To come up with a competition less appealing than the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy must have been difficult. The Football League managed it nevertheless.
There has been precious little talk about the EFL Trophy recently, so little that I can’t recall a more subdued build-up to a set of midweek fixtures.
Wigan are among just 28 clubs in the 92 not to be involved in the inaugural Checkatrade Trophy. But what are we actually missing out on?
Let’s take Bolton’s group stage matches as an example: Everton U23s (H), Blackpool (H) and Cheltenham Town (A). I literally don’t think it could have been any worse for Wanderers fans. First off, Blackpool at home is a kick in the teeth; you were so close to booking two days off work to go round Blackpool – if only it said (A) rather than (H). Instead of Blackpool, your only away match is at Cheltenham on a Tuesday night in November.
Oh and there’s also the irrelevance of playing Everton’s Under 23 side at home. In the eyes of most fans of lower league sides, Everton may be one of the more appealing Development Squads to face – however for sides like Wigan and Bolton, even coming up against their first team means relatively little.
If that was our group I think we might have touched 4,000 for both of those home matches with cheap ticket prices and the fact it’s not far for Everton and Blackpool supporters to travel. As for our away following at Cheltenham: maybe 200 with most of them looking to tick the ground off and not much else.
Even for the ones who would – purely out of habit – go and watch matches in the EFL Trophy as they did in the JPT, it won’t be out of expectation that they will leave the stadium at full time elated to have topped Northern Group A in the Checkatrade Trophy. Part of the reason for that is we all know the real reason the Football League Trophy has been revamped: to aid the development of young players at the country’s best academies.
Even then you only need to see that Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and Newcastle United have all declined an invitation into the trophy to see it’s a sham. Five of those six teams are able to attract a crowd wherever they go and even their Development Squads can draw up decent turnouts that League Two clubs would have been thankful of. But instead Accrington’s glamour tie is Wolves U23s, Rochdale’s is Sunderland U23s and Cambridge welcome Middlesbrough U23s. All the benefit lies with the competition’s Category One Academy teams, with an ounce of disrespect towards all other competitors.
League Two has had its fair share of representatives in the Football League Trophy final over the years, but with the inclusion of 16 Under 23 teams, their chances – and those of League One clubs – have fallen. The one realistic chance lower league sides have at winning a cup competition just got less realistic.
Whatever happened to loaning out young players to help them gain experience? Maybe the FA have conducted a study and found that the loan system isn’t the optimum way to enhance a player (or some b*llocks like that).
I couldn’t care less about the England National Team and the same goes for the dilemmas that each top flight club faces with its academy. But the so called ‘responsibility’ to enhance young English footballers has now become a shackle tied to every single League One and League Two club, used as guinea pigs in an experiment that could further increase interest in Premier League clubs compared to the rest of the field.
With the second Xl’s of Category One Academies are becoming stronger, people who currently identify/formerly identified as fans of one of the big teams yet also follow a smaller team may feel less inclined to watch the latter. If watching Liverpool’s Under 23s is of the same quality as watching your local team Crewe, Rochdale, Oldham etc then you’ll soon get less people deciding to turn their back on the country’s elite clubs.
Portsmouth fans unhappy with the EFL Trophy have several tricks up their sleeve for the Football League, yet I severely doubt they will care what Pompey supporters think or do. Enough people will attend matches across the board and keep up to date with the competition to make it financially viable, and most importantly not many (if any) League One or League Two clubs will dare to field a full academy side in these fixtures. However if they did, the competition’s original format would be promptly reintroduced and the creative jobsworths responsible for the EFL Trophy will realise that it’s them who are broken, not football.