Few people as well as that indefinite and yet supposedly homogenous bunch we are lumped into for statistical purposes – football fans – will be aware that EFL literally stands for English Face Lift. The last two words usually unite to form ‘Facelift’ but unity isn’t big in the Football League, any more than it is across Britain at the moment, so they wanted to make it sound more convincing by renaming themselves the English Football League. Their fervent hope was that people (which could include football fans) would assume that their Cup was named after the new organisation and that people (definitely not including lazy journalists) would fail to look to its origins for the correct answer.
The English Facelift Cup was actually the brainchild of FA (which stands for their lifetime contribution to football) Secretary Stanley Rous. He was so clever that he got to become President of one of the biggest private members’ clubs on the planet whose own initials reflect this – Football Is much too lucrative For Amateurs.
After a golden period in the 1950s football attendances were on the decline, despite clubs now providing floodlights so that they could fleece their fans on weekday evenings as well as Saturdays. Stanley (who was later knighted for his lifetime contribution to pocket lining) was also worried about club revenues if they got knocked out early in his other domestic competition – the FA Cup – which, ironically, means very little to clubs these days (which is why they keep saying in public that it does).
Rather than keep turning their floodlights on without realising they had no proper matches to play or crowds to watch such non-events (how often have we had evenings like these?) Stanley understood that a financial facelift was needed and thought it would be a good wheeze to launch a new domestic competition while the rest of the football world was looking at, well, the world outside our shores and the new European competitions that Stanley and his lunch companions detested; rather like snails.
The Times at the time was unimpressed, “Where a drastic reduction is required in an attempt to raise quality, no doubt quantity and a further spread of mediocrity will be the dose.”
Stanley was undeterred and, anyway, it was his idea so he pressed on with the first English Facelift Cup in 1960-61; this was so long ago that Aston Villa won the first one. However, Stanley was a bit worried that ordinary people (not including football chairmen or politicians, obviously) would realise that this was just a money-making scam and that the Fleet Street (that’s where papers used to be printed before Facebook stole a march on fake news) predictions of fixture congestion would come true to haunt his pension fund.
So, he simply called it the League Cup at first to hide its true intentions. Those that followed Stanley (and those that came after him) did encounter a few blips when people began to suspect the true intent of the League Cup. Ingeniously they dealt with this in the correct and proper way as any other corporate monolith might defend its reputation against its own stakeholders – by changing its name and hoping its detractors would run away to the Faroe Islands or somewhere else.
This is why we had the ‘Fill the equity, sorry, energy gap Milk Cup,’ the Real thing, and definitely not Spanish Coca-Cola Cup’ and the ‘Not quite Carling but it really is a major trophy, honest, Cup.’
Though striving manfully (and now womanfully of course – it goes without saying) to remain in tune with the worlds of finance and history, the EFL nevertheless failed to somehow anticipate the mediocrity of their latest cup winners Manchester United during most of the match against Southampton and knew that, like the accountants from Old Trafford, they had got away with one.
They hadn’t lost face, despite the facelift, and didn’t, in the end, even need the product placement of Alex Ferguson in the Wembley stands, wearing an ill-fitting cap bearing the indelible legend: ‘winners.’