The Checktrade Trophy is about to come around once again, with Mansfield visiting Sincil Bank tomorrow night in a fixture likely to be sparsely supported.
Of course, sparse support for us is typically the type of crowd other League Two teams attract for a league fixture, with less the 4,000 likely to be in attendance tomorrow night. Thankfully, since we won the bloody thing, the talk of boycotts and all that has died down. I think we’ve reached a ‘live and let live’ situation, certainly amongst ourselves.
However, I think that perhaps there’s a case for the competition to be valued higher than the League Cup, certainly in its current guise. Danny spoke last week about the fixture pile up and how that affects his team selection, effectively saying that the tie with Blackburn wasn’t priority. Damn right too, I’d have much rather we lost by three goals there and won against Exeter than the other way round. After all, we’re never going to Wembley in the League Cup, are we?
We could however, get to Wembley once again in the EFL Trophy. The likelihood is that we’ll feature a squad of players outside the starting XI (however you wish to label them), but in the EFL Trophy, that is accepted. Fans wouldn’t go away to Scunthorpe in a couple of week’s time thinking they were going to see a full first team, would they? That is an advantage this competition has over the League Cup. We’re expected to give the fringe players a run out, and not like lambs to the slaughter against Championship players. Joan Luque might have shone against Blackburn, what can he do against Scunthorpe’s reserves?
Our early fixtures in the competition last term gave Jordan Maguire-Drew, Josh Ginnelly and Ollie Palmer a chance to shine, chances which they took on the night. Whilst the for and against debate raged on back then, our fringe players got minutes and eventually, we got to Wembley. Tomorrow night will be no different, City will have a fringe squad out with Luque, Adam Crookes, Sam Slocombe, Bernard Mensah and Kellan Gordon all likely to feature. It will be great for them to stake a claim against a side at their level.
Nobody in the stadium will feel short-changed and Danny won’t have to make an apology of sorts on the radio afterwards. That’s one plus for the Trophy.
Here’s another. A win in the group stages of the competition earns a club £10,000, with draw bringing in £5000. Then there’s the participation fee, £20,000 guaranteed. Over the three group stage games, the Imps could reap £50,000, which we did last season. To earn the same amount in the EFL Cup, a club would have to win the first round tie (£5000), the second round tie (£7000), the third round tie (£10,000) and the fourth round tie (£15,000) just to get to £37,000. A quarter-final win would then net a further £20,000. There is a share of gate receipts, but with such sparse crowds there’s little value in that. Basically, to earn £13k less than we earned just from the group stages last year, we’d need to have beaten Port Vale, Blackburn, Bournemouth (who Blackburn have drawn) and whoever awaits the winner of that game in the League Cup this year.
In the EFL Trophy, a win in round two brings £20k, round three brings £40k and the quarter-final will net you £50k. A semi-final win will bring you £50k and the winner then gets £100k. Essentially, lets say you get to the semi-finals of both competitions, but then get beat. Remember in order to do that in the League Cup Lincoln would have to have beaten Blackburn, Bournemouth and the two teams after that, possibly someone such as Arsenal, Chelsea or Spurs, albeit reserve sides.
Assuming you win all your games, the EFL Cup would net you £57,000. You’d have to win all your games too, because there’s no draws in that competition. That prize would be for beating some big clubs, probably in front of less than 10,000 fans each time, so receiving average gate receipts, a variable you couldn’t control. The EFL Trophy, if you’d won all group games, would bag you £160,000 for the same run. If you were to win both competitions, the EFL Cup would bag you £137,000, whilst the much-maligned EFL Trophy would see you bank £310,000. There’s gate receipts to factor in of course, but that is prize money alone. The gate receipts for the Cup would have to top £200,000 as a bare minimum which isn’t going to happen.
I don’t need to outline point two any further, do I?
Point three is the chance to get to Wembley. Put aside the fact you’re earning more than twice as much for playing teams of a similar level, or academy youngsters. This is a competition in which a League Two club is not just able to get to Wembley, but likely. Okay, once you get to the last eight or so, the competition heats up and clubs take it seriously, just look at Peterborough last season. However, Yeovil made the semi-finals, as did we, meaning that League Two made up 50% of the semi-final participants, with U21s and League One sharing 25% each.
Support a League Two club and want to see you team at Wembley? There’s only one cup competition that is going to happen in. We proved it last season, it can happen and even better, you can win the bloody thing. I dare bet my house that a League Two club doesn’t win the EFL Cup this year, or any other year.
I know there’s controversy around the U21 teams, I know that the structure isn’t suited to everyone, but the FA have managed to make the Mickey Mouse trophy into something clubs want to win. Fans might not be on board, yet, but anyone at board level of a lower league club is going to want to be behind it. The financial rewards, just for taking part, are strong. The chance of winning is increased and it is a chance to field some fringe players for fitness.
There’s other points too. Both competitions are regionalised, but in the League Cup that meant a trip to Blackburn, whereas in the Trophy it means two local derbies. It might not be in the league, but I’m looking forward to going toe to toe with Scunthorpe this season. Also, with the League Cup being regionalised and European qualifying teams not participating, it cut down on the lucrative ties a League Two side could get. In the past the draw was seeded, so you were guaranteed a big draw. We might have got Blackburn, but we could just have easily have drawn Blackpool away.
The group stages of the EFL Trophy are staggered, so fixture congestion is eased a little too, another slight advantage for the smaller club. The only thing going against the Trophy is as you progress, there’s little chance of pulling out a big club. The biggest senior side this year are probably Sunderland, but they’ll not be taking it as seriously until the later stages, if they make it. Obviously there’s also the fact U21 teams don’t participate in the Cup, or rather in some instances they do but they’re actually called ‘Arsenal’ or ‘Chelsea’ rather than having the U21 name attached.
The Carabao Cup, League Cup, EFL Cup, whatever you want to call it, is dying. When a League Two club and a Championship club make such sweeping changes at an early stage, you know there’s no value left in it. It is as prestigious as winning a prize draw for an iPhone on an internet pop up advert. It’s a turn off for fans, fewer fans as a percentage of average attendance, will have watched Blackburn against Lincoln than will watch Lincoln v Mansfield. Far more fans will be interested to see how those outside our first XI fare against like for like opposition, than how they could cope against Kasey Palmer, Danny Graham and Joe Nuttall at Blackburn last week.
It is time to face facts. With a slight tweak here and a minor adjustment there, the Checkatrade Trophy, EFL Trophy, Mickey Mouse Trophy, whatever you want to call it, is fast becoming the second most important cup competition for lower league clubs, after the FA Cup. If the EFL can work out a structure that ensures the final will be contested by two teams from League One and Two, then there’s going to be little point in even having us in the other cup.