The EFL Trophy seemed to draw enough controversy with its format alone, but revelations today that the draw was rigged will only further infuriate football fans across the country.
The Southern Daily Echo has reported that Portsmouth and Southampton were kept apart after requests from the clubs, despite the potential for the Saints under 23 side to come up against League One Pompey. Southampton’s ball was left out of the draw involving Portsmouth, then added to complete the rest of the draw.
Maligned EFL boss Shaun Harvey defended the actions that further sully the reputation of the already shambolic competition:
“Previous experience with Portsmouth-Southampton games, particularly when talking to Portsmouth, was that there does appear to be potential for that when they’re drawn together. So if we could avoid that in the group stages then it was a conscious decision that we should do so.”
Harvey confessed they could meet later in the competition, but it was important to avoid ‘negative publicity’ for the trophy in the early stages.
We want a profile for the competition but it’s about balancing risk. We could have crossed our fingers and we would have had a one-in-eight chance but we did say we would look at the structure of the groups to avoid that particular issue.
“They could meet each other later in the competition, in which case it’s a straight knockout draw and the game will go ahead on that basis. But why create the potential for negative publicity around the game if you don’t need to?”
That policy would be all well and good, but it wasn’t extended to Southampton’s fellow group members. Cambridge, Northampton and Peterborough all meet each other in a group filled with animosity. Perhaps one of those clubs suffering a level of disorder isn’t so much of a problem, but when it is one of the invited under 23 teams, Harvey is willing to act.
What of Grimsby and Scunthorpe, drawn in the same group with a history of crowd trouble? Even more disturbing the clash between Swansea and Newport, again likely to be a magnet for the sort of fans that like a punch up as much as a game of football. Swansea are one of the invited team too, although having only played Newport three times in 30 years I suppose there isn’t a history of trouble. Yet.
I’ve defended the trophy to a degree and I will not join a boycott as I feel it damages the club more than the suits at the EFL that have butchered it beyond belief, but even when 1,200 were watching us play the likes of Blackpool and Morecambe in the LDV Vans trophy, at least it was a fair competition with a random draw. The more this disastrous Checkatrade Trophy lurches on, the more controversy it creates and animosity that it builds with fans.
How can a proper competition in 2017 not only have a regionalised draw, but also be rigged so that draw ensured certain teams didn’t meet? We could have been drawn against Grimsby, a magnet for idiots who want to cause trouble, and yet there was no rigging of the draw on our behalf. I find it inconceivable that Checkatrade have even sponsored the farcical trophy this season, their name is becoming synonymous with everything wrong in the game of football. I don’t know what Checkatrade do, but if I ever encountered them in a professional capacity I’d be likely to avoid them and use one of their competitors based solely on their involvement.
Shaun Harvey believes they have address the issues, effectively issuing a ‘nothing to see here’ statement.
“There will always be some supporters who believe the competition should only be for League One and League Two clubs and it should be the traditional route for small clubs to get to Wembley – it’s a valid view they’re entitled to hold, but I’m hoping that when we get the message out about what we’re trying to achieve, the crowds will increase and they won’t have to go too far to get back to where they were for this competition in the past.”
So as well as rigging the draw, angering almost every genuine football fan in the country and posing a threat, real or not, that B teams could enter into the league structure, this awful man has now felt it relevant to have a dig at the previous incarnations of the Trophy. The JPT might not have drawn the crowds, the LDV Vans might not have got fans pulses racing, but one thing they had was integrity. They were drawn fairly, all teams played by the same rules and in the end two lower league teams got a day out at Wembley.
The final hammer blow for this format will undoubtedly come on the day that two of the under 23 sides get to Wembley, thus depriving League One and Two sides the only real point of entering. When that happens, as they say on Dragons Den, I’m out.