Comment: Checkatrade Trophy is not yet a lost cause

Hi fellow Pompey fans, my name is Ben Sturt.

Saturday, 3rd September 2016, 10:00 am
Fans up and down the country voted with their feet in the Checkatrade Trophy this week with Pompeys trip to Yeovil on Tuesday night attracting a crowd of 1,534 at Huish Park Picture: Joe Pepler

I’m 17 years old and I’ve been a season-ticket holder in the Fratton end for as long as I can remember.

I am also the youngest member of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust’s Next Generations group, which tackles all issues that may concern younger Pompey fans.

I hope you enjoy my weekly column in the Sports Mail, describing the goings on at our club through the eyes of a younger supporter.

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Contrary to popular belief, I feel the Football League Trophy or ‘Checkatrade Trophy’ is not a complete write off and is viable with some crucial changes.

Firstly, I support the boycott of the competition by fans up and down the country, primarily because the Football League have not made concrete assurances that the introduction of under-23 teams is not a signal for future inclusion of teams in the footballing pyramid.

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but for me the main justification for shunning the competition has to bedown to the fear of second sides being allowed into the Football League, which would overnight kill English football.

But, I do not think the idea of B sides or under-23 teams being allowed into the Football League Trophy is actually a bad one at all.

As long as the FL assures fans, 100-per-cent, that this is as far as this inclusion of reserve sides would go.

Why? To be honest I don’t have much regard for the competition in the first place, yes, the Wembley prize is a lucrative one.

But are Wycombe Wanderers for example, managed by Gareth Ainsworth really wanting extra games among the clearly more important league campaign?

In fact Ainsworth’s squad is already so strained he had to bring himself on in the Chairboys’ Tuesday night fixture with Northampton.

But Ainsworth cannot rotate his small squad accordingly because his club would land a fine they could clearly do without.

Clubs like Wycombe are stuck, they are forced to play their first team in a competition they probably don’t have much regard for initially.

These are the changes that are necessary to make this Trophy worthwhile and include B teams: To start, the fines for making more than five changes from your previous League game must be dropped.

It is naive for the footballing governing bodies to believe that sides take this competition in any level of importance as the league.

Instead of turning a blind eye to this and dishing out a fine, they should admit the Trophy’s position in the pecking order and allow teams to make wholesale changes, and by doing this they could immediately make the format more worthwhile for managers.

It means they can rest their first team and prevent the strain on their squad, and in turn allow squad players to play games and get match sharp.

That would turn a lose lose to a win win, just like that!

Don’t fine clubs, simple enough, right?

Secondly, the competition should be seen as a springboard for English talent, and so therefore all Premier League and Championship under-23 sides should have to field an all British Isles side in the Trophy.

If this is too hard for these academies then there lies an even more concerning problem!

Thirdly, the group stage should be larger, it should consist of six teams instead of four, with two B sides in each group.

The competition currently has no excitement with the potential progression of reserve sides.

So what should happen is the highest-ranked B side from each group goes onto play in a knockout scenario with each other, but play no further part in the Football League Trophy after the group stage.

And then the three highest ranked League One and Two first teams in each group then continue to play out the rest of the competition in the knockout format.

This would prevent Swindon versus West Brom under-23s at Wembley, which would be an embarrassment to English football.

The fourth and last change I’d make to the competition is that a group game between a first team an under-23 side should be free of entry.

For this to happen, the Football League would have to fund clubs to allow them to stage the game, otherwise it would be financially unviable for clubs to let everyone in for free, they’d make a loss.

But how can you really justify charging fans?