Bristol City face Walsall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final this weekend, but this could be Saddlers’ first and last trip to Wembley in their 127-year history because of League One and Two club’s backing of plans to let Premier League clubs field B teams in the competition.
Cup favourites Robins are no strangers to this tournament, as they were crowned the winners of the former LDV Vans Trophy in 2003 when they beat Carlisle 2-0 at the Millennium Stadium.
Despite the two teams being at opposite ends of League One – table-toppers Bristol are 11 points clear and Walsall are 15th – they both have it all to play for. The JPT may not be the most glamorous, but the final will be a glittering occasion in front of a magnificent 75,000 crowd at the national stadium.
It would be a shame to lose the history of the cup – which is now in its 32nd season, with 25 different teams from Grimsby Town, Blackpool to Southampton and Stoke lifting the trophy – which gives ‘smaller’ teams an opportunity to win coveted silverware and play at the home of English football.
The tournament has flung up so many memorable contests between lower league clubs in the past. Last season, ten-man Peterborough landed the Paint Point in dramatic fashion against Chesterfield after Joe Newell saw red for kicking out at Sam Morsy. Josh McQuoid netted the first goal and Shaun Brisley’s header put them two up at the break. Britt Assombalonga then sealed the 3-1 triumph from the spot.
Chesterfield enjoyed their Wembley glory for the first time when they beat Swindon 2-0 in 2012. The Spireites had a goal disallowed but the breakthrough came from an own goal by Oliver Risser. Craig Westcarr sealed the famous JPT victory in injury time.
In 2010, relegated Southampton thrashed Calisle to collect their first domestic silverware since 1976. Rickie Lambert gave Saints an early lead with a penalty, Adam Lallana doubled the advantage and the third came just after the break from Papa Waigo, with Antonio then adding another.
This weekend will be another celebration of the JPT as an important part of lower league culture. What the tournament lacks in glamour, it makes up for in drama and excitement by giving supporters a chance to see their club play at Wembley.
But it’s threatened by the proposals to introduce Premier League B teams to the tournament, which is claimed will help to improve the national team, when it’s just another example of the lower leagues being dictated to by the powerful top flight.
The move would not only make a mockery of the competition but renders it less competitive. What chance will most lower league clubs have to win silverware now? The answer is none.
The hard work that both Bristol and Walsall have put into getting this far in the tournament is outstanding – and it’s not just the players, but all of the backroom staff, putting in those extra hours in a bid for glory. You can’t imagine Premier League B teams having anywhere near the level of passion for the trophy as lower league clubs.
So Robins and Saddlers fans should make the most of the JPT final on Sunday because if the Premier League B team plans go ahead, it could well be the last time they contend for this silverware at Wembley.
Bristol City take on Walsall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at Wembley on Sunday, March 22. Kick-off is 3.15pm.
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