There is a conundrum that seems to be effecting a number of sports worldwide. The teams at the top of all sports have, often deservedly, a great deal more than those below them. More money, better players, better facilities, and often more staff, as well as a bigger youth structure, as everyone wants to be involved with a big name side, or a club at the top.
Yet the more benefits these clubs and teams have the more they want, which in turn makes the gulf between them and the clubs below even greater. That of course suits them perfectly, but it is not popular with the average fan, nor is it good for the game as a whole.
In 1983 many English fans of unfashionable clubs will remember the Associate Members Cup being created. In 1992 when all the clubs in the bottom two divisions became full members of the English Football Association the cup was renamed the English Football League Trophy.
This competition was played between the teams in the bottom two tiers of the Football League. It was a competition that gave them all something to play for, and the chance of a final at Wembley. Sadly the days of giant-killing Cup upsets had started to become extremely rare and so this was a chance for a team and their fans to have a day out at the Mecca of Football in England, Wembley Stadium.
Bristol City have won the competition three times, while Stoke City, Birmingham City, Swansea City, Blackpool, and Wigan Athletic have all won it twice.
In 2016 the competition changed, when it was announced that sixteen “category 1 Premier League academy sides” would be playing in the competition for the first time. The first knockout round would be replaced with a new group stage. There would be sixteen regional groups each to comprise three League One/Two teams plus an academy side, with the top two teams from each group progressing to the knockout second round.
The fans did not like the changes one bit. They voted with their feet and regularly the crowds did not even make four figures: Morecombe v Stoke City Academy-686, Wolverhampton Wanderers Academy v Accrington Stanley-546, and Northampton Town v West Ham Academy-762 show that fans were not interested.
Yet despite strong feelings voiced by the fans the clubs voted for the format to continue. Many believe the decision was made easier because of the UKL20,000 fee that each receives by having these teams compete.
Some would question whether the tournament had a great deal of meaning in the contest of football trophies, but it did have integrity. It would appear that history, and integrity have a price.
There is now a groundswell of support from these lower division teams to boycott the competition now know as the Checkatrade Trophy. Fans of clubs in these divisions know that local supporters of the big clubs are bound to attend games and take their children, as after all how often do Chelsea take on Exeter City? However the loyal local fans are planning to stay away.
So why are these fans so hot under the collar about these academy sides playing in this competition? The reason is because there is a strong feeling, which is continually being denied, that this is the first step in a move to have the academy sides compete on a regular basis in the lower divisions. Many feel that the powers that be protesteth too much.
The fear is that the UKL20,000 is simply a dipping of the toe in the water by the EPL and Championship clubs. If the Football League clubs will take a sum as low as this and allow the academy sides to play in their competition how much will it cost for the academy sides to play every week in the league competition? Would it be UKL2million or even UKL3million?
As much as this money would be a huge help to many of these clubs will it help them in the long term? With directors who invest in lower division clubs wanting money when they walk away from a club, the money would not go far, and the idea of academy sides playing in the league would surely accelerate the demise of many a longstanding club currently struggling to survive year-on-year.
Many of these football clubs stood for something. They were a sense of local pride. They flew the flag for that town or city up and down the country. Many a child only knew where Chester was because they had a football team. These clubs were built on community spirit, and they represented that community. Sure times have changed, and many no longer have the same standing they used to have, but it does not mean that we should let the already big clubs push for what they want at the expense of over 100 years of history.
Will the boycott have the desired affect? Will all the clubs actually boycott the competition or will the lure of local derbies and bragging rights prove to much for some?
Who can tell but one things is for sure the future of these clubs could well be determined by the success or failure of the competition in 2017/18.