is this?
The answer is fairly obvious & is the same as that cited by Sir Alex Ferguson & his fellow Premier League managers: there are simply too many games to play a first choice team in every game in every competition. Now this is a fair point, but why, in that case, do League One managers insist on putting out first choice teams in the early rounds of a competition they have little chance of winning: The FA Cup ?
The answer to that question is just as easy to come by, and it’s one that answers all too many questions in football: money. An FA Cup run is seen as more profitable – and certainly more prestigious – than a JPT triumph.
The financial argument is a sound one. The winners of the Johnst0ne’s Paint Trophy can expect to receive somewhere in the region of £75,000 prize money plus gate receipts. Nothing to be sniffed at, you might say. That is until you take a look at the FA Cup pot. Last season a League One club reaching the third round would have pocketed £45,000 in a prize money, with the potential cash jackpot of a tie at a Premier League club bringing a further quarter of a million in TV money & upto £400,000 in gate receipts. Not a bad return for two victories.
However as John Lennon & his scouse pals sang: money can’t buy you love. And I can’t be the only man who, after watching their team trudge around in the lower leagues for fifteen years, would love a trip to Wembley. A trip to Wembley to see my team represent my town at the national stadium. Surely that would beat a fairytale cup adventure, regardless of what the media will have you believe.
Since relegation to the third tier in 1997 Latics have had their share of memorable cup runs. A win at Goodison Park sticks in the memory, as do the visits of pre-oil Chelsea & Manchester City to Boundary Park, the latter being sent packing by a solitary Scott Vernon goal.
Look where they got us. Those ties undoubtedly brought in a small fortune, yet still the Oldham fans have seen no silverware, no promotion & no big day out.
It’s worth pointing out that I adore the FA Cup. It is without doubt the greatest domestic cup competition in the world, consistently throwing up new tales of triumph over adversity, David vs Goliath battles & redemption. But for all the romance it just doesn’t provide us lower league fans with anything tangible. Giant killings of the past may live long in the memory on DVD’s and on YouTube, but that’s all. The trophy cupboard remains bare. I am convinced that even the most sceptical of fans would be jumping with delight if they saw their team lift that big trophy at Wembley.
For all my eulogising about this potential trip to Wembley I could be accused of avoiding the elephant in the room. There is another trip to Wembley up for grabs. League One alone will have around 10-12 clubs clamouring for a play-off spot come May, each hopeful of not only seeing their club lift silverware but also to gain promotion out of this God-forsaken division. The hard facts though are that this is a very difficult task: it takes consistency. To achieve promotion via the play-offs a club must consistently be amongst the best six teams in the league for forty-six games over nine months, before then winning a three-match, four-team cup competition in May. That is forty-nine games! All the JPT asks is seven games, with no prospect of extra time or replays.
Its fair to say then that I consider the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy a worthy constituent of the domestic calender. I fear however that as usual the team selections, attendances & results this week will cast me in a minority. Still one hopes that at least one manager & his team from a windy corner of Lancashire see the light as they travel to Lincolnshire to take on Scunthorpe United this Tuesday evening. After all, those gift horses don’t come along too often.
Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger
Chris tweets at @chrisbradman