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The Mercantile Credit Football Festival

Thursday 24th January 2013
 In 1988 The Football League celebrated its 100 year birthday and sitting proudly as one of the main centrepieces was the aptly named Football League Centenary Trophy.  To maximise the revenue to the Football League the tournament was sponsored, so it also became known as the Mercantile Credit Football Festival.  Given it was one of the main events of the celebrations it was held at Wembley Stadium and the Football League had high hopes of it being an absolute classic.  This week Next Goal Wins takes a look back at another cup that time forgot.

The Mercantile Credit Football Festival was held over the weekend of April 16th/17th 1988.  Given the Football League had suspended its whole fixture programme for the weekend the tournament was given centre stage and maximum publicity.  16 teams were invited to take part and as it was a tournament to celebrate the whole Football League, they came from across all four divisions.  8 teams came from the old 1st Division, 4 teams from the old 2nd Division and 2 each from Divisions 3 & 4. They were chosen having qualified using a fairly convoluted system.  All teams were ranked based upon their points gained between December and March of that season, thus appearing to give all teams an equal opportunity to qualify.  Reality was not many teams came from outside the top half of the division they represented.

If the qualifying was seen to be fairly complicated it was nothing compared to the matches themselves.  In view of the large number of games that needed to be completed over the weekend, the first round matches and quarter finals were scheduled to last only twenty minutes each way.  If penalties were to be required then instead of the normal penalty format they would be on a sudden death basis.  Given the nature of the games it was no surprise that only 8 goals were scored during the first round matches with 5 of the 8 games going to sudden death penalties.  The shock of the first round was 4th Division Tranmere Rovers knocking out top flight Wimbledon.

The first day continued with the quarter finals, also played over the forty minutes, twenty each way, complete with sudden death penalties if required.  The four ties saw only 6 goals in normal time and two of the games went to penalties with Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday squeezing through to join Manchester United who had beaten Everton. Surprise package Tranmere continued their Wembley adventure by beating top flight Newcastle United 2-0 and their players celebrated in the April showers like they had won the trophy.

Given the billing the Football League gave their weekend spectacular show piece they could not have predicted only 40,000 would turn up for the Saturday programme.  All clubs were given their own part of Wembley with Wolves and Leeds revelling in the weekend by bringing far and away the most supporters.  Given the tournament was devoid of any high profile London clubs, the festival had no real local appeal and only 17,000 fans bothered to travel on Sunday to witness the semi finals and the final.

The Semi Finals were played on the Sunday morning with the games being played over sixty minutes, thirty each way with another sudden death penalty shoot out if the teams finished all square.  First division Nottingham Forest were up first against the tournaments giant killers Tranmere Rovers.  Despite putting up an impressive performance and holding Forest to a 2-2, Tranmere eventually succumbed in the penalty shoot-out.  In the other game Sheffield Wednesday just edged out Manchester United 2-1 to set up an all First Division final.

Just to show how little credence finalists Nottingham Forest gave to the tournament, manager Brian Clough did not even bother to turn up for any of the weekend so he missed the final against Sheffield Wednesday.  Many probably wished they had followed suit as the final itself was a drab dour stalemate ending 0-0, so, like many of the other ties before it, it was settled by a penalty shoot-out.  Neil Webb was the penalty king scoring the decisive spot kick and landing Forest with a shiny new trophy to sit alongside their European Cups and also a healthy cash prize of £75,000.

Can you imagine what the celebrations for the centenary of the Premier League will be like compared to this?


Remember, next goal wins.







Tim Jones
Tim Jones is a Brighton & Hove Albion fan who can't remember life before the Seagulls. BHA highlights are an FA Cup Final, 6 promotions, a last day of season draw against Hereford to ensure football league survival and after 14 homeless years, the opening of the AMEX. Favourite players are Peter Ward, Johnny Byrne, Hans Kraay & Vicente. As well as a passion for writing about football, Tim has a passion for talking about football and can be found broadcasting from games on Mid Downs Radio. Away from football, Tim is a keen runner, cyclist & swimmer competing in marathons & triathlons. His claim to fame is he has beaten Olympian Iwan Thomas at both. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimJones15

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