Diamond Geezers, Episode 48: The Bloody League Cup Final
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the squad that will clamber onto Chugger, stick their headphones into their Minidisc players, and listen intently to late 90s hip hop on full volume for the three hours it’ll take us to splutter our way to Cardiff. The Millennium Stadium is the venue, the League Cup is the prize, and the juggernaut standing in our way? Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool.
There is one gigantic slice of good news coming out of Anfield: a super-charged, 23-year-old Michael Owen will definitely miss out with a torn groin, and while regular centre-half Tommy Jönsson also won’t play due to being cup-tied, I’m sure Reds fans won’t be too concerned — two of their three ‘star’ players are Sami Hyypiä and Markus Babbel. And, despite the loss of Owen, they do also have Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey who can start up front, so… yeah. This is going to be a monumental task. I can only hope and pray that Houllier takes us as lightly as Ottmar Hitzfeld did in the semi-final and try to beat us with a junior side. It feels like the only way we’ll have a real chance.
For our part, as you can see, we’ll definitely miss the comedy stylings of Paul Gascoigne, and I’ll leave Mad Dog out as well. Since Marcel Mahouvé was mined from the very earth and forged in the fiery furnace of Beelzebub, I’ll assume that he won’t go off injured and instead put Jamie Davies and his wonder tap-ins on the bench. In terms of my starting team, it’s the first time I’ve had a big game where all my senior strikers are fit, and therefore I’ve got a real decision to make about who plays. However, the reality is that I’ve decided long before we arrive in Wales; Benjani scored five goals in his first two games, but he hasn’t scored again since — and that was seven weeks ago. He’s starting to look like the arrogant slacker we all feared he would be when he first walked through the door, and as a result of his profligacy, he won’t be in the squad for the final. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed after he spent all that money on a top hat and cane.
My starting team, my rock-solid warriors that are determined to bring European football to Irthlingborough, is thus. Pinheiro obviously, then Kalvenes (due to Victory being cup-tied), Costacurta, Lucic, Duff; Marcel the Destroyer; Bubb, Brandon, Andersson; Javan, Sir Les. Tough on Farnerud and Møller, who both take spots on the bench, but will almost definitely both feature, particularly if we’re chasing the game. It’s a massive afternoon. The players look ready. I turn Make Luv by Room 5 up to 11 to get everyone in the mood, before turning it straight off and telling the players not to listen to it. For once, we’re not here to make love. This, my friends… is war.
The players leave the dressing room before me. I’m very, very nervous. This is by far the biggest game in the club’s history; it could be our biggest game for a while. It’s absurd to think that, less than two years ago, I took over a side with loads of money and a decent stadium, but a squad containing Greg Lincoln, Billy Turley and Scott Partridge — and now, we’re staring down Premier League Liverpool in the final of a major domestic trophy. It’s ridiculous. I’m shaking hands with Gérard Houllier, there are fireworks going off and cheerleaders pom-pomming both teams out onto the pitch. We weren’t supposed to be here, and yet… here we are. We have to make this count.
It’s not their strongest team. It’s not their strongest team! It’s still a bloody strong team, but there’s no Hyypiä, no Babbel, and no Fowler. Heskey, Riise and Westerveld are in there, sure, but there’s also no Gerrard and no Biscan, and their bench is vastly underpowered. For the first time today, I feel like there’s hope. We have a chance.
We start positively and take the game to Liverpool. Westerveld is forced to punch clear from a dangerous Duff cross that Sir Les is waiting to head home, before Bubb collects in midfield and attacks down the left. He gets to the edge of the box, chips square, Javan arrives and unleashes a volley at goal! Westerveld saves again! It’s a fantastic start, and while Liverpool are seeing plenty of the ball in wide areas especially, it has to be said that Teddy Lucic is noticeable in the commentary for being responsible for every Liverpool shot going off target — he either sacrifices his body to block them, or does just enough to off-balance the Reds’ attackers as they shoot. It’s an exceptional defensive display in the most important match of our lives.
The 30th minute arrives as Brandon tears unstoppably through midfield and bears down on the Liverpool penalty area. Jamie Carragher charges out to meet him… and flies into the tackle two-footed! Carragher has surely got to go! I’m already out of my chair and punching the sky as the referee goes to his pocket and brandishes… a YELLOW CARD? HE COULD HAVE KILLED HIM! HOW IS THAT ONLY A YELLOW CARD?!
I can’t believe our bad luck as the free kick is taken short and we retain the ball; Ferdinand finds Bubb, who sprays a pass left to Kalvenes. He looks up and plays a short ball inside to Andersson on the edge of the box. Javan makes a run. Andersson sees him, crosses to the far post where Javan has gotten away from Carragher — JAVAN! MEYSAM JAVAN HEADS PAST WESTERVELD! IT’S 1–0 DIAMONDS!! THERE’S PANDEMONIUM IN THE STANDS! I’m charging around the room shouting and punching the sky! My neighbours probably think I’m being robbed, but who cares! We’re 1–0 up in the League Cup Final!!
My players are having tremendous games, and there’s no doubt we deserve the lead as the break approaches. Costacurta blocks from Zebina, then Andersson closes down Sjölund enough for his shot to fly off target — and there’s the whistle. What a team, what a half, and my players follow me to the dressing rooms with a slender 1–0 advantage at half-time.
