When England wasn’t in Europe, or the Simod Cup

Brian Clough lifts the Simod Cup, licking his lips

I’ve just finished Jonathan Wilson’s masterful biography of Brian Clough Nobody Ever Says Thank You  and as well as providing us with as comprehensive a biography of Clough as might be asked for by anyone, given the long footballing life of its subject, the book is also full of wonderful details about aspects of English League football that for better or worse, are now in its past. Among the more unusual features of the book are the wide array of mini-tournaments and cups in which various teams Clough managed took part that no longer exist (at least in their old guises). Although it wasn’t a small competition by any means, the Simod Cup, which ran from 1985-1992 in England, was one of those in which Clough’s Nottingham Forest took part, and it was born out of a terrible necessity.

The 1980s was an ugly one for football – as well as the dreadful scenes that were to come at Hillsborough, it was portended by an equally horrible episode at Heysel. The disaster occured on May 29 1985 as Liverpool took on Juventus in that year’s European Cup final. 39 Juventus fans died, and around 600 people were injured. It saw the imprisonment of fourteen Liverpool fans for involuntary manslaughter and English clubs being banned from Euopean competition until the 1991/1992 season. Of that event, David Goldblatt has writeen in The Ball is Round says it was “a moment poised between two eras in European football. The high industrial football created in the 1950s and 1960s reached its terminal point in the late 1970s and early 1980s.’ He says ‘after Heysel, [a] whirlwind of technological, social and economic change would provide the instruments for the sanitization and selling of football.’ It was he writes, the moment that ‘brought a decade of Northern European dominance to an end.’

As a result of the expulsion, and fearing the huge loss of revenue and competitiveness this would entail, a new cup competition was set up in England in order to give teams something else to play for during their exile from European competition. The new competition was known as the Full Members Cup because the teams who could enter it were then only those clubs who were full members of the Football League, in other words those who made up the First and Second Divisions were eligible for entry. A When Saturday Comes article on the tournament from 2001, written by Peter Collins had this to say of the Full Members Cup:

Football chairmen abhor a vacuum. So when Eng­lish clubs were thrown out of European competition for an indefinite period after the Heysel disaster in 1985, it didn’t take long for someone to come up with the idea of a domestic cup competition that would make up for the lost glory and, most importantly, the lost revenue from all those European nights.

Running for seven seasons between 1985 and 1992, the Full Members Cup turned out to be so pointless that even Mickey Mouse thought it too vulgar to allow an association with his name.

In The Daily Mail Mark Lawford, writing in 2008 as Manchester United prepared to take part in FIFA World Club Cup, said of the Full Members Cup:

There would not have been a cable TV station with few enough viewers to screen these games live. Yes it gave the fans a great day out, No, it meant nothing.

The poor old League Cup which gets awful stick as a nothing trophy in modern times was, not unlike this 1980s invention, responding to European trends when automatic qualification for the UEFA Cup was thrown in along with the prize money as a way of enticing teams to take the new League Cup seriously after it was established in the 1960/61 season. And like the League Cup (or Capital One Cup, or Carling Cup, or Coca-Cola Cup, or god ‘elp us the Milk Cup) the Full Members Cup managed to change sponsors a few times during its relatively brief run. For the first few years the cup was sponsored by Italian sportswear manufacturers Simod and then became the ZDS Cup when it was sponsored in its final few seasons by Zenith Data Systems, a computer company that later merged with NEC and Hewlett-Packard.

The Simod Cup although open to all the clubs in England’s two top tiers didn’t always recieve the full compliment of entries with Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur never bothering to enter the competition during its existence.

For Clough, and his Nottingham Forest side the Simod Cup was to be a cup they would win twice, beating Everton in 1989 4-3 not long after the semi-final game against Liverpool best remembered now for the disaster when the Leppings Lane End of the Hillsborough ground saw a crush that killed 96 people. That first Simod Cup win in 1989 was part of a double won that year, when they also won the League Cup. They had been on for a Cup treble, but in the replayed fixture against Liverpool in the FA Cup they were beaten 3-1 and Jonathan Wilson described the game for Forest as ‘an uncomfortable occasion on which, as pretty much every player has acknowledged, they felt like intruders on someone else’s grief.’

Incidentally, on both occasions that Nottingham Forest won the Simod Cup, there were two Irish men in the midfield. On the first occasion Limerick-born Tommy Gaynor, formerly of Limerick United, Limerick City, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers was in the side and in the 1992 team was a young Roy Keane. It was in fact Keane’s first accolade as a player in England. A cup born of necessity in the darkest days of English football, it was last played for at the end of the 1992 season and Forest’s victory over Southampton in extra-time also ensured that it was Clough’s last piece of silverware as a manager.

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