From the desk of Trust Board Member Alan Jones

I haven’t had a rant for ages, but after the Football League tampered with our lower league trophy (or the EFL as they’ve been ‘rebranded’), I couldn’t resist…

It started off with their idea to change the league structure from 3 divisions of 24, to 4 divisions of 20. Football League Chief Executive Shaun Harvey put it as a way to reduce fixture congestion, but the fans mostly saw through it as a way to promote Premier League B Teams.

Then a few weeks later, the league suddenly announce that the FRT/JPT will become the EFL Trophy and admit 16 academy sides from PL clubs, and have a group format.

These 16 academy sides suddenly become 10 PL and 6 Championship after the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool ‘chose’ not to enter, with West Ham allowed to play their fixtures away from home and Chelsea allowed to pick and choose when they will play their fixtures.

These are the latest instances to hit lower league football over the last 25 years.

The first was the ‘bastardisation’ of the European Cup and the UEFA Cup. Big European clubs decided that they didn’t earn enough money from Europe, so they threatened a European Super League. UEFA came back with a competition with a group stage, so clubs were guaranteed 6 games, with the competition seeded until the knockout section. They called this the ‘Champions League’, despite up to four sides from one country could be in the competition, and the UEFA Cup will have a similar group stage, but now be called the ‘Europa League’. This meant there would be more European games, and something had to give…

The first was the League Cup. The first two rounds used to be two-legged, with the top flight clubs due to come in into the second round, so if got through to the second round you had a chance of TWO games against top flight clubs and the money which went with it. You also had from the third round a chance of replays. Now all games are one-offs to be decided on the night, with the clubs in Europe not entering until the third round. Around the same time UEFA messed around with their competitions, the Premier League came into being, and with the big money available to stay in the league, managers started to rotate their players, playing mostly reserve teams in the competition, unless they got to the final stages, so not only have the lower leagues lost playing less games against the top flight sides, there is also less chance of meeting them, and you’re likely to play reserve sides, so less fans started attending.

Also, to fund all this UEFA started to screen all UEFA matches live on TV, when previously only the finals were available. This started to affect attendances for midweek FL matches and UEFA put in a rule saying no matches involving the top two divisions of any league in Europe should be played the same time as CL games. Due to the fact that that is virtually impossible in England, PL clubs have received less money from UEFA as a ‘fine’.

Secondly the FA Cup then started going the same way. The replays started to go first, with only one replay allowed up to the quarter-final, with the semis and final, now one-off games.

Again, PL clubs started to play reserve sides in the early rounds, as lower PL sides thought it was more worth their while to stay in the PL and PL sides in Europe, resting their players for a League title push, and the later stages of the CL.

This has gone like this for the last 20 years with various stories of possible changes, but in June, suddenly out of the blue Football League Chief Exec Shaun Murphy suddenly came out with the League becoming 4 divisions of 20 clubs. He said that there is fixture congestion.

That might be the case in the PL and Championship, as they have to fit their fixtures in around various international weekends, but it is very rare that happens in Leagues One and Two. He also was very coy on where the other 8 clubs would come from, which kind of indicated the possibility of PL B Teams and/or Celtic and Rangers would be invited. The owner of Accrington Stanley (Who are they? Exactly!!) said he wanted more games and that if he could play 50 home games a season, he would.

As I have previously said, the lower leagues are playing less games in the cup competitions and are generally playing less than what they did 25 years ago. The only people that can say they play more games are the sides in Europe that could play 20 games to get to the final of a European competition. It was also ironic, as the FL launched a new logo, which included 3 swathes, each with 24 smaller circles to represent the clubs of the football league.

But the biggest shock was a few weeks later, when the league announced that the EFL Trophy (formerly the JPT), would invite 16 U21/B Teams from the PL.

Murphy said that the competition needed a relaunch to ‘survive’, but by having a group stage, he has gone against what he said a few weeks ago by saying there was too many games. There was virtual universal disgust by fans of league one and two sides saying they would boycott games, and a few weeks later when the draw was made, the League had to admit that a number of the PL sides had refused their invite and 6 clubs from the Championship, with Academy status, were invited instead. It was also noticed that West Ham were given special dispensation to play all their games away from the old Olympic Stadium, and that Chelsea wanted to play a couple of their group games at different dates. The FL were changing the rules as they went along. Again Shaun Murphy talked up the competition saying that the PL clubs are putting in £1m (small change for them!!), and they wouldn’t be taking their cut of the money from fixtures.

Despite all this, the backlash from fans continued, with more and more people saying they will boycott, as they could see the possibility that this could be the start of letting B Teams into the FL, and this is a poor attempt to relaunch the competition. If you thought they did this as they couldn’t find a sponsor for the competition… well a few weeks later they did !!

I will not be attending the EFL Trophy games myself, ending a run of nearly 32 years without missing a game at the County Ground (including friendlies and testimonials) as my protest against these competition changes. At no point do I want B teams in the FL, nor Celtic and Rangers.

If they want to change the set up, with less clubs in the Championship and more in Leagues 1 and 2, and the dumping of the EFL Trophy, well I would be in favour of that, as long as any other sides come from the National League (formerly Conference), but we, the fans must take a stand on this. Whilst it up to each to choose, I hope this competition dies a death, with few fans attending, and hopefully it will lose Shaun Harvey his job, as instead of defending the Football League, he has tried to sell it down the river to the detriment of the lower leagues.

TrustSTFC, after consulting supporters via social media, we are asking those fans who don’t go to the EFL Trophy matches (but would not like their team lose out) to donate via the link below, and the money will go towards local charity beneficiaries spending more time at the County Ground :

Ahh, that’s better. Rant over….