Next Goal Wins looks back to the year the Screensport Super Cup took centre stage. Or rather it didn’t!
Throughout history football has experimented with its rules and its competitions. Some introductions such as the new back pass rule have stood the test of time and are now part of parcel of today’s game, while others, such as the silver goal, the kick-in, have not fared so well and have been consigned to the history books. We go back to season 1985/86, to such an exciting change, and pay homage to the Screensport Super Cup
Back in May 1985 Liverpool took on Juventus in the European Cup Final at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels. Hooliganism was rife and the previous years European Cup between Liverpool & Roma had been marred by crowd trouble. It is rumoured that in Brussels, Liverpool fans, seeking revenge on Italian fans for the previous years troubles, attacked the Juventus fans before kick off, starting riots which left 39 Juventus dead when a concrete wall within the stadium collapsed, crushing them and injuring 600 others. In the aftermath of the game, the Football Association banned their own English clubs from playing in European competitions indefinitely, a ban which was supported and enforced by UEFA.
The ban on European football hit English teams hard. Not only did it mean a loss of well needed revenue, remember this was a time before Murdoch’s millions, but also a loss of potential silverware, and all this was before any impact on the fans was considered. The football league needed to act to provide a replacement for this lost revenue and to keep a competitive edge for its top teams. Its answer was the Super Cup.
The cup was intended to be played every year until English clubs were allowed back into Europe. For a number of reasons, amongst other things an overcrowded fixture list (heard this one before?) it failed to capture the publics imagination. The Super Cup lacked the glamour of European football and given it was hardly different to any other English based cup competition, when the teams kicked off the competition it was no surprise to anyone that it had even failed to attract a sponsor. Manchester United’s chairman, Martin Edwards, was quoted that he hoped the cup would only last one season but this was more to do with the fact that he hoped the European ban would be lifted rather than the wish for the Cup’s abandonment
The cup was open to all those teams who were affected by the European ban meaning Everton (League Champions), Man United (FA Cup Winners), Norwich (League Cup Winners), Liverpool, Tottenham & Southampton (League placings) were placed into two groups, playing each other home and away, with the top two teams in each group qualifying for the two legged semi-finals. The winners of the semi-finals, instead of moving forward to a show piece Wembley final were rewarded with a two legged final, playing each other home & away and the absence of a Wembley final for the cup was yet another nail in the Super Cup’s coffin,
Group 1 consisted of Man United, Everton & Norwich and Group 2, Liverpool, Southampton & Tottenham. Instead of possibly facing Barcelona, Real Madrid or Juventus in Europe, Everton started their Super Cup campaign at home against recently relegated Norwich. The group games were due to be completed before Christmas but in reality, due to other commitments, they finished in January. Manchester United who despite starting the league season on fire, failed to win a single game and get out of their group. Everton & Norwich progressed to the Semi-Finals where they were joined by Liverpool & Tottenham. The warning signs of a lack of interest from fans was there during the group games with only 4,680 turning up for Southampton’s home game against Tottenham and Everton only getting 10,078 for their home game against Norwich.
The semi-finals of the competition paired Liverpool with Norwich & Everton with Tottenham but still the cup had failed to ignite any interest from the fans or indeed a sponsor. Only 7,548 turned up at White Hart Lane to see Tottenham play Everton in the first leg of their semi-final. The first legs of the each semi-final were played in February but then fixture congestion proved yet another downfall of the Super Cup. It took till March to play the 2nd leg of the Everton v Tottenham semi-final and unbelievably took till May to play the 2nd leg of the Liverpool v Norwich game. With Liverpool & Everton the semi-final victors & both being involved in a thrilling title run in, both being FA Cup Finalists and with the World Cup in Mexico being held that summer, the possibility of having to hold over the final to the following season was now becoming a reality and only added to the farce of the Super Cup.
The final was finally played the following season in September 1986 and amazingly by this time the Football League had managed to attract a sponsor. Cable sports channel Screensport had been persuaded to sponsor the final and so for the final it became known as the Screensport Super Cup. Liverpool won the first leg at Anfield 3-1 before finishing the job in style at Goodison two weeks later beating Everton 4-1 on the night, 7-2 overall on aggregate. Rumour has it that Screensport gave Liverpool two trophies that night, one for them to keep and one to return the following season and such was his dislike of the competition, Ian Rush gave one of the trophies to a Goodison ball boy.
So what had the Screensport Super Cup achieved. Nothing really. It had failed to ignite any public interest, failed to add a competitive edge for teams who had lost European football and had only served to add more fixture congestion to a an already overcrowded 42 league game season and it came as no surprise when the Football League abolished the trophy after only one season.
Can you imagine Sky’s interest in the Screensport Super Cup in today’s modern game?
Remember, next goal wins.