With the announcement a couple of weeks ago that the Football league are welcoming with open arms 16 academy teams in to the Trophy for the coming season, fans remain concerned and also puzzled by the decision. While Exeter City have issued a statement saying why they voted for the proposal, the Supporters Trust have remained silent.
The Trophy, which has had a number of sponsors recently such as JPT, LDV and Auto Windscreens, is in a need of a new sponsor, and Football League clubs need more income from the competition. With the Premiership offering a few pennies a majority of the 72 Clubs voted for the proposal, with just a few admitting that they opposed the idea. AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth being two supporter owned clubs voting against.
The reasons for opposition by fans is:-
- There will be 16 teams in the competition that aren’t teams playing first team players. It will devalue the competition having them in there.
- There are extra games. The competition is only of real interest when the latter stages are reached and a trip to Wembley for a the final is a real prospect. The group format, tried as various times, most recently 1994, will just offer more games, with no real interest to fans.
- The single away game in the group stage for the academy side has not been confirmed as being at the home ground of the first team, so playing away to Chelsea could mean a visit to the Recreation Ground in Aldershot.
- It’s unclear where this will fit in with other competitions for the academy sides, e.g. U21s Cup, U21s league, the FA Youth Cup and players being away on international duty. It could well be that the EFL Trophy will be seen as the nuisance games.
- With a discussion (the Whole Game Solution) under way about expanding the Football League from 72 to 100, there is genuine concern that this will be used to pave the way for B teams to be part of the new set up.
- That the competition will be under-valued of the academy team make it to Wembley.
The club in their statement explained that:-
The vast majority of clubs of both EFL League One and League Two voted in favour of the proposal for a strictly one-year pilot scheme for the 2016/17 season. Concerns were voiced by many clubs that the competition would fold if it does not react and make improvements. Many clubs struggle to break-even, and some stated they would withdraw from the competition if it wasn’t boosted. If the new format does not work, it will not be renewed.
The Trophy will include 64 teams made up of EFL League One and Two clubs, plus an additional 16 category 1 Premier League academy/under-21 sides. Central to the competition will be the introduction of a new group stage format with 16 regional groups of four teams. The top two teams will progress to the knockout stages of the competition with the final staged at Wembley Stadium in April 2017.
Exeter City understands that many supporters may be surprised, or not agree with the decision, however after careful consideration and discussion the club feels that it is important to support and explore ways to ensure the competition can survive.
To be clear, this is not a precursor to ‘B Teams’ entering the league structure, which Exeter City would be against should it ever be proposed.
So what happens next? Those fans that are against the proposal may consider boycotting these games. There is also a discussion that whoever sponsors the competition that there will be a boycott organised against them as well. But until there is some clarity the rules, no way forward can be decided. There is also a petition against the proposal (see here).
The draw is likely to take place at the beginning of the season, but no information on when the games will be played.
We also wait for Exeter’s Supporters Trust to make their statement.