Sheffield Wednesday vs Blackburn Rovers (partially found footage of Football League Cup matches; 2002)
On 8th and 22nd January 2002, Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers played the first and second legs of their 2002 Football League Cup Semi-Final encounters respectively. Blackburn won the matches 2-1 and 4-2 to achieve a 6-3 aggregate victory and reach their first major cup final since 1960. But while the matches themselves were mostly uncontroversial outside of Garry Flitcroft's red card in the second leg, the first leg proved infamous from a television standpoint as ITV Sport's broadcast allegedly recorded a zero audience rating.
Heading into the fixtures, First Division side Sheffield Wednesday were enjoying a surprise run within the tournament, especially as their season also involved battling to avoid relegation to the Second Division. The road to the Semi-Finals saw the Owls defeat Bury, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, and Watford. Blackburn Rovers, as a Premier League team, was placed into the Second Round automatically. The Riversiders saw off Oldham Athletic, Middlesborough, Manchester City, and eventual Premier League champions Arsenal to reach the Semi-Finals. Wednesday had previously won the 1991 League Cup, and finished runners-up in 1993. In contrast, not only had Blackburn never won the cup previously, they had also failed to reach a major cup final for 42 years. Wednesday and Rovers were placed together during the Semi-Final draw, conducted on 15th December 2001. Both clubs were seen as underdogs to win the cup when compared to London teams Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. However, Rovers landed a huge coup by signing Andy Cole from Manchester United for £7.6 million in December 2001, with the first leg set to be his second match for his new club.
Both legs were televised live by the ITV Digital-exclusive channel ITV Sport. Launched in August 2001, ITV Sport would accommodate ITV Digital's £315 million television deal with the Football League, which would see it air 80 matches from Divisions 1-3, in addition to 15 League Cup games. Having first aired Manchester City's 3-0 First Division win over Watford on 11th August 2001, ITV Sport's ratings quickly tanked. Various issues impacted viewership, including a vastly inferior offering of matches compared to Sky Digital's Premier League coverage; a failure to secure a platform on Sky; and widespread piracy. Just two months into the 2001-02 season, a Nottingham Forest-Bradford City match reportedly drew a pitifully low rating, just above the 1,000 mark. UK television ratings are conducted by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) based on a small cross-section of viewers, estimated to have consisted of 5,100 households. Each cross-section viewer in 2002 supposedly reflected 10,000 viewers each. Hence, BARB's cross-section viewership emphasised ITV Sport's difficulties in gaining sufficient viewership needed to justify its £315 million deal.
But worse was seemingly to come. Following the first leg's broadcast on 8th January 2002, ITV Digital was shocked when BARB reported its ITV Sport coverage drew under 1,000 viewers. Anything under 1,000 is classed as drawing a zero audience rating, a complete disaster for a major football match. Admist a negative media frenzy surrounding this rating, ITV Digital went on the defensive. Via a spokesman, the company claimed the broadcast drew a BARB rating of 85,000, topping out at 105,000 for around 15 minutes. This nevertheless was still a low rating, as only an estimated ten cross-viewers were actually tuning in to see the coverage. However, it also insisted the rating did not include airings occurring in pubs and bars across Britain, which would likely have seen tens of thousands more view the coverage.
It was later established by publications like The Guardian that BARB's new rating system had been producing inaccurate results, and that the wrong data had been transferred to the media. BARB had been transitioning with new measuring equipment and a more diverse range of cross-viewers. It was alleged that in January 2002, the transition had not been fully completed, potentially signifying why ITV Digital and other commercial television platforms somehow lost a quarter of its viewer base during this time period. As fewer than 4,000 of the 5,100 households were actually recording data, it explained why ITV Sport among other channels suffered reductions in ratings during the first quarter of 2002. Regardless, the first leg's true rating did little to help ITV Digital in the long run, with the company eventually shutting down on 1st May 2002 following severe financial problems. ITV Sport also became defunct ten days later. Wednesday had been expecting a share of ITV Digital revenue, approximately £3 million per season. It among other Football League clubs suffered huge losses as they budgeted around the cash injection that was not forthcoming. Wednesday owed £20 million in debts and barely avoided going into administration after imposing significant cutbacks and gaining a share of Sky's £95 million deal with the Football League in July 2002.
The first leg commenced on 8th January 2002, in front of 30,883 at Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium. Sheffield started strongly, and nearly took the lead when a 26-second header by Paul McLaren was narrowly redirected over the bar by Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Wednesday failed to capitalise on early opportunities, costing the team dearly. After 28 minutes, a left cross from Damien Duff was missed by Cole, but was reached by Craig Hignett at the far post, who subsequently put Blackburn in front. Eight minutes later, Alan Mahon was substituted for Mark Hughes, allowing him and Cole to team up again for the first time since their 1994-95 season at Manchester United. The change likely stemmed from Mahon missing a strong opportunity just eight yards from the Wednesday goal. The substitution probably contributed towards another Rovers offence in the 39th minute, this time Cole having capitalised on Duff's cross to score his first goal for Blackburn.
Wednesday's confidence generally waned during the first half, but they regained composure early in the second. John Curtis had tried to clear the ball away from Blackburn's box, but it was intercepted by Alan Quinn. The resulting attack enabled a cross that Efan Ekoku converted for 2-1 after 52 minutes. Ekoku soon nearly levelled proceedings, only for his header to be stopped by Friedel. Friedel also prevented a Tony Crane header, while Pablo Bonvin's shot went narrowly wide of the Blackburn goal. Thus, despite Wednesday's comeback, the score remained 2-1 in Blackburn's favour. Additionally, a late-chance from David Dunn almost made it 3-1, though the 15-yard shot ultimately slid past Wednesday's right-hand post. Despite the setback, Sheffield's manager Terry Yorath remained optimistic for the second leg, insisting "It's not over yet".
