Mark Douglas: Newcastle United's Cup argument doesn't stack up

Newcastle United's arrogant attitude to cups is muddle-headed and incorrect reckons Mark Douglas

Joe Harvey is held aloft at Wembley as Newcastle United celebrate their fifth FA Cup win in the 1952 final
Joe Harvey is held aloft at Wembley as Newcastle United celebrate their fifth FA Cup win in the 1952 final

Pinned into a corner by criticism of their scandalous attitude to the Cup competitions, Newcastle United’s board has decided to carry out some “research”.

‘Cups hurt clubs’ is the logic that underpins United’s business plan. They increase the risk of relegation, they say, and with a £62m cheque guaranteed to clubs that simply compete in the Premier League, they are not prepared to revise their attitude that they are a “not a priority”.

A brief recap of the “research” United have done was contained in the club’s Fans Forum notes. Two out of the three clubs that have won a Cup and aren’t in the ‘traditional top six’ (this group isn’t defined) have gone down, they pointed out. And that was it. That was the “research”.

It is difficult not to be enraged by this arrogantly aloof attitude, which is an affront to the club’s proud traditions. The emotional arguments against this uninspiring attitude are very, very easy to make. We all know that 50,000 or more stream through the gates in the hope of occasional glory and a shared moment of sporting bliss that can be passed down the generations, not to celebrate another year of meeting the most modest of expectations.

When emotion evaporates, though, their argument isn’t very scientific either. Whoever conducted the “research” should have recognised the need for a more comprehensive investigation, because Newcastle’s Cup contentions don’t stand up to more rigorous examination.


For a start, winning a cup is not the only reason for entering it. The hard work clubs expend on getting into the Champions League every year is not wasted when they don’t win it the following year. As well as the excitement of doing well, they are also rewarded financially for progressing to the later stages.

So let’s extend the sample to all semi-finalists in domestic cup competitions for the last five years. When we do that, something interesting happens: of the 20 clubs outside the ‘traditional top six’ that have managed to make the last four of either the League or FA Cup, just three have been relegated.

By contrast, one of the 20 went on to get promoted (Bradford City), one is currently in the play-offs (Wigan) and another made it into the play-offs that year before coming up short (Cardiff). The other 14 all stayed up despite, in the case of more than half of them, fighting a pretty desperate battle against the drop.

In short, the cups did not make a noticeable difference to the survival prospects of 70% of the semi-finalists in domestic cup competitions. Only 15% went down.

This season, there is evidence that proves three clubs actually performed better during their cup runs. Sunderland’s record after getting into the semi-finals of the League Cup was collecting 1.5 points per game between the semi and the final, as opposed to 0.56 points before the semi-final. They also stayed up.

Wigan did the same: 1.625 points before the Cup run, 1.63 points after. Sheffield United collected points at the same rate. Newcastle, by contrast, collected 22 points in 11 games before being knocked out of the Cup by Cardiff – and 13 points in 11 after it. It killed their season.

The redundancy of Newcastle’s argument is only matched by the arrogance of it. Those Fans Forum notes revealed an underlining contempt for those who were moved to protest last year. They’re not for turning. Perhaps the final word should go to one of the Fans Forum members who was present on Monday, Thomas Concannon.

“You get the impression from Lee Charnley and John Irving that they just don’t care about our concerns,” he wrote on Twitter. It is sobering stuff for anyone who hoped lessons might have been learned.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer