Tranmere Rovers were destined to make a little bit of Wembley history when they fought their way through to the League Cup Final 20 years ago.
Their match against Leicester City was destined to be the last League Cup showpiece in the old stadium before the final moved to Cardiff for seven years while Wembley was rebuilt.
The 2000 final was part of a vintage year for Tranmere as the Birkenhead club reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup too, knocking out West Ham, Sunderland and Fulham along the way.
Tranmere’s League Cup run started with a 4-3 aggregate win over Blackpool in August 1991 followed by a 6-4 two-leg victory over Coventry City.
Ties then went to single matches and Tranmere beat Oxford United 2-0, Barnsley 4-0 and Middlesbrough 2-1 before meeting Bolton Wanderers in the two-leg semi-final.
The away leg saw the Rovers triumph 1-0 thanks to a goal from Clint Hill. The return leg at Prenton Park ended in a 3-0 victory for Tranmere, with goals from Nick Henry, Alan Mahon and David ‘Ned’ Kelly.
So the final was set for February 27th 2000. First Division Rovers, from English football’s second tier, would be pitched against Premier League Leicester.
In an eventful match, Leicester’s centre-half Matt Elliott headed the first goal in the 29th minute before referee Alan Wilkie was stretchered off with an injury to his right leg in the 62nd minute. He was replaced by fourth official Phil Richards.
A minute later, Tranmere’s Clint Hill was sent off for his second booking leaving Rovers with 10 men. But the team rallied and Kelly shot low past Leicester goalkeeper Tim Flowers for the equaliser.
All hopes were dashed in the 81st minute when Elliott thundered in another header to give Leicester a 2-1 victory.
Back on Merseyside, Liverpool were proving themselves the masters of the League Cup. The Reds have now won it a record eight times and they’ve contested no less than 12 finals.
Everton have played in two finals – in 1977 against Aston Villa and in 1984 against neighbours Liverpool.
The 1977 final took three matches to decide the winner, the only time this has happened in the history of the League Cup.
The first game at Wembley on March 12th was a goalless draw and the replay at Hillsborough four days later ended 1-1. Both goals were scored by Everton players as Bob Latchford cancelled out Roger Kenyon’s own goal in the final minute.
The second replay at Old Trafford on April 13th was a livelier affair with a stunning 40-yard goal from Villa centre-half Chris Nicholl.
Villa won 3-2 with two further goals from Brian Little, one in the dying seconds of the match. Mick Lyons and Latchford scored for the Everton.
Liverpool won the 1984 final 1-0 after a replay. The Wembley match finished goalless although there were strong Everton claims for a penalty when Alan Hansen appeared to handle Adrian Heath’s shot on the Reds’ goal line.
The replay at Maine Road was settled by a first half goal from Graeme Souness, giving Liverpool their fourth consecutive success in the competition.
There was consolation for Everton as they went on to win the FA Cup, beating Watford 2-0 at Wembley. On the score sheet this time were Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray, who had turned out for Villa against the Toffees in the 1977 final.
The League Cup itself was first played in the 1960-61 season. It was launched by the Football League as a response to the popularity of European soccer and to give the league some clout and bargaining power against the Football Association.
The competition took advantage of the increasing use of floodlights at grounds, enabling more mid-week evening ties to be played.
The League Cup’s current incarnation is the Carabao Cup, named after its sponsor. Previously it has been called the Milk Cup, Littlewoods Challenge Cup, Rumbelows Cup, Carling Cup and Coca-Cola Cup.
*Hundreds of remarkable pictures from around Britain during World War II will feature in Clive Hardy’s latest book The Home Front – available soon from publishers iNostalgia.