Well, it’s been a while. But here we go again. Here’s to some consistency.
Back in June, the FA announced a revamp of the English League Trophy (formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy), or the ‘Tinpot Trophy’ to many football league team supporters.
Academy teams were to feature for the first time, expanding the competition from 48 to 64 clubs – a gateway to higher attendances, increased prize money, opportunities for young talent to shine through, and a platform to restructure the Football League in the future.
The FA thought they were on to a winner.
Well, the reception was somewhat muted from clubs, with many big academy sides (Manchester United and Arsenal) declining to take part. League clubs cited issues such as extra travel expenses (as the competition is no longer regionalised), the inclusion of academy sides and the ‘make the rules up as you go along’ attitude to the new competition format.
As for fans, these plans went down like a lead balloon.
Nobody wants to watch West Ham’s kids take on a League 2 side on a winter’s Tuesday night, in a cup that doesn’t really matter, not even West Ham fans. Just imagine the final between Stoke Academy and Swansea Academy in front of a few thousand at Wembley. Embarrassing.
Fans were also wary of the fact the restructuring of the EFL Trophy was the first step towards League 3 – the inclusion of B Teams in the official English League system – something the vast majority of fans are against. Triggering plans for blanket boycotts of these matches, despite the FA expecting attendances to rise.
Six months on and we’ve reached the Quarter Final stages. And low and behold the concept has failed miserably. One academy team remains, illustrating that the ‘promising talent’ that the FA suggested hasn’t materialised, highlighted massively by League 2 relegation candidate Cheltenham’s 5-1 thrashing of Premier League champions Leicester City’s academy side.
Even less surprisingly following the mass coverage of the #BTeamBoycott on Twitter and the general acknowledgement from football league fans that this new concept has been horrifically executed has led to record-low attendances for competitive matches at grounds around the country, with over two-thirds of fixtures being witnessed by less than a thousand spectators, with just 392 lucky souls seeing Fleetwood take on Blackburn Rovers academy – a one-goal thriller.
When even football league teams are taking the proverbial by breaking FA rules and fielding under-strength teams, and in Bradford’s case playing a full strength team and then substituting their first team goalkeeper Colin Doyle after he had a ‘poor 45 seconds’ the FA have to ultimately admit defeat.
Don’t get me wrong, as a Wycombe fan I definitely wouldn’t sniff at another day at Wembley and some silverware to boot. But the dire performance of the EFL Trophy deserves a rye smile and a little ‘we told you so’ from League One and Two supporters.