Following recent voting by League One and Two clubs, it has been decided today that the controversial Checkatrade Trophy will continue in its current format.
The competition, once known as the JPT or the AWS or the Mickey Mouse, has attracted much criticism in the last twelve months, not least due to the fines dished out to League One and Two clubs for playing academy players, whilst the bigger clubs competing were allowed to.
Fans overwhelmingly rejected the format last season with attendances falling up to 50% from its previous incarnation as the JPT, which is really saying something. Many clubs recorded record low attendances as academy sides from the likes of Leicester competed alongside supposed first teams from the likes of Luton. We saw farcical scenes as keepers we subbed after a couple of minutes, their inclusion merely to comply with rules regarding the number of first team players you had to field. Luton were fined £15,000 for playing their youth players in a competition the EFL hoped would promote youth!
However after the consultation it has been revealed that the format will remain largely the same. An EFL statement outlined a few changes that would occur after 66.6 per cent of clubs voted to retain the format for the next two seasons.
The key format changes include:
>EFL team selection criteria amended to allow increased flexibility for League One and League Two clubs
>An increase in the total competition fund to £3million.
> Each group will continue to contain one invited Under-21 team with the remainder made up of EFL clubs from either League One or League Two. Groups will be formed to minimise overall travel time for EFL clubs and fans
> Invited Under-21 teams will play their Group games away from home.
> Regionalisation until the Quarter-Final stage (improved from Round Two in 2016/17) to minimise overall travel time for clubs and fans
As part of the proposals, the selection criteria for invited Under-21 teams will remain as ‘six players from the starting 11 must be under the age of 21 as at 30 June 2017.
The manager of Luton Town, a team fined for fielding younger players, is in favour of the tournament remaining as it is. Nathan Jones said:
“From a footballing perspective, the Checkatrade Trophy was a huge benefit to us as it gave senior players from the lower divisions the chance to play against a younger group from higher levels of the English game, but it also allowed us to pit our talented youngsters against Category One academies. We are pleased that our feedback has been taken on board, with the relaxation of the selection rules allowing us to play the players we choose to. We strongly feel our young players deserve the same opportunity as those from Category One academies.”
Response hasn’t all been good though, and a few cosy compliments on the EFL official site do not include some of the more barbed responses from the football world. A statement from Portsmouth said:
“Following consultation with our fans, Portsmouth Football Club voted for option two (a return to the previous format of the tournament with no invited sides). However, 66.6 per cent of League One and League Two clubs who voted selected option one (retain the current format). Portsmouth Football Club are disappointed with this outcome, but respect the result of this democratic process.”
Bristol Rovers were another side that voted to return to the old 48-team format, and their chairman has said the following this morning:
Rovers Chairman Steve Hamer said; “We had our reservations about the current format, but the majority of clubs have voted in favour of retaining that. As proud members of the EFL we accept that decision and thank them for giving us the opportunity to have our say on the future of this competition.”
Elsewhere the clubs that clearly voted in favour of retaining the competition have simply copy and pasted the EFL statement to their own websites.
The future of the competition is secure for now, but the format will remain controversial. Lincoln will, almost undoubtedly, be in a group with Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Mansfield or Notts County along with a couple of under-21 sides. If Danny wants to win the competition, how does he possibly go about scouting the academy sides? How does a man who prepares so meticulously for every game go about watching academy sides that often play during the day or or Saturday mornings?
Our last outing in this competition was August 2010 as we lost 1-0 to Rotherham in front of 1,600 fans, and the last time Sincil Bank hosted a Mickey Mouse cup game was October 2007, just 936 watched us get hammered 5-2 by Hartlepool. Mind you, it was a defeat in the JPT trophy at Darlington that prompted the dismissal of Peter Jackson, so it’s not all bad.
Personally I’m not in favour of the format one bit, I don’t think the financial rewards are anywhere near enough to compensate for opening one stand and turning out on a Tuesday night to watch Bolton’s academy side against our reserves. The new format will hopefully give us the chance to blood younger players as well as give fringe players a run out, but I can see it being a poorly attended tournament at Sincil Bank.