By Jacob Sznober.
AT THE end of last season the Football League announced that the Johnston’s Paint Trophy, a competition which was exclusive to League One and Two clubs, would be changed.
Many thought change would be a good thing. Indeed the Johnston’s Paint Trophy was a bit of a joke if truth be told, where clubs and fans alike would only start caring in the latter stages of the competition when Wembley was in sight.
Therefore in accordance with the Football League rebrand, the Trophy also went through an overhaul. Its official name changed from the Football League Trophy to the EFL Trophy.
Seems only logical.
Then there was a change in sponsorship, out went Johnston’s Paint and in came Checkatrade.
Ok, nothing too bad so far.
There was more to this new competition than just a change in name though, now there was to be a group stage where everyone was to play each other once as opposed to a straight knockout like before.
Ok, but won’t that mean more games in an already hectic EFL schedule?
And then there was the real reason behind the change. Premier League and Championship under-23 teams were to compete.
Yep, the Football Association, concerned with the state of the national side, had a brain wave: why not put the under-23 teams in an actual competition with actual professional teams?
Great, so now it feels like we as fans of lower league clubs don’t matter; like the B teams of the first and second divisions take precedence. Fans (like myself) decided to not to go to the EFL Trophy matches and instead watched their local non league club or just stayed at home.
#BTeamBoycott started to trend, which resulted in a 20% decrease in attendances in the first week of the competition. Many league clubs struggled to attract over 1,000 fans during the competition. Indeed the lowest attendance was at the Hawthorns where only 274 people turned up to watch Gillingham win 2-0 over West Brom Under-23s!
To say that this competition is now even more of a joke is an understatement.
Not only did the ‘youth development’ teams include first team players lacking in match fitness with the likes of Charlie Adam, Bojan (Both Stoke), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester), and Fabio (Middlesbrough) amongst others all starring, but they also involved many foreign prospects, devaluing the need for these B teams in the first place.
Many lower league managers were also angry with the rule that ‘Each EFL Club shall play its full available strength in and during all matches’ and if they did not then they ‘will be required to pay a fine of up to £5,000’. Many could not play a full strength side due to the hectic fixture list. Wycombe Wanderers boss Gareth Ainsworth played himself in one fixture, three years after retirement, at the age of 43.
One success of the EFL Trophy was that it saw the highest attendance for a final of the competition in any guise at 74,434, although this was largely attributed to the fact that this was the first time that Coventry City had been to Wembley since their FA Cup win in 1987. They eventually won 2-1 against Oxford United in this year’s final.
The future of the competition is now in the hands of the League One and Two clubs as they vote on May 9, on either of the following:
-A revised format including 16 invited teams;
– A return to the previous 48-team competition, exclusive to League One and Two;
– Remove the competition from the fixture calendar.
Personally I wouldn’t be opposed to inviting teams into the competition, as long as they were not youth development or reserve teams of any sort.
However, returning to the original set up would be the preferred option as this may be the only chance for many of these teams, players and more importantly fans, to experience what it’s like to win a cup at Wembley (and who doesn’t like a day out at Wembley?).
Under the current guise with Under-23 teams able to field first team players who are able to influence a match, then that that chance looks thinner.