Pompey braced for Checkatrade Trophy losses
The stuffed purse was dangled hypnotically in front of grasping hands.
With a pot valued at £1.95m, prize money had ballooned by a mouthwatering 300 per cent.
‘Due to an increase in games in round one, it is assumed that there will be a significant increase in net receipts to clubs,’ crowed the Football League during its parading of the revamped Checkatrade Trophy.
Discounting the Championship, Pompey presently attract the Football League’s third-highest average attendance.
But during their Checkatrade Trophy campaign, they have twice shattered club records for Fratton Park’s lowest post-war crowd.
Even more sobering, the Blues anticipate registering losses from participating in a competition which pledged instant riches.
Chief executive Mark Catlin said: ‘Why would you open a shop to lose money? It doesn’t make sense, you are in it to earn money.
‘And quite possibly we have made a loss out of the competition.
‘Gate returns are calculated within a week after the game, so we cannot be certain of the costs until early next week.
‘However, I will be very surprised if we have managed to break even on Tuesday’s fixture.
‘At this stage, figures cannot be estimated, certainly it is not going to be huge sums of money we are talking about losing.
‘But we don’t go into any game or fixture to lose money and, as far as I am aware, this is the first time we have put on a professional first-team fixture which has cost us.
‘We are a self-sustainable business and when you are putting on an event which loses money it is obviously quite hard to take.
‘It’s not a case of retrospectively saying “I told you so”. However, I believe we made it clear this format wouldn’t be popular with supporters.
‘Even if you take Pompey out of the mix, it has also been proven at a number of other clubs in a competition we have had no say or influence over.’
Last month, the Checkatrade Trophy visit of Reading under-23s led to Pompey roughly breaking even.
There were 155 fewer supporters present among Tuesday evening’s crowd of 1,200 against Bristol Rovers.
In an attempt to head off anticipated losses on two home fixtures, Pompey shut three stands and partially opened the South stand.
Subsequently, both attendances fell considerably short of the 1,779 present for an FA Youth Cup game against Manchester City staged at Fratton Park 11 months ago.
Catlin added: ‘It is expensive to put a game of football on at Fratton Park with our statutory requirements so it has been tough making the books balance for these matches.
‘You have the visitors’ travel expenses, stewarding, floodlights, medical requirements, the necessity for our existing staff to spend extra time on a Tuesday night.
‘It doesn’t come cheap – and all this for reduced entry prices.
‘As a football fan, I hate having to open just one stand, I think it is a massive negative for any professional football club to do that.
‘Yet it dramatically reduced our costs and an absolute no-brainer we had to take.’
The Blues were this week eliminated from the competition, yet face fines totalling £15,000 in respect of their line-ups.
Paul Cook, with boardroom approval, defied Checkatrade Trophy regulations by initiating at least eight changes for each of the three fixtures.
It’s a policy which last season earned the club a £5,000 fine, having fielded a youthful side at Exeter in the Johnstone’s Paint trophy.
During the cup’s current campaign, the Football League announced punishments would now not be decided until the culmination of group stages.
Timely then that Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Bristol Rovers sealed £15,000 in overall prize money.
Catlin said: ‘If there is any positive to take out of it – and I use that word very, very tongue in cheek – it’s that the competition prize money should cover the cost of the fines.
‘When referring to losses, I am talking about on the night as an event rather than team fines.
‘With £15,000 following a draw and a win, we are hopeful the prize money will offset any fines we receive.
‘I am not sure when there will be a decision by the EFL over fines, there is no timescale, it could well be at their next board meeting.’
The Checkatrade Trophy has been blighted by embarrassingly sparse crowds across the country.
Premier League West Brom, fielding their under-23 side, attracted 284 against Gillingham.
The 559 at Stevenage was the lowest Southend have played in front of for a competitive game in England.
West Ham under-23s’ visit to Northampton yielded 762 – the Cobblers’ lowest for a competitive match.
Middlesbrough versus Shrewsbury was watched by 308, while Colchester United’s 548 against Charlton was the smallest in their history.
Then there’s Pompey, a team with a League Two average attendance of 16,663 – and expected to make a loss after staging two matches.
Catlin added: ‘Irrespective of our opinion as a football club, supporters have voted with their feet. That’s the crucial point for me.
‘There is no point trying to fight the tide, it is clearly not a popular competition, and that’s not just at Pompey.
‘As the competition goes on, maybe the attendances might come back in the latter stages, but a lot of damage has been done to the credibility of the tournament in its existing format.
‘Fans are pretty united in their dislike for it, even those who have attended, so it’s good to get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.
‘This was for a trial period, that was made clear. And for me, the trial has failed.’