I once had this mate, other people thought he was a bit of a nob but I thought he was alright. He’d never get invited out with the rest of us and although I championed his cause, I wasn’t changing many minds. After about six months of him being cast aside, I was asked if he’d like to come to a house party a group of us were having. Finally, he was being accepted and finally I hoped my other mates could see the benefit in having him around. He arrived drunk, threw up on the sofa and tried to pull two of my other mates girlfriends. He didn’t help himself.
It’s much like the Checkatrade Trophy really. It’s a maligned competition, in my eyes for the wrong reasons. Having Under 21s in the competition isn’t a foot in the door for an entire restructure of the English game, to believe in that is tantamount to believing that Elvis is alive or the Twin Towers was committed by seven terrorists hijacking planes. The mere notion that any less than six clubs would vote against it is ridiculous and that is all it needs to be rejected by the FA’s constitution.
Also, having them in the competition isn’t an insult or slur either. Football is changing rapidly and nothing can stop that. At the top end there is lots of money, lots of players and lots of interest. At the bottom end there are lots of teams grubbing around like cat-fish picking up the crap and scraps left behind by the big fish. You know what? That’s no different to any other time, the figures are greater but the practice is the same. Accrington Stanley went out of business in 1962 over £60k of debts. In July 1962 Denis Law moved from Torino to Manchester United for £115k. Don’t go believing that the 60’s were all sunshine, fairness and sharing, they weren’t. Inequality has been around forever and all the ‘against modern football’ slogans won’t change that. I concede the numbers are abhorrent now, but this isn’t a new phenomenon.
I don’t recall an uproar when non-league teams were allowed in the competition either, so I don’t buy the argument it is insulting that we’re valued in the same way as Premier League academies. We’re not, that is just something the ‘old-fashioned’ football fan wants to scream and shout about in order to validate a dying argument. Do you know what I truly think is at the root of this boycott? Identity. I believe the boycotting fans, not just ours but those across the country, are desperately rallying around it to sustain a status as a ‘proper fan’, one who is battling bravery against the commercialisation of our national game. They’re the working class hero, the ‘pie and a pint’ brigade that see the prawn sandwich, full-kit wankers as the scourge of society. Whilst those new comers sit in their woolly scarves watching a team of kids wearing Everton’s kit, the proper fan can sit at home proud that he’s made a stand. By staying at home, doing nothing.
In my eyes the Checkatrade Trophy is a viable route to Wembley, a competition that offers valuable prize money to smaller clubs and gives the Premier League academies the opportunity to blood some youngsters and watch as the old adage ‘men v boys’ comes true every week. Come April there will be two proud lower-league clubs contesting a Wembley final and everyone is a winner. The regionalised draw ensures less travelling and local derbies, albeit poorly attended ones. Even the increased prize money makes it worthwhile turning the lights on at the Bank. In my eyes, the Checkatrade Trophy had been invited to the football party. What does it do?
Leicester field a £32m strike force, a 21-year old Nigerian and a 31-year old Argentinian no less. In the middle of the park £5m Ghanaian Daniel Amartey played too, he’s played four World Cup qualifiers for Ghana. How does his appearance help anybody other than Leicester and maybe Ghana?
They comprehensively beat Scunthorpe, a side hoping to find a route to Wembley. The 21-year old I can just about live with, but a 31-year old Argentine? Come on, where’s the fair play in that? How can anyone looking to defend the competition possibly do so after a lower league team are so blatantly robbed of a place in the next round, worse of all robbed legitimately? This is within the rules and Leicester have done nothing legally wrong, morally they’re on dodgy ground, but legally there’s no issue.
Here’s the slight kickback though: Leicester won the game 2-1 and both goals were scored by players the competition intends to help. Sam Hughes moved to the Foxes from Chester in the summer, he’s 20-years old and English. He’s a highly rated talent whose four outings in a Leicester shirt have all been in the trophy. The media won’t focus on him though, will they? The boycotters won’t feature on him either. In the furore, anger and winds of disdain, I almost didn’t.
You might also have missed the fact their other goal was scored by George Thomas. Who, I hear you ask? George Thomas was at Coventry last season, he scored in the final against Oxford and is now playing top flight football for Leicester. That argument doesn’t fit the hardcore rhetoric of the nasty beast of a competition though does it? Here’s the truth: Scunthorpe were knocked out by goals from two up and coming English players and yet the media focused on the £40m of other talent in the side. I don’t agree with their inclusion, but let’s have a little bit of balance.
I felt like I’d been let down by Leicester a bit, even after checking the facts. 24 hours later I knew I had been let down as Chelsea threw up on the sofa, tried to pull someone’s girlfriend and left with a bag of DVD’s that weren’t theirs.
Chelsea drew two of their group games, winning the third at Exeter to qualify. Throughout they’ve used young players such as Trevor Chalobah, Joshua Grant and Luke McCormick. Ethan Ampadu, a youngster who signed from Exeter at the end of the season, had played one game for them. Come the knockout stages and a trip to MK Dons, their team had a remarkably different look to it. £32m Belgian Michy Batshuayi started up front and exciting Belgian youth Charley Musonda also played. Kylian Hazard came on too, you can guess which nation he represents.
Aside from the fact Callum Hudson-Odoi scored, an English youngster, how on earth can anyone justify what Chelsea did as good for the English game? MK Dons were beaten 4-0 and for once, they’ve become the wronged party in an argument round football integrity. Who’d have ever thought that? The Dons, whatever your thoughts, are a lower league team looking to forge a path to Wembley and whilst I doubt there were many tears at Wimbledon last night, the rest of the Football League wept. Tears of joy from those boycotting, tears they soon washed away to fervently bash their keyboards. Tears of anger from the likes of me, trying to occupy some middle ground and hold both sides at bay, tears of frustration at Checkatrade, the company sponsoring the tournament who probably don’t want any further bad press. Well, it’s coming I’m afraid. Chelsea just ruined the party.
24 hours later I knew I had been let down as Chelsea threw up on the sofa, tried to pull someone’s girlfriend and left with a bag of DVD’s that weren’t theirs.
I won’t boycott games, I simply won’t. If my team are going to get rolled over by £40m on Leicester City talent then I want to be there to get angry about it, likewise if we’re going to win a thriller 3-2 I want to be there to witness it. As for my support of the competition, another rule change is needed. The number of older players need to be reduced or completely eradicated, or their nationality needs to be restricted to UK players. Whilst Premier League teams can eliminate a lower league side from a competition simply by bringing in the big guns, it has even less integrity than it ever had. If you’re not one of the competition’s haters, imagine this. How will you feel if Lincoln draw Leicester and lose to a brace from Iheanacho or Ulloa? After four games of good football, great goals and building hope, how would you feel if we were eliminated because Leicester City decide they want to give a couple of their fringe players a run out? How will you feel if Batshuayi is lifting the cup at Wembley in April? We can defend it all we want, but if an U21 team makes it to the final it will make a mockery of the ‘Wembley dream’ angle that keeps being preached, especially if that U21 team features a player that later goes to the World Cup and scores against England in a group game. We’ve got to keep those Belgians fresh though, right?
The EFL changed the rules from last season to give clubs more flexibility in their team selection and I suspect that is why our fans are not as keen on boycotting as others. Last season fans saw players taken off after two minutes just to satisfy the rule makers, Luton received fines for doing so. The rules were altered to give lower league clubs more flexibility, but they need to be altered again. I fear it may be too late for the competition though, just like it was too late for my mate to ever go back to another party. He didn’t get a second chance and if the Premier League teams keep behaving in the same way in the EFL Trophy, it won’t get another chance either.