Probably the best thing about cup competitions is having unique, interesting games. Although the league fixtures include a few away trips to look forward to, there’s nothing quite like the chance of a one-off knockout match... except that Reading rarely seem to get them.
Friday’s draw for the first round of the Carabao Cup was the latest example of that, throwing up the not exactly exciting prospect of Birmingham City at home. I’ve nothing against them as a club, it’s just that we’ve played them in every calendar year bar one for just over a decade, and even finished right next to us last season. It’s getting a little repetitive.
It got me thinking though - how interesting actually are Reading’s cup draws? Are they, whether in the FA Cup or League Cup, typically this dull? To find out, I’ve looked back over the last five seasons to find out (deliberately not including replays as they don’t really count as cup draws).
Reading’s cup draws, 2013/14 to 2017/18
Peterborough away (League Cup)
Brighton away (FA Cup)
Newport County home, Scunthorpe away, Derby County away (League Cup)
Colchester away, Portsmouth away, Everton home (League Cup)
Huddersfield Town away, Walsall home, West Brom home, Crystal Palace home (FA Cup)
Plymouth Argyle home, MK Dons home, Brighton away, Arsenal away (League Cup)
Manchester United away (FA Cup)
Gillingham home, Millwall home, Swansea City home (League Cup)
Stevenage away, Sheffield Wednesday away (FA Cup)
How do the stats break down?
Total cup draws: 27
Home fixtures: 10
Away fixtures: 16
Neutral venue: 1
All-Championship ties: 9
Premier League opponents: 7
Lower league opponents: 11
Away fixtures against non-Championship teams: 8
Going into writing this, I’d assumed Championship opposition took up a much larger percentage of our cup ties than they actually do, but two thirds of those games being against Premier League, League One or League Two teams is pretty good. Similarly, 16/27 is a good return for those preferring an away day to their usual seat at the Mad Stad, going up by one if you count Wembley (although we try to forget that place...).
That said, the last stat in bold is the one that really jumps out. If you asked me to define what an “interesting” cup tie is, I’d probably go with exactly that description I used - playing away at a club that isn’t in the same division as us. It’s a good chance to experience not only a new ground (hopefully) but also a different standard of football to usual (whether that turns out well or not).
Alas, we’ve been pretty starved of those, with just 8/27 falling into that category - those eight being trips to: Peterborough, Scunthorpe, Bradford, Colchester, Portsmouth, Arsenal, Manchester United and Stevenage. I myself went to three of those (Bradford, Portsmouth and Man United), and count them amongst my favourite away trips that I’ve done.
Why? Because they felt unique. Given Reading’s very different league fortunes to those three clubs, we wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to see our team play at Valley Parade, Fratton Park or Old Trafford - all of them cracking, old stadiums bursting with history. A lot of fans felt the same way, with all of those away ends packed out on the day (despite one being a Tuesday night and the other two kicking off on a Saturday lunchtime up north).
Then again, maybe all of this is missing the point. Cup draws are completely random, so frustrations about their dull results don’t go anywhere. Perhaps, in fact, the very nature of getting an ‘interesting’ draw just 29.62% of the time only adds to the ‘magic’ of the cup.