Checkatrade Trophy: The most unpopular competition in England?
As the next round of the Checkatrade Trophy kicks off, Sports Gazette looks into what has been a deeply unpopular competition.
One step closer to Wembley. That is the prize for the winners of this week’s Checkatrade Trophy round-of-32 ties.
Though it isn’t as simple as that. The current round - which started last night with Wolverhampton Wanderers U21s beating Sunderland U21s 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw - doesn’t end until Cheltenham Town host Leicester City U21s on Tuesday January 10, 2017.
Fixtures changes are just one of the problems that have stemmed from the Football Association’s new format tests which have seen Premier League U21 teams involved for the first time.
When the news was announced that the Football League trophy was undergoing temporary change, fans of League One and Two clubs were outraged that they could lose their best chance of a trip to Wembley.
But of the 16 U21s teams that entered the competition, eight went out at the group stage – with seven of those failing to win a game.
One of the reasons given for the new format was to benefit young players and therefore future England teams. But academy teams are failing to advance, was there any real point?
FA bosses believe so, with the new format being backed to continue for the 2017/18 season.
But what about those fans of the lower league sides?
Throughout the competition so far, clubs have recorded their lowest post-war attendances as fans launch a Checkatrade Trophy boycott.
Twitter account @AgainstLeague3 has been most vocal on social media, providing coverage of all the ‘B Team boycotts’ through pictures and releasing attendance figures.
June 2016: EFL revamps EFL Trophy to help develop youth.— Against League 3 (@AgainstLeague3) November 16, 2016
Nov 2016: EFL fines its own clubs £62k for playing youth.
You hypocrites @EFL
The fans are understandably peeved at their sides’ apparent lack of importance in the grand scheme as they are forced to comply with rules fitted in to aid the big clubs.
Some clubs have sided with their fans in protests, picking up fines for knowingly breaking rules. Whether that will continue this round, only time will tell.