It has taken an enormous effort to get our noses in front, and now it’s important to stay there. I reduce my full-backs’ ambition and tell them to man-mark Barmby and Berger, Liverpool’s two most influential first-half players. Mahouvé is on a booking but I tell him to tail Danny Murphy into next week and not give him an inch of space. I decide not to make any subs yet — we have the advantage. Let’s see what Houllier does first. Now, come on lads. There’s only 45 minutes of football between you and a place amongst the immortals. Give it absolutely everything you’ve got.
My plans are immediately altered by Houllier’s first change: Murphy is off for Welsh, who goes into the back four, and Jamie Carragher comes into central midfield. While I’m sorely tempted to put Mahouvé on him just to see how long it takes for them to kick each other to death, I decide instead to shift Martin Andersson into the central role and have him track Carragher if he comes forward.
The half starts well, Sir Les testing Westerveld once again with a half-volley that Liverpool’s Dutch keeper is forced to turn away. Brandon whips in the corner, Costacurta rises, but his header is planted right into Westerveld’s gloves. We are scarily close to a second goal and I’m having to constantly wipe the sweat off my hands as the minutes tick by — and meanwhile, Liverpool can’t seem to build any attacks. My players are monstrous, blocking and tackling and hassling and harrying their big-league opponents. Heskey heads wide, then Sjölund shoots wide again, both times under pressure from my back-tracking midfielders.
I put Farnerud on for the quietened Bubb and fiddle with my tactics some more; we are so close to glory that I can taste it, and so can the players. Ferdinand gathers a loose ball, feeds Javan, he can’t find space to shoot, so sets up Brandon instead! He beats Westerveld!! WELSH CLEARS OFF THE LINE! It’s a miracle we haven’t extended our lead as we reach 85 minutes; I throw Davies on for Brandon and cancel all attacking runs. It’s time to cling onto what we’ve got, as I sense the Liverpool beast stirring into life, knowing it needs to act fast before it’s slain by the berserkers of Irthlingborough.
It’s the 90th minute, and Liverpool have had the ball for the entirety of the closing stages. Navarro lays off for Barmby, who advances on goal, and hits a low drive! Pinheiro saves, but it’s loose! Sjölund is there! I can’t watch! He lays the ball on a plate for Nick Barmby to surely finish! NO!! COSTACURTA MAKES A LAST-DITCH TACKLE AND HACKS THE BALL OFF THE LINE! In the very last minute of the game…
AND IT’S ALL OVER! IT’S ALL OVER! RUSHDEN AND DIAMONDS ARE YOUR 2003 LEAGUE CUP WINNERS! After all the sweating and scratching and clawing, we’ve finally done it! We wanted it, we took it, and by god, did we deserve it. I am shaken into a mess in the technical area as my players and staff grab one another in celebration. We’ve bloody well won it — and we’re going on a European tour!! GET THE CAVA OUT!
It’s a dizzying, unfathomable victory. Against a Liverpool side arrogantly shorn of their best players by an overconfident manager, but still containing genuine Premier League quality, we’ve shown what we’re really made of. Meysam Javan has been an unquestionable success since arriving in the summer, and his man-of-the-match performance proves that he belongs at the highest level — but this win isn’t about individuals. It’s a monumental, historic team effort. I’m going to have to move some of my Manager of the Month awards out of the trophy cabinet now that we’ve got a real one to put in there.
Now lads, grab all the booze you can carry and get in Chugger for the party bus back to Irthlingborough. Marcel — put that saw down. We tried that once before and it wasn’t as brilliant as we thought it would be. And Susan? Book us a table for 30 at the Rose and Crown, will you? Tonight, they’re going to be hosting a party none of us will ever remember…
Wow. What a week. Naturally, my Player Search list is summarily bolstered by thousands of players who watched our crushing cup triumph and are interested in a move to Irthlingborough. In a single click, the likes of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic note their willingness to play here. We can’t afford any of them, of course, but the important thing is that they’re on the list — we can work out how to pay for them later.
There’s a series of Division Two games between us and our next cup final, but with the league already sewn up and my face covered in prosecco and various other liquids, I care little for them. The league fixtures don’t matter since we’re already champions, and while I’m tempted to experiment with my formations, personnel and tactics, I’m still on a high from Liverpool, and as such decide to quickly blow through a few of them to accompany the gin martinis I’ve asked Roar to leave for me in my technical area. Here’s what happened:
Fantastic performances from my full-backs drag us through to a win against Wigan after Marcel is lucky to be sent off rather than arrested for actual bodily harm against James Lundie — Javan and Benjani the scorers there. I’m very, very annoyed to learn that Mahouvé’s ban will rule him out of the Vans Trophy Final, the idiot. Don’t tell him I said that. Next up: Brighton.
Our next game features more great news for the Vans Trophy Final — Alessandro Costacurta has strained the ligaments in his ankle and will be unavailable for a month, ruling him out of our second cup climax of the season. These fixtures are just going wonderfully, aren’t they? Otherwise, it’s a very, very easy win against a desperately poor Seagulls side.
However, through the clouds and the rain, there is more good news. For just £775k, we are going to have one very large, very scary reinforcement coming in the summer. I might buy some shares in Deep Heat before the start of next season, because Division One is going to be full of it. The Peter De Banke Terrace has a new hero to worship… work permit pending.
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