Surrounded by controversy, protest and boycotts, the Football League Trophy last night returned with an all new format. Despite the introduction of regional group stages and a bizarre decision to ban sides from drawing (more on that later) the most talked about change will continue to be the inclusion of Premier League development squads.
Sixteen clubs with category 1 academy teams were invited to participate, to, in the words of Football League Chief Executive Shaun Harvey, ‘rejuvenate this competition and also assist the development of the very best young players in English football.’ Thankfully the league and Mr Harvey were soon embarrassed when the biggest sides, barring Chelsea, all rejected the invitation. Unfortunately, ten other PL sides, along with several championship teams, agreed to participate.
The common argument from Football League clubs, whether it be chairmen, managers or supporters, is that the move derives from Premier League greed and looks only after the interest of larger clubs. Traditionally, whilst being treated somewhat comically by supporters in part due to the competition’s sponsorship deals, (most famously Johnstone’s Paint) the EFL Trophy has provided League 1 and 2 sides with a real chance of a trip to Wembley.
Now the final could realistically feature two ‘development’ sides, essentially B teams with as many outcast squad players than youth prospects. Within the new guidelines, League sides are required to field at least 5 first team players in their starting 11, whilst the invited teams must select 6 under 21’s.
Unsurprisingly fans of lower league side appear to have had enough. Rather than be thrilled by the idea of spending a weeknight seeing their team play a ‘competitive’ fixture against the what the EFL continue to describe as ‘Everton’ or ‘Southampton’ rather than the reality of ‘Stoke B’, many have stayed away, leading to some stark attendance statistics:
These can be easily compared with the attendances for the 1st round of last years’ competition (last years’ 1st round was a knockout stage)
First of all, looking at the average attendances (this has to be used rather than totals due to 2016/17 having almost double the number of fixtures) the average number of fans attending games at this round dropped by 436. Initially this sounds insubstantial but it is a 30% drop on the equivalent fixtures last year.
Of course, some of this decline could be caused by an increased number of ‘smaller sides’ hosting matches this time round. To compare with last year, I have extracted the fixtures where the same side played at home in both seasons. Leaving us with 8 fixtures, an admittedly small yet interesting sample:
Of the 8 sets of fixtures, five saw significant falls in attendance (highlighted in yellow) from the other 3, Millwall had almost identical numbers, Northampton increased but were promoted last season and Yeovil faced Portsmouth who have a significantly larger away following than Barnet.
Three out of the four sides who were at home both years and played B sides this year saw steep drops in attendance, with Carlisle, Scunthorpe and AFC Wimbledon seeing figures fall 53%, 33% and 63% respectively. The total average of these 8 fixtures is also a substantial 28% lower.
It is worth noting that AFC Wimbledon have shown that they are strongly against the inclusion of B sides, which will have had an impact on supporters. There are however other sides who had attendance records broken last night.
The crowd of 1,540 at Bolton (against Everton B) is the lowest competitive turnout in the stadium’s history, and Port Vale had their lowest competitive game attendance for 30 years with only 1,198 wanting to see a game against Derby’s reserves.
The decision to not only allow development sides, from both Premier League and championship clubs, but let them feature the likes of Emnes, 28 (Swansea) Charlie Adam, 30 (Stoke) and Tony Andreu, 28 (Who scored a hat-trick for Norwich) only degrades the competition further.
The league executives’ argument that this would provide a platform for young English players is dismantled even further when assessing the nationalities of those who featured for the development sides. For example, Andreu, who scored a hat-trick for Norwich is French, Reading’s side included sven foreign born players and Swansea’s starting XI had only three Englishmen
Combining this with the decision to resolve group stage draws with penalty shoot-outs which give the winner an extra point means that this seasons EFL trophy may just be the most ridiculous competition to ever exist in the English game.
Whilst It is usually sad to see empty stadiums and hearing of fans having to miss out on seeing their team; this time it is necessary, the recent changes should not be accepted without a fight. Hopefully, the numbers cannot be ignored.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by dan.westwell
Phil Brown needs to keep his promises of developing Swindon Town’s academy prospects
The Robins’ manager has made a commitment to the club’s young talent.
Swindon Town have succeeded in tying down youth academy centre-back Joe Romanski, and Phil Brown now needs to keep his word when it comes to developing the club’s youth.
