In a week where England were played off the park by Slovenia, there is more embarrassments in the nation reports – podcast contributor Kieran.
There’s something strange happening to lower league cup competitions in the UK this year – “The form we’re in we wouldn’t even beat Stoke’s reserves” is now a reality.
Last week, I browsed results from the Scottish Challenge Cup to find unexpected sides competing against Scottish clubs. Apparently, in an attempt to encourage competitiveness, under-20 squads from the twelve Premiership sides, Linfield and Crusaders with TNS (the Welsh Champions who follow @PUPcast on Twitter) and Bala Town, have been included in the Scottish competition.
Similarly, we have seen a shake up of the rules and regulations in the EFL Trophy and although the intentions may be hopeful, a sense of doubt has been cast by clubs and fans alike. For the new and improved contest, the competition has been pitched as a trial this season to include not just the 48 clubs from League One and League Two but 16 additional “invited clubs”, entering their academy teams. Fifteen of those clubs were to come from the Premier League, with Newcastle United filling the final slot.
Mixed opinions were voiced prior to the first kick and these murmurs have continued after the second round of fixtures resulted in empty stadiums and bizarre substitutions. Bradford City metaphorically flipped the bird to the new competition as they subbed their goalkeeper Colin Doyle after just 3 minutes. New regulations state that 5 “first team” players from a club’s last league fixture must start an EFL Trophy match and Bradford’s actions devalued the contest further. In addition, just 392 people were present for Fleetwood’s game against Blackburn.
The FA states that these development teams will “help young, talented players progress physically and mentally on top of the technical aspect of their game” – at the expense of the lower league sides. Arguably, it is increasing the chances of an upcoming 18 year-old improving competitively for Liverpool in the EFL Trophy – where this player may never break into their first-team – but has this hindered a Morcombe or Swindon youngster?
Let’s remember a few stars that did not need an English “elite” academy to reach international level – Dele Alli rose to success via MK Dons and we are all aware of Jamie Vardy’s meteoric rise from non-league to Champions League with his humble beginnings at Sheffield Wednesday’s youth academy.
Alas, let us not forget the real and frequent victims of these changes – the Fans. As always it’s the average fan that suffers from questionable changes in our game’s authority positions. The gap between the Premier League and the Football League is at an all-time high and as a supporter of League 2 side, success is seldom if not non-existent. FA and League Cup victories are a rarity but the old “Paint” trophy allowed an opportunity for silver-wear and also the chance to witness your club grace the hollowed ground of Wembley.
It would be an insult to such clubs and fans to see Chelsea’s under-23 side line up for the competitions final stages. A feeling of robbery may arise.
The new “ideas” just seem to have diluted a unique competition. Yes, it did not have the glamour of other contests but the FA appears to be placing very little emphasis on rejuvenating England’s cups. The evidence can also be seen in the EFL Cup where the FA refuse to acknowledge Premiership teams openly dismissing the cup in the media as a nuisance and also in their squad selections.
Is this really of benefit for the future of English football or was this just a knee-jerk reaction to an abysmal showing by England at the Euros?
After a season where a record attendance for the final involving Barnsley and Oxford at Wembley was achieved I am looking forward to the FA’s reasoning when no-one turns up for a Reading v Sunderland reserves final this year. I imagine an attendance of 59,000 will be impossible to replicate.
You would hope the voices of many disgruntled fans would be taken into consideration but all too often it appears governing bodies in England love to ignore any differing opinions.
For more opinions, listen to the PUPcast podcast here!
Photo – credit to elf.co.uk