The second leg took place fourteen days at Rovers' Ewood Park, attracting 26,844 spectators. Before the game began, Wednesday lost their two goalkeepers to injury, forcing them to call up Paul Heald on loan from Wimbledon. Heald was forced to make several early saves, primarily against Matt Jansen. Wednesday nearly opened the scoring courtesy of Gerald Sibon, who missed one opportunity after intercepting Martin Taylor, before a 20-yard strike from him was saved by Friedel. However, Blackburn took the lead after 35 minutes when a Hignett corner reached Taylor, who hit the post. However, it allowed Jansen to strike for 1-0. Just two minutes later, Rovers doubled their lead with Duff harnessing Tugay Kerimoglu's pass to ultimately defeat Heald.
Early in the second half, Blackburn captain Garry Flitcroft performed a dangerous two-foot lunge onto Trond Egil Soltvedt. Aside from him receiving a straight red card, Cole and Sheffield's Ashley Westwood received yellow cards during a subsequent altercation. Six minutes later, Blackburn's Stig Inge Bjornebye conceded a penalty, with the Owls' Ekoku converting for 2-1. Alas, Blackburn regained their dominance of the game, Cole having reached another Duff cross to make it 3-1 after 82 minutes. Nevertheless, Soltvedt gave Sheffield more hope by converting an Alan Quinn corner, but in the 88th minute, a Hignett strike made it 4-2 to Rovers. Rovers won the match 4-2 and achieved a 6-3 aggregate win to reach their first major cup final since 1960. Yorath accepted defeat, stating "The best side went through. We didn't make the most of playing against the 10 men, but my lads did as well as they could and I'm proud of them."
Despite being without Flitcroft for the Final on 24th February 2002, Blackburn successfully stunned Tottenham to win 2-1. Seeing as Blackburn lost the 1960 FA Cup Final to Wolverhampton Wanderers, it marked the club's first major cup victory since the 1928 FA Cup Final. As of the 2022-23 season, Rovers and Wednesday have never since achieved another League Cup Final appearance.
While the match broadcasts certainly drew more than a zero audience rating, they ultimately still only attracted a meagre audience for otherwise major clashes. Thus, the full match coverage for both encounters only had a limited chance of receiving home media recordings. This has meant that some of the full ITV Sport broadcasts, including the aforementioned Manchester City-Watford match, have become lost media over the years. Only a few highlights of the matches can be found on YouTube. While the broadcasts likely do dwell within ITV Sport's archive, such footage is permitted for usage only for business and production requirements. Thus, home media recordings may well be the only means of these matches fully publicly resurfacing.
- ITV Sport (partially found coverage of English football matches; 2001-2002)
- Manchester City 3-0 Watford (partially found footage of Football League First Division match; 2001)
- Watch With Monkey (lost unaired pilot of scrapped BBC family comedy show; 2003)
- English Football Stats detailing the 2001-02 Premier and Football League tables. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- Archived BBC Sport reporting on Sheffield Wednesday defeating Watford. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- RSSSF detailing the road to the 2002 League Cup Final. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- Transfer Markt detailing Sheffield Wednesday's trophy cabinet. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- Transfer Markt detailing Blackburn Rovers' trophy cabinet Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- Archived BBC Sport reporting on the Semi-Final draw. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on Blackburn signing Cole for £7.6 million Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on the first leg. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on the initial inaccurate first leg television rating. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- WARC reporting on the outrage surrounding the initially reported first leg television rating. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Fishy explaining ITV Sport's football coverage offering. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Scotsman reporting on ITV Digital's £315 million television deal with the Football League. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Athletic documenting ITV Digital's disastrous Football League deal that led to its collapse. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- From the Back Page to the Front Room documenting ITV Digital's ratings disaster and its collapse. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- Archived Off the Telly documenting the ways ITV Digital's viewership was affected, including by piracy. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Fishy listing some of the matches ITV Sport would cover live. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- Four Four Two detailing the rise and collapse of ITV Digital. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- AS Media Studies summarising BARB and how its January 2002 transition caused inaccuracies for its reported ratings. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- BARB explaining its BARB panel system. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- WARC reporting on the teething issues BARB was suffering during its launch of a new system. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on ITV suffering a decline of 25% of its viewer base during the BARB transition. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- BBC News reporting on ITV Digital's closure. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on ITV Sport's impending closure. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- From Orient to the Emirates detailing how Wednesday and other Football League clubs suffered massive financial issues following ITV Digital's collapse. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on Sky's £95 million deal with the Football League. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- 11 vs 11 detailing the result of the first leg and other statistics. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- BBC Sport reporting on the first leg. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- 11 vs 11 detailing the result of the second leg and other statistics. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- BBC Sport reporting on the second leg. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- The Guardian reporting on the second leg. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- BBC Sport reporting on Blackburn winning the 2002 League Cup Final. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- ITV Sport Archive catalogue noting it has highlights or full match broadcasts of English Football League from 1968 to 2009. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23
- ITV Sport Archive noting its footage cannot be utilised for personal use. Retrieved 27th Jul' 23