The Strange Case of the Full Members (aka Simod, Zenith Data Systems) Cup
It’s unlikely that many would be able to name or even recall Alan Shearer’s first senior cup final appearance. Not only was it fourteen years ago, but also in a competition that was largely ignored and now defunct. Shearer was with Southampton at the time, who faced Nottingham Forest in their first Wembley final since 1979; where again they’d faced Clough’s men in a 3-2 defeat in the then sponsor free League Cup. Of course the original event described – if there is any doubt – is the 1992 Zenith Data Systems Cup Final.
The tournament’s inception followed the European competition ban imposed on English clubs after the 1985 Heysal disaster. Beginning life as the Full Member’s Cup it was open to all first and second division clubs; although rather tellingly, sides such as Liverpool – who would have noticed more than most the absence of fixtures – chose not to enter, dooming the competition’s credibility. Despite this, it still ran for seven years before eventually being engulfed by the outset of the Premier League. By this time football fans were busy vandalising their homes with the addition of satellite dishes in order to watch Sky’s coverage. It was hosted by former TV-AM presenter Richard Keys, whose collection of luridly bright jackets provided viewers with more than ample distraction from the Full Member’s Cup, condemning it forever to the back seat of the memory.
Gordon McKeag – the then president of the Football League – described the event as; ‘helping to create greater incentive within the game, providing clubs with an extra domestic challenge.’ One perhaps that Arsene Wenger would rather do without irrespective of European qualification, and what of Bolton and Middlesbrough? They’d scarcely cope if their bold upper table meanderings weren’t rewarded with an away tie in Bulgaria. Goodness knows the stunned reaction if faced with the idea that the prize for the tournament was simply the satisfaction of lifting the trophy itself. That and one hundred thousand pounds, no longer enough to buy a temperamental South American journeyman.
Southampton had beaten Chelsea – who were a few years shy of their mid nineties renaissance – in the rather unnecessary two legged southern area final to reach Wembley. They too were victorious in both the inaugural final in 1986, where a David Speedie hat trick helped them to a 5-4 win against Manchester City, and in 1990 when a Tony Dorigo strike condemned Middlesbrough. However, when looking at attendances it’s noticeable that not even the carrot of an excursion to the home of football could coerce more than twenty thousand fans over two games at the Dell and Stamford Bridge. Which, perhaps illustrates why the draw was split between north and south.
Although at times unpopular during his tenure at the Saints, the Cup Final gave Ian Branfoot valuable breathing space. He had once before reached the final during its Simod Cup days; when in charge of second division Reading in 1988 as they had a day out they wouldn’t forget by thumping Luton Town 4-1. It also provided Crystal Palace with an opportunity to vanquish their previous season’s F.A. Cup heartache when they overcame Everton after extra time by the same score. There they were; Reading, Crystal Palace & Southampton, all enjoying a day out. If this was the extent of the Full Member’s Cup then perhaps Red Letter Days should have resurrected it as the ideal birthday or Christmas gift – had they not met their own demise.
Even the day out could be a confusing almost hollow experience. Reaching a final without even the possibility of being drawn against the big boys amongst dwindling crowds was the road to Wembley. Which, in 1992 was watched by a crowd sat on cheap plastic seats that had been shoehorned into an outdated stadium. So why do I still remember it? Perhaps the first visit to Wembley left an impression that made me look at my surroundings and realise that I expected it to be bigger – like meeting someone famous.
Domestically we still had the trusty old F.A. Cup, as well as the League Cup, so it’s doubtful we needed further domestic activity, but the memory lingers on. Maybe it was the sight of my friend Greg Baker – Saints mascot for the day – who continued to deprive goalkeeper Tim Flowers of a decent warm up by sending the ball sailing over the crossbar with Wilkinsonesque consistency. Or, perhaps it was simply that the game had goals, as did most of the Full Member’s Cup Finals - averaging almost five goals a final. Headers from Matt Le Tissier (pictured above) and Kevin Moore levelled the game after Scott Gemmell and Kinglsey Black had appeared to have won it for Forest until Gemmell’s second clinched it. Either way it’s unclear, but when thumbing through the match day programme, one echoes the sponsors sentiments who ask supporters to, ‘Get behind your team and give the players real encouragement so that they can raise their game enough to make Graham Taylor’s European Championship Squad! Thank you.’ Yes, thank you Full Member’s Cup, it was after all a good day out.
By the way, does anybody remember Club Call?