The Checkatrade Trophy is quickly becoming as popular as Sepp Blatter in the footballing world. The revamped Football League Trophy has come under fire from all angles since its rebirth this season but has come under extra scrutiny in the last week.
This is due to the England Football League’s (EFL) decision to fine 12 clubs for failing to apply by their competition rules.
These clubs were fined over £60,000 for breaking competition rule 7.3 which demands all teams involved to field at least five players who start either the game before or after a Checkatrade Trophy match, or players that have made the most total appearances so far through the season.
Out of these 12 teams, Luton Town and Portsmouth were both fined £15,000 while Bradford City, Blackpool, Bristol Rovers, MK Dons, Millwall, Charlton Athletic, Peterborough United, Sheffield United, Southend United and Fleetwood Town were each hit with £3,000 charges.
The decision to impose these fines is because the teams in question have failed to field “full-strength” teams in the competition. The teams have violated these rules in differing ways which is why they have been fined different amounts. Luton Town, fined the maximum amount for their offence, were charged for fielding nine academy graduates against Gillingham and seven against West Brom’s U23 team. They won both games. A League Two team’s academy players beat a Premiership team’s academy players and have been fined because of it.
A club has dozens of players on their books and the book should stop with them when it comes to who they choose to represent their football club.
This isn’t the only instance in which the competition is being made into a laughing stock. Bradford City made a third minute substitute by changing their first choice goalkeeper so they wouldn’t receive a bigger fine. This is potentially more of a joke than the competition’s rules. The fact Bradford have to do something like that to skirt around the rules to field the team they want is a sad state of affairs. On top of this, team’s made these decisions despite still being fully aware of the sanctions that would come down on them.
This proves the sheer idiocy of these rules. Said rules being undermined by participating teams further highlights the underlying faults at the core of the competition’s structure.
Off the field, it has been made clear that it is a competition that nobody involved particularly wants to be a part of. This has been reflected in the attendances of the matches in the competition so far this season across the board with many clubs having their lowest post-war attendance this season in this competition. Pressure groups have voiced their anger at the decisions made regarding the competition and has clearly had an impact with the boycott of the Checkatrade Trophy being widely established.
These rules are farcical. To fine teams for giving experience to youngsters is outrageous. It halts progress and takes away chances of development for academy prospects to further their careers in lower league teams.
Yet despite this Premiership and Championship teams have a golden opportunity to develop their own academy players at the expense of lower league teams. The concept of incorporating U23 teams in to senior side competitions is not a new idea.
In 2014, Greg Dyke in his role as FA Chairman, unsuccessfully attempted to introduce several “category-one” academy teams to join the lower leagues. This proposal was rejected but evidently the idea for these ‘B teams’ joining the Checkatrade Trophy is a way for the EFL to pursue their original idea and get their own way. Just like a petulant child when they are told no. Or the UK Government trying to reverse Article 50 on Brexit.
That is exactly what kind of decision this is. It is a prime example of how the powerful have all the power while the less fortunate are given fewer opportunities to consolidate their own position and only increases the gap between the two ends of the spectrum. These teams are being unfairly punished in the eyes of the majority.
They are nurturing talent as well as using their clubs assets (the players) in a manner that they see fit and best suited to their football club. But apparently this is not how those in charge see things and they continue to take a firmer grip on all the club’s under their watch until there is no room for independence.
There have been a lot of losers in this situation with many things being negatively affected: the Football League’s image, the development of lower league academy teams, football fans’ relationship with the beautiful game, not to mention the competition’s sponsor having their name dragged through the mud, as this is one competition that Checkatrade may regret getting involved with.