Football League: EFL Trophy – a chaotic school sports day?

The revamped English Football League Trophy is already facing obstacles since its launch last week. Laura Jones looks at the new format, backdoor B teams and playing with the kids.

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I took my tiny human for a walk through the local park last week and we came across the neighbouring school’s sports day in full competition. The kids were split into their years and taking it in turns, round robin style, to complete in all the activities set up by the teachers and parents. The children took part in relay races, ball skills and penalty shootouts. When each group had had a turn the nursery children were given a go at the penalty shootout. It was chaos; children not concentrating, balls picked up and run away with and teachers shouting “no it’s …’s turn.” Some of the older children got bored and decided to chase some petrified pigeons around the duck pond instead.

I would have watched a bit more but it’s frowned upon these days to look at children for too long in a park.

The day after, the English Football League announced the new format for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy whilst the rest of the country was busy watching Sir John Chilcot paint a target on Tony Blair’s behind. The timing for this big launch seemed ill judged but maybe it was just a good day to bury bad news?

As I read through the EFL’s press release I couldn’t help but think about the children’s sports day and how similar the competition will be. There will be 48 teams from Leagues 1 and 2 with 16 “invited clubs”; a lovely euphemism that avoids saying ‘backdoor Premier League B Teams.’ The 64 teams will be split into 16 regional groups with at least one L1, L2 and one category one Premier League development team.

The “invited teams” are Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United.

Teams will play each other once, home or away, and the top two from each group will progress into the knockout stages. The big change is the introduction of the Premier League kids.

Much like getting older kids to play with the younger ones by promising to take them to Toys ‘R’ Us on the way home, L1 and L2 clubs are being offered incentives to play in the competition. Match proceeds will be split 45% for each home and away club with the Premier League teams donating “all or some” of the gate receipts into a fund that will be split between the lower league clubs. With the prize fund offering £10k for a win and £5k for a draw in the group stages and £100k for the overall winner, L1 and L2 teams will be able to go mad down the Star Wars aisle at the retail park.

According to the EFL Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, the competition has been redeveloped to,“help us deliver more and better homegrown players, which will deliver benefits to the national team and domestic league football at all levels.” I’m still at a loss as to how the competition will do this better than these development players being loaned out to lower league clubs, on a mutually beneficial basis of the youngster getting game time and experience, and the clubs getting a cheaper, younger pair of skilful legs.

Despite the format already being announced, albeit discreetly behind the melee of the Iraq War Inquiry, three Premier League teams have already declined the EFL’s kind offer citing concerns over scheduling clashes. A concern that L1 and L2 teams cannot avoid as they are obliged to play the extra group fixtures.

The EFL Trophy is just a trial and it will be interesting to see which teams opt out at the 11th July deadline, leaving category one Championship teams to make up the numbers.

League 1 and League 2 teams will have more fixtures, potentially more pocket money, less chance of getting to a Wembley final and no option of going off and chasing pigeons when the nursery kids start playing.

Read more from Laura here
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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