Romanski was one of three academy graduates to get some match action during Brown’s two months in interim charge, with the defender making his professional debut in a 1-0 defeat to Grimsby Town as well as the final 17 minutes in the final day’s 3-0 win over champions Accrington Stanley, a game that also saw Jordan Edwards get his first 81 minutes for the first-team.
Scott Twine saw the most football under Brown, though, adding four more matches to his tally, having made his debut in May 2018, and can be proud of his displays, despite the striker failing to net his first goal.
NEWS ?? | We are delighted to announce that @JosephRomanski has put pen to paper on a professional contract with the club.
— Swindon Town FC (@Official_STFC) June 20, 2018
Robins fans seeing ‘one of their own’ on the pitch felt alien as, despite professing to use the youth set-up, previous manager David Flitcroft did not give a single league minute to academy players at Swindon.
Goalkeeper Will Henry and Tom Smith were limited to EFL Trophy outings, while Tom Ouldridge, Jake Evans and Twine were all loaned out to various non-league clubs over the course of the season, as were Henry and Smith.
Smith has been the poster boy for Swindon’s academy in recent years, and scored 11 goals over three loan spells at Bath last season, but Brown has decided to let him leave, much to the disappointed of Town fans who feel Smith did not get a fair crack of the whip.
Brown now needs to ensure that more promising talent coming out of the academy does not go to waste.
Jermaine McGlashan’s arrival first sign of Phil Brown remoulding Swindon Town
The experienced winger joined on a free having left Southend United.
Despite not being able to guide Swindon Town into the Sky Bet League Two play-offs during his interim spell in charge, Phil Brown was handed the role permanently and signing 30-year-old Jermaine McGlashan is the start of his rebuilding job.
Swindon deployed a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-1-2 formation under former head coach David Flitcroft, with the latter using wing-backs as opposed to wingers, but Brown tore that up and went with his tried and tested 4-4-2 to try and replicate his promotion-winning success at Hull City and Southend.
It started perfectly as Paul Mullin and Matt Taylor contributed to a 3-1 win at Cambridge United, but Swindon struggled there on in, and failed to win eight of their last nine games, including a run of four-straight draws, as the 4-4-2 failed to break down teams in Brown’s opening two months at Town.
Brown does not have the same rebuilding job Flitcroft, who signed 16 players last summer, did, but there are plenty of gaps in the squad to fill.
Should Brown stick with 4-4-2 for the next campaign, he needs to bring more wingers into the club, given Paul Mullin, Kaiyne Woolery and Keshi Anderson, who all get minutes as wingers last season, are better as strikers while Taylor is more suited to the left-back role as his career nears its end, despite comfortably winning the club’s Player of the Year last season.
The departures of Kellan Gordon (end of loan) and Donal McDermott (released) means new boy McGlashan is the only out-and-out winger at the County Ground, and Swindon fans should expect more to arrive prior to the closing of the transfer window.
Nedum Onouha would be a smart signing for Millwall
Millwall hunt on the bargain market and the former QPR captain would be perfect.
Nedum Onouha is currently on the hunt for a new club. The former QPR captain left Loftus Road this summer after six years at the club. The 31-year-old defender played 223 games for the club, always giving his all for the club but deciding the time was right to leave this summer.
Now he is available on a free transfer and many teams in the Championship and League One will no doubt be keen on the player.
One team who should definitely be keen are Millwall.
The Lions are coming off the back of a brilliant campaign in the Championship. Neil Harris led his side to a late play-off charge and they only narrowly missed out on a place in the top six.
This summer they will want to improve, but to do so is difficult given their financial situation. Millwall spend wisely in the transfer market. Relying on cheap signings and free agents this summer will be as tough as ever for Millwall to make wholesale improvements.
Which is why Onouha should be one of their targets. Capable of playing at right-back or centre-back he could be a great addition to the club’s already impressive back-line. Budging one of Shaun Hutchinson or Jake Cooper from a starting position would be tough for the experienced defender. But if Millwall want to sustain a challenge for promotion again next season strength in depth will be key.
If his wages are reasonable they could offer Onouha the perfect chance to remain in the Championship and remain in London.
This would be a perfect fit for both club and player.