The EFL trophy, or Checkatrade Trophy, has been the cause of real controversy this season and last night it plunged to new depths as 12 clubs received fines for fielding under strength sides. One of those sides, Luton Town, released a hard hitting statement and I want to echo a couple of their points here.
Chief executive Gary Sweet said “We entered those teams with our eyes wide open and we accept that we would be fined for doing so. While we don’t feel we should be paying ‘fees’ to get our youngsters experience, we view that as an investment in their development. We are staggered, however, that we have been fined the maximum amount for our first offence, which was winning away from home at a club from the division above with half-a-dozen first-team regulars in their team.”
He has ever right to be staggered. As I mentioned on a blog before players such as Lee Frecklington got their first run out for Lincoln in the EFL Trophy under whichever guise it masqueraded at the time. Youth development is just as important at so-called grass roots clubs in League Two and One, and of course in the National League.
“We believe our team selection has added value to a competition that was dying last season and is now – with low three-figure attendances at many matches so far – well and truly on its last legs.”
The competition has become a joke this season, with Premier League clubs playing academy players whilst lower league teams have to field their ‘top’ players. It’s actually incredibly offensive to the various youth programmes at lower league clubs. regarding attendances, I’m afraid yet another competition is never going to draw big crowds. Following a football team is an expensive business and when it comes to two (or even three) home games in a ten day period, fans will have to make choices. Nine times out of ten that choice is not going to be to watch the West Brom under-23 side.
“We had the second highest attendance in our one home game against a fellow senior EFL club, which we believe was only because we were playing our youngsters.” Sweet continued.
“We acknowledge our breach of the competition rules, but does our ‘offence’ make a mockery of the competition any more than a club substituting their first-choice goalkeeper after just a couple of minutes of the game to ensure they met the five-player starting rule?”
Farcical indeed, but it didn’t need to be. Why introduce a two-tiered rules system, one for the elite ruling class of football and another for the (apparent) plebs and bottom feeders? That is the sort of contempt smaller clubs are being treated with. The format was never going to pull in the crowds.
“That is clearly disingenuous and by fining us this amount the EFL is effectively saying that promoting young talent is only acceptable if they’re with an EPPP1 club, and they are depriving their own member clubs’ young players access to first-team football.”
Indeed Gary Sweet is spot on, and I feel his words will be echoed up and down the country at teams who have been forced to partake in this lame duck competition. The snobbery and elitism that seeps through the make up of the competition is wildly offensive and outright discriminatory towards young players at smaller clubs. Not all our England stars come through from a Manchester United or Arsenal.
I think the best format for the competition involved National League teams finishing in the top eight and the two lower leagues. If the set-up at Chelsea or Arsenal is so good then I’d sincerely hope that the stars of tomorrow will develop without three meaningless games against reluctant opposition. Instead let the lower league teams also develop their talent, and who knows maybe (just maybe) they might have a decent young player they want to blood themselves.
What I find saddest about this whole mess, is that it’ll probably kill off the competition, which essentially exists to give a couple of lower league sides a chance at a day out at Wembley.
It’s a way for a club to grab a few young fans away from the lure of the Premier League (in the way our 2003 and 2005 Cardiff trips did), a nice day out at the national stadium for fans more used to trips to Mansfield or Port Vale and a chance to play for a real cup. Last year’s final attracted 59,000 people.
If this u21 nonsense ends up killing that, it’ll be terrible for the lower leagues. Shame on Shaun Harvey and the rest of the EFL powers that be.