The new season is nearly upon us and while that brings excitement to football fans everywhere, unfortunately, there is one part that I am not looking to and that is the EFL Trophy. As a Peterborough fan, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy will always a special place in my heart but for reasons beyond this the EFL Trophy simply must not return beyond this trial.
Yes, The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was never blessed with high attendances in the early rounds, as is the case with many mid-week games, yet you’d be a fool to believe that the real reason for the creation of the EFL Trophy is to reinvigorate a ‘failing’ competition. This is an attempt by the Premier League and the FA to manipulate lower-league football and it is up to the fans to make a stand.
First of all, there is no evidence to suggest that attendances would see a marked improvement. People who support a club follow the first team but you would be hard pushed to find many fans that avidly follow and keep up to date with their club’s youth sides. This leads to pitiful attendances at games in the Under-21 Premier League. Arsenal, one of the best producers of young players in England, farm their team out to play at Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park and struggle to half-fill the 4,500 capacity and even then you have to consider that the majority in attendance are families of the players trying to catch a glimpse of their darling boys trying to break into the professional ranks.
To make matters worse, you won’t even be able to see the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City as they declined invitations to the competition. Therefore, the best you could get is watching the likes of Swansea U21’s taking to the pitch, a team that could only attract 572 to a play-off semi-final two years ago. To try and dress it up, it has been announced that all academy sides will play at first-team stadia. However, this hardly adds much glamour. As a Peterborough fan, I still don’t get excited at the prospect of Leicester U21’s away on a Tuesday night, even if it does mean a trip to the King Power.
To try and dress it up, it has been announced that all academy sides will play at first-team stadia. However, this hardly adds much glamour. The prospect of Leicester U21’s away on a Tuesday night, even if it does mean a trip to the King Power is hardly appealing.
With that myth dealt with, we should discuss the real reason for this change and there is a very good chance that it is linked to another proposed change in football. The idea of Premier League B teams playing in the Football League is rearing its ugly head again. The idea was roundly rejected by fans and clubs alike in 2014, with groups such as ‘Against league 3′ being set up.’ Yet earlier this year, the FA made it clear that they had not given up on the idea. They announced their plan to implement a 5-tier league system, with each containing 20 teams, by 2020 with some of the extra places being filled by B teams. Among many things, clubs objected to the loss of revenue that playing fewer games would bring. Now all of a sudden, this new format guaranteeing teams at least three more games in a season with a prize pot increased to £1.95m (£10,000 per win, £5,000 per draw and £100,000 for the winner) has appeared. Could it be that the FA believe that this is a necessary pre-cursor to enable them to push through the introduction of B teams?
They say that money talks in football and this is just the latest way in which the haves are trying to control the have-nots. We have long known that the Premier League believes that the world revolves around it but its latest attempts to meddle in the Football League have gone too far. Sadly, the FA appear more than happy to back their plans as any reason they can find to explain England’s repeated major tournament failures is music to their ears. The pros and many cons of B teams can be discussed at another time but what is for sure is that this is the Premier League’s time to give back to the Lower Leagues rather than exploiting them.
Clubs in England’s top tier are currently reaping the rewards of a record £5.14bn TV rights deal that has given clubs such as Crystal Palace the means to bid over £30m for players and allowed Bournemouth to pay a ludicrous £15m for Jordan Ibe. These figures would be bearable if some of this money was making its way down to the lower leagues and grassroots football but it just isn’t. Grassroots football has a major investment problem and it’s sickening to see clubs face extinction over tax bills of around £100,000 when serial under-performer Wayne Rooney is earning over twice that every week. Therefore, in these times of never before seen riches, the Lower Leagues, who have produced the likes of Dele Alli, John Stones, Joe Hart and Jamie Vardy, have a right to expect more help from the Premier League rather than this interference and exploitation.
To put the icing on the cake, clubs already have been left with the feeling that they have been lied to. Luton Town in particular, have suggested that the format that they agreed to support is different to the one that has been implemented. The issue surrounds player eligibility. Clubs were told this was to be an under-21 competition. However, it has now been decided that in-line with the current youth Premier League, the competition will become an under-23 one and that for invited teams only six of the eleven have to be under age. With five players over the age of 23 being allowed to participate, the invited teams appear to have a marked advantage and could potentially exploit the rulebook by using first-team players who are returning from injury or simply demoting players to bolster their sides and chances of progressing.
Last year’s final between Barnsley and Oxford saw a record attendance of 59,230. Yet just as the competition reached this new high, everything has been torn down and thrown into chaos. League One and Two clubs are seeing their best chance of reaching a Wembley final ruined by FA and Premier League bigwigs who are using the incompetent and weak-hearted performances of 23-men in France to justify their greed. For too long the Football League has been looked down upon and seen as a pawn in the game of the Premier League, the Premier League has no right to hoard all of its success and money from the rest of the game. and have a duty to give back rather than keep taking. The new format is riddled with uncertainty, sly and underhand tactics as well as deceit and its time for the clubs and fans to make a stand. At the moment it is only a one-year trial and for the good of the game it’s up to the fans and clubs to make sure it stays that way.