SHEFFIELD UNITED’S first competitive fixture of the season was announced today amid farcial scenes in Bangkok.
Walsall of League One will visit Bramall Lane in the first round of the newly named Carabao Cup – the League Cup to you and me. But the Thai sponsors who manufacture energy drinks, their name means red buffalo, and have struck a three-year deal with the English Football League, cannot have been impressed by the stilted amateurism of EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey who hosted the draw in Thailand and which was beamed live to the UK via Sky and on the internet.
A live feed on Facebook, first beset by sound problems, crashed after Birmingham City became the first club out of the pot and an onscreen graphic showed Charlton Athletic drawn away to Exeter City as well as at home to Cheltenham Town.
It was left for former Arsenal double and French World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit, who drew the seeded clubs, to at least salvage his own professional pride when interviewed somewhat clumsily midway through the shambolic event which paused between regional north-south ceremonies.
It appeared as if the 46-year-old Frenchman had been engaged in a private chat, caught by live microphones, to pass the time when a suited Thai inquisitor appeared on stage and asked if he was familiar with Thailand.
It shortly became clear that this was a planned interview and far from being non-plussed after being quizzed if he still enjoyed a kick-about, Petit, who also played with distinction for Monaco, Barcelona and Chelsea, took it all in his stride, just as he did in the Gunners midfield. He went on to spare his cack-handed questioner’s embarrassment by making the best of a bad job with answers which were infinitely more intelligent and composed than the rest of the proceedings.
Harvey, whose previous roles have included being chief executive at Leeds United and managing director of Bradford City, began the draw by asking his partners on stage: “Gentleman, can I ask you all to give your respective balls a good stir.” That set the tone perfectly. And to think the 47-year-old has had weeks to prepare for this.
Petit stifled a smile and Harvey then stuttered and stumbled his way through the draw like a rabbit caught in the headlights. But even the immaculate Petit was stumped at the end.
All four men – Harvey, Petit, Carabao CEO Sathien Setthasit who drew the unseeded clubs, and Brian Davidson, British Ambassador to Thailand in charge of drawing home or away venues – stood desperately staring into space. They only had their respective podiums for cover at the end of this excrutiating pantomime, unsure what to do next for at least a minute. An audience, twitching nervously but made up of whom was never explained, remained equally silent. Harvey glanced anxiously to the wings with a pained expression in a plea for help. Petit, a little more gracefully, followed suit before, mercifully, the transmission ended.
The seeded draw was made up of north and south sections for the first round to reduce travel for fans and encourage bigger gates. At least the EFL got something right. City neighbours Sheffield Wednesday host Chesterfield. All ties will be played week commencing August 7.
Walsall were a thorn in United’s side last season, beating the runaway League One champions three times. A 2-1 home defeat in the EFL Trophy (formerly Johnstone Paint Trophy) was followed by league losses, 1-0 again at Bramall Lane in November, and a 4-1 upset at the Bank’s Stadium in January, the Blades last defeat of a triumphant campaign.
Coventry v Blackburn, Nottingham Forest v Shrewsbury, Bradford v Doncaster, Mansfield v Rochdale, Grimsby v Derby, Barnsley v Morecambe, Crewe v Bolton, Oldham v Burton, Wigan v Blackpool, Bury v Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday v Chesterfield, Accrington v Preston, Fleetwood v Carlisle, Sheffield United v Walsall, Scunthorpe v Notts County, Rotherham v Lincoln, Leeds v Port Vale.
Birmingham v Crawley, Exeter v Charlton, QPR v Northampton, Newport v Southend, Bristol City v Plymouth, Cardiff v Portsmouth, Millwall v Stevenage, Oxford United v Cheltenham, AFC Wimbledon v Brentford, Norwich v Swindon, Bristol Rovers v Cambridge, Peterborough v Barnet, Wycombe v Fulham, Colchester v Aston Villa, Wolves v Yeovil, Reading v Gillingham, Forest Green v MK Dons, Luton v Ipswich.