Comment: EFL Trophy farce will hurt lower league clubs

Reporter Adam Lord takes a look at changes to the new-look Football League Trophy

Thursday, 30th June 2016, 10:43 am
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2016, 12:47 pm
Tom Barkhuizen battles for the ball in Morecambes Northern Area semi-final with Fleetwood last season.

Let’s be frank about this. The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, as was, wasn’t a competition that got the pulses racing.

That is until your club got within a whiff of a Wembley final.

Still, although the competition was much-maligned and needed some reform that doesn’t excuse the farcical rebrand it is undergoing as the EFL Trophy, with 16 top-tier academies set to join clubs from Leagues 1 and 2 in the competition come August.

Clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League have long fought against any notion of Premier League ‘B’ teams taking their places in the Football League.

It has been lauded by the FA as a reason for the national success of countries such as Spain where Real Madrid and Barcelona’s second strings ply their trades further down the pyramid, giving youngsters exposure to competitive football against men, rather than on training grounds against fellow 17 and 18-year-olds.

That may be true to some extent but there are some serious holes in that argument.

Firstly, it forgets the rich culture of English lower league football where up to 10,000 fans still attend games as far down at the National League, or Conference in old money.

Fanbases drop drastically in Spain as soon as you go down any lower than La Liga.

The latest revelations, per the Press Association, have completely nullified the promoting the development of youth argument though.

It appears that rather than Under 21 teams, which would at least increase competitive game time for young players, that the top-tier second strings will be Under 23s with four overage players.

But if it serves the Premier League then that’s fine isn’t it? Not it isn’t. Not at all.

And the problems don’t end there.

The Football League, sorry EFL, has previously made it clear it wants to ease the fixture burden on clubs yet is pressing ahead with a 64-team format that will see Morecambe fans having to fork out to see The Shrimps host Stoke’s Under 23s on a miserable Tuesday night.

The Shrimps hardly have people flocking through the gates for meaningful League 2 games so I’m sure the club is delighted they will have to try and sell games like this to the paying public.

It may be a near full-strength Morecambe side but having attended plenty of reserve games in recent years, some involving top sides, there simply isn’t the enthusiasm for paying to see fringe players strut their stuff.

‘A chance to see Manchester United’s stars of the future’, say the club press releases. Sorry, but fans just don’t care.

Delving deeper there seems to have been little in the way of positivity about the plans.

New Crawley boss Dermot Drummy, an ex-Chelsea youth coach, did bizarrely say it would give him an opportunity to rotate his squad.

I’m sure giving squad players a chance is at the top of the agenda for the likes of Shrimps manager Jim Bentley as he scraps to get a squad together that will be able to compete in League 2 next season.

And how about the integrity of the competition itself?

Yes, it wasn’t one that caught everyone’s imagination but a shot at Wembley for lower league clubs is seemingly being taken over by the Premier League, which we must never forget is the ‘greatest league in the world’.

The farce continues with the revelation that draws in the group stages, there’ll be 16 of four teams, will then go to a penalty shoot-out.

The winners, if you can call them that, will be handed an extra point in their bid to reach the knockout rounds.

It seems to me to be one stage short of that famous advertising campaign mocking American knowledge of football or soccer.

Extra-time multi-ball here we come.