One is a domestic cup competition, which some fans would like to see removed from the calendar because it no longer has enough prestige to justify the extra games.
The other is the gateway to European glory and riches, which brings a seat at the top table, a place among football’s aristocrats and glamorous nouveau riche. It is the competition the world’s best players desire to play in, which can transform the fortunes on and off the pitch just by taking part in the group stage.
So why would the majority of Newcastle United supporters believe a League Cup semi-final against Southampton is far more important to their season than the chase for Champions League qualification?
One brings silverware: a trophy and wild, city-wide celebrations; a Geordie Mardi Gras. The other merely brings the club silver coins. One would bring the city to a standstill and that captures hearts and minds on Tyneside, rather than status on a global stage.
‘League Cup would be a reward for my dad’s generation’
“A top-four finish would bring money, it would make the club more attractive to new signings,” explained Charlotte Robson, Newcastle’s True Faith podcaster. “Some would argue that is more important for the club to grow so trophies can follow after that. But it is the League Cup now that we really want.
“It would be the reward for the fans who have stuck with this club, who have lived through the misery, not just of the 14 years under Mike Ashley, but long before that too.
“It would be a reward for my dad’s generation, who have not seen their football club win a trophy since the 1960s. It will be something the whole city can celebrate and we have waited a very, very long time to do that.
“I think that matters more than finishing in the top four. Look at Spurs, they are in the Champions League this season, they have been in it before, but what have they actually got to show for it? Newcastle have been in the Champions League twice, but we haven’t won anything.
“It is what it would mean for the city, not just football fans. The party would last for days and I really mean that, it would be like a carnival.”
No club in English football wears its history as heavily as Newcastle. They have been, for more than half a century, the biggest of all the underachievers. Without a domestic trophy since 1955, the last of three FA Cup successes in that decade, and without a major trophy of any kind since their solitary European triumph in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969, the burden of ending the most infamous trophy drought has proven too much for talented teams before.
“It’s about getting the monkey off the back,” explained lifelong Newcastle fan Stephen Farrell who managed to get tickets for the semi-final second leg at St James’ Park in an online ballot after giving up his season ticket two years ago in protest at the decline under Ashley.
“That’s always been the thing that gets thrown at us, ‘you’re not a big club you haven’t won anything.’
“Newcastle haven’t won a trophy in my lifetime and that will be the same for almost every fan inside the stadiums for the semi-final. It will be true for most Newcastle fans in the city. That’s why this matters so much. We have come close a few times, under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson but you’d have to say, if Eddie Howe can win the League Cup, he would be elevated above club legends like that. That is how important it is.
“Look at the list of clubs who have won something since our last trophy, Wimbledon, Coventry City, Wigan, Norwich, Ipswich Town and Blackburn in there…Sunderland have won a trophy more recently than us. My dad is a Sunderland fan and it’s always been something I’ve been reminded about.
“People scoff at things like this sometimes, they sort of don’t like the way we talk about the club and the city like this. How it matters to everyone, a one-club city, but you have to have lived here to understand it.
“We don’t think we are special, but we do want to win something, we do want to celebrate together. I do think the whole city will have one big party and as a Geordie, that would be something amazing.”
This has already been an excellent season for Newcastle. Nobody expected them to be sitting third in the table in the middle of January, above Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea. When the club was taken over by a Saudi Arabian led consortium in October 2021, there was a lot of talk of superstar signings, rapid growth and future success being cynically bought by fossil fuel burning wealth.
For some it was an artificial project; a vanity scheme for a foreign nation looking to sportwash its image. It still is for many detractors.
Against Crystal Palace last weekend, the home fans repeatedly sang abusive songs about Saudi Arabia and booed the Newcastle players and coaching staff off at the end of a goalless draw. It did not help that Newcastle were wearing their white and green third kit which was deliberately designed to mimic the Saudi Arabia national team.
But Newcastle are only the ninth highest spenders in the Premier League this season and to claim their success is just down to money, the wealth and identity of their owners, is ignorant and borderline insulting to manager Eddie Howe.
“I want to win the League Cup because it would give this group of players and this manager their place in the club’s history,” added Robson. “I would love that for them. Whatever comes in the future, whatever success we go on to have, or not have, they deserve that status.
“These are the players who saved us from relegation for two or three years before the takeover. These are the players like Kieran Trippier who came here at the start of something and completely transformed how we feel about the team. They reconnected the team and the fans to the point where now, there is so much pride in them, that even the slightest criticism leads to a passionate defence.
“I want Eddie Howe to lift the club’s first trophy for 54 years because it would symbolise the incredible job he has done.
“Getting into the Champions League would be great and maybe we can do both, but it is the trophy that really matters to people. That is the piece of history we would make together. We want that for this team, this group, because they deserve it. This would be our moment to cherish together. You wouldn’t get that finishing fourth.”