When you type in EFL on my Samsung phone, the auto-correct changes it to ego. Some might say that is a far more suitable name for our governing body. Retaining the EFL Trophy format showed an immense display of ego, not only from the EFL but also from club chairmen. The real villains were those chairman who voted against the wishes of the fans they had spoken to.
I’ll be very clear with my stance on the competition. I think it has been butchered up into the worst format it has ever taken, introducing under 23 teams from the top two divisions is abhorrent and it makes a mockery of League One and League Two. Effectively member clubs are being told we are considered in some way equal to the reserve squads from ‘bigger’ teams. The reserves might actually be more of a draw than the kids teams we have to endure next season.
Last season the rules that saw Luton fined for playing a so-called under-strength side were ridiculous, when teams in the lower division need revenue the last thing a governing body should be doing is fining them for squad rotation in the fourth most important competition of four. They should have allowed those teams to play whichever sides they wanted, including youngsters eager to get a taste of first team football.
Firstly, that rule has now changed. The new format stipulates that EFL teams must play ‘four qualifying players from ten’, meaning four of the outfield players must satisfy a certain criteria. They must have either started the previous league fixture, be in the top ten players for league and cup appearances in the season, have made 40 or more first team appearances in their career, or be on loan from a category one academy club or a Premier League club. Just four players need to fit those rather loose guidelines.
That means that last season we could have started an EFL Trophy game with Josh Ginnelly, Alan Power, Adam Marriott and Jack Muldoon, with the rest of the side consisting of young players. Is that so bad? It is basically the FA Trophy of the Football League. It is another competition for the ‘Lincoln Lizards’, albeit in black shirts this season.
That has allayed my concerns a little, but I still remain convinced it is a lame duck of a tournament in its current format. That doesn’t mean we should boycott it. Far from it.
Before I comment on the 617 statement and stance, I’ll say why I wouldn’t boycott it. Firstly, I don’t feel as strongly as they do about the imminent threat of League 3, modern football or under 23 sides. I don’t believe for one second that 72 clubs would ever vote unanimously in favour of accepting B teams in the professional ranks. The playing squads of these teams would be too ambiguous and it would deny smaller clubs healthy competition and identity. If you were to ballot just League One and Two chairmen tomorrow, I virtually guarantee you would have enough votes to not even need to speak to the Championship sides. The threat isn’t as real or as imminent as we think because we have people power amongst league clubs. There are chairmen who listen to fans and chairman who would never vote for these ludicrous proposals.
Secondly, our club needs our support. The EFL Trophy does offer financial incentives, a route to Wembley and now a chance to play fringe players in competitive matches in front of crowds, albeit smaller ones. For some young players it will be a debut, for some fans it will be a chance to see loan players and reserves who don’t often get a chance to shine. It is another chapter in a season, a proper competitive game that will forever be recorded as such. Like a theatre opening its doors, the lights go on, the staff come in and the show rolls on. All of that costs money.
If I were to boycott these games I would deprive myself of a game of football, I deprive the club of my money and I deprive the players of my support. The 617 will be depriving the players of some of the best support at this level just on their principles, and whilst they are entitled to do that, I think the boycott hurts the clubs much more than the EFL.
Do you really think the EFL give a hoot as to whether Lincoln v Stoke Under 23’s gets 400 or 4,000 fans? They talk about falling attendances as if they care, but they don’t. They say that to appease chairman and potentially even fans, but they wouldn’t care if it was played behind closed doors. They don’t make money from the number of our fans at the game, they get it from sponsorship and from the Premier League. Nope, I’m afraid voting with your feet really won’t worry Shaun Harvey one little bit. Whoever gets into the final, whatever level of boycott they have amongst the fans, I guarantee you it will sell 15000-30000 tickets depending on who plays. Once again, the EFL won’t care one iota if 50 or so ultras sit at home and try not to watch it on TV. Not a bit.
The reason I said earlier chairmen won’t vote for a League 3 is because deep down, they do listen to fans concerns, and at Lincoln I imagine they do care if the games are played in front of smaller crowds. Most club owners are driven by success as well as money, and they would never advocate such a move. They listen to their fans on the really serious issues, although perhaps not on the subject of the EFL Trophy. Playing one game against Stoke under 23’s isn’t a big issue, but playing them in the leagues would be. They know it would relegated ‘real’ teams importance, and if there is one word I suspect makes chairman soil themselves, it is relegate.
I’m not a subscriber to the whole ‘sanitation’ of fans at games either, I don’t believe that has happened at our level to any real extent. All seater stadiums aren’t a major problem, and as safe standing debates take place I’d be keen to see a rule change. In the context of Lincoln City, the same sort of people are attending games now as they did in 1970 and 1980. So we’ve cleaned up racism, is that bad? Homophobia has gone too, is that bad? I fear that some people look back on the 70’s and 80’s with a fondness it really doesn’t deserve. Besides, the 617 are in their early twenties at best (bar Marcus, obviously), do they really see an issue with modern football that has developed since 1997? I don’t think our game has changed at all since 1992, and most of the 617 weren’t born then.
Lincoln City have even gone some way to encourage the growth of the 617 and the ultra ‘scene’, from securing block 7 to a wider tolerance and acceptance of their displays. There have been mental scenes at times from that area this season, and there has been a positive relationship between them and the club, to a degree. If anything rather than sanitising the fan experience, Lincoln City have tried to cultivate it in the correct way. We now have a fan group renowned for something other than kicking heads in and smashing up pubs. If that is modern football, I’m all for it. In my eyes modern football is defined by the terrace culture, by a movement that still has the nice clobber and Adidas trainers, the same attitudes and identification with a common cause, but instead of throwing bricks and stamping on heads, they’re signing, encouraging others to do the same and putting on meaningful and eye-catching displays. That is an aspect of modern football I am not against. Yes, I hate agents fees, I hate Sky TV, I hate the Premier League, I hate the elite attitude and ghastly sums of money at the top-level. However, I love Lincoln City in 2017, with a nice stadium, good fans and a stadium I can walk away from without getting hit with a bottle or the lace imprint on my face from a size 10 Gazelle. That type of modern football I’m all for.
The 617 have a voice, and although some don’t agree with it, they can use that voice how they wish. I respect their decision and, like them, I too am against some modern football. But if you have a voice, why would you not use it? Boycotting the game is missing an opportunity to make yourself heard, surely? The EFL don’t read internet forums, and as much as fan power can have a positive effect, it isn’t going to change this competition or the EFL’s belligerent and obtuse attitude towards it. Staying silent is like not voting in the election and moaning about who won. Boycotting a Lincoln City game has the same effect as farting in your living room and believing that the EFL will smell it in their air-conditioned offices in London, or their hotel suite in Thailand. They don’t care about you, your voices or your farts, the only people suffering are the club, and you.
The 617 do excellent displays and great vocals, can’t that be channelled into a protest? When you’re good at something you should utilise that and make your point doing something you are renowned for. Don’t do it by staying quiet on your sofa, do it at a game with banners, songs, walk ins, walk outs, anything. The news won’t report on a simple boycott, the club would suffer from invading the pitch and halting the game, but why not find something in the middle? All come dressed as death and chant the death march throughout the game maybe? Do something that gets attention, raises awareness but doesn’t hurt the club. Do something that looks like positive action, protesting in the right way but still supporting the club.
Maybe consult with the club about your concern as well, and publicise the outcome. Keep this issue in the public eye by being seen and by being vocal, the two things that you really bring to the ground on a Saturday. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, don’t risk missing out on Wembley and a club honour. Teams like us don’t get opportunities like that very often, and it would be a crying shame if you had to miss a great occasion, because no matter how crap the competition is, a Wembley final is still what you get into the game for. Don’t you doubt this one bit: Danny Cowley will want to win this competition, and if anything is going to scare elven under 23 players from Brighton it is a loud and hostile Sincil Bank crowd.
Make yourselves heard boys, don’t be quiet. The Against League 3 movement is great, but it made no impact at all last season. That wasn’t because Coventry buckled at the end, staying away did nothing other than give the movement statistics to spout about falling attendances. If the movement had been a success then we wouldn’t be faced with a visit from an under 23 side this coming season, would we?
The definition of madness, as described by Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same outcome. Staying away from matches didn’t work last season, and it won’t work this season either. Try something different, you’re the activists and the creators, you’re the voice of young fans and you’re an eclectic mix of educated and working class youths. You could think of something far more creative than a boycott, I’m sure of it.