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The ongoing joke that is the Checkatrade Trophy

EFL fines and Under 21 side involvement justify our boycotting of the competition

Coventry City v Northampton Town - EFL Checkatrade Trophy
An embarrassingly empty Ricoh Arena greeted Coventry and Northampton’s Checkatrade Trophy clash earlier this season
Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

It's clear that the top dogs in charge of football are a bit of a joke. There are multiple examples of this, from this week's announcement that the World Cup will be expanded to a 48-team competition, which makes it virtually impossible not to qualify for, and the corruption stories buzzing around FIFA in recent years, to our own FA not having a single former professional footballer on its board of directors.

It's difficult to imagine a company in any other industry having leaders with zero experience, hands-on expertise or knowledge of their field. Yet historically, the top dogs in charge of the beautiful game in our country have not been football people. Indeed, only three previous senior members of the FA have ever played professional football - former Tranmere Rovers and Crewe Alexandra player Mark Palios served as Chief Executive in 2003-04, Charlton Athletic defender Ted Croker served as Secretary from 1973-89, and Charles W Alcock, the grandfather of current England international Eric Dier, earned five England caps before creating the FA Cup and becoming FA Secretary.

With that in mind, it's understandable that many decisions football authorities make don’t exactly have football's best interest at heart. These suspicions were only confirmed by the changes the EFL (formerly the Football League) made to the lower league competition formerly known as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, now lovingly monikered the Checkatrade Trophy, for this season.

I like the general concept of the competition, it gives lower league teams a chance to genuinely compete for silverware rather than entering a tournament with the sole aim of reaching the later rounds and hoping for a money-spinning tie against a Premier League big boy. However, there are major flaws in this year's competition.

Giving youth a chance... or not

Whether a club wants to put all its resources into this competition - especially if they have a small squad and don't want to derail their league performances - should be absolutely at their discretion.

Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, the EFL does not see things this way. Earlier this season it handed out fines to 12 clubs for failing to field 'full-strength' sides in the Checkatrade Trophy. The competition's rules state that clubs must field either five players who started the previous or following game, or five players who have made the most appearances for the club in the current season.

Luton Town and Portsmouth were fined a whopping £15,000 for failing to adhere to this, despite Luton actually winning two matches in which they fielded a host of academy graduates and won their group. In addition, Fleetwood Town were charged £5,000, and Bradford City, Blackpool, Bristol Rovers, MK Dons, Millwall, Charlton Athletic, Peterborough United, Sheffield United and Southend Town were all fined £3,000.

Now it turns out that Luton again face the prospect of a fine from the EFL after making seven changes for the side that beat Chesterfield - a club one division above them - 4-0 on Tuesday evening.

The concept of fining clubs that seek to give their home-grown talent an opportunity in a cup competition - as opposed to Premier League clubs playing overpaid foreign players of questionable ability over young English talent - seems absurd. But when you're actually punishing those youngsters that have gone out and won a game it becomes even more unbelievable. I cannot get my head around the EFL’s mindset.

And I'm glad to know I'm not alone. In the face of the fines imposed on Luton, their chief executive Gary Sweet said: "We are staggered that we have been fined the maximum amount for our first offence, which was winning away from home at a club from the division above with half-a-dozen first-team regulars in their team.

“We played nine graduates of our academy in that game at Gillingham, and seven against a West Brom side containing internationals who had been transferred for several million pounds, and still beat both.

“We believe our team selection has added value to a competition that was dying last season and is now – with low three-figure attendances at many matches so far – well and truly on its last legs.

“We had the second highest attendance in our one home game against a fellow senior EFL club, which we believe was only because we were playing our youngsters.

"By fining us this amount the EFL is effectively saying that promoting young talent is only acceptable if they’re with an EPPP1 club, and they are depriving their own member clubs’ young players access to first-team football.”

Well said, Gary.

The development squads farce

Speaking of the EFL's idiocy leads us onto the issue of Premier League and Championship clubs' Under-21 teams being included in this year's competition. This is part of the reason that we here at LOVS Towers boycotted reporting on Bolton Wanderers' involvement in the competition, and the experiment has proven a complete waste of time.

After the conclusion of the play-off round on Tuesday evening, Swansea City Under 21s are the only one of 16 development sides still standing at the quarter finals stage - and that's only because they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers' fellow development squad. Furthermore, Leicester City's Under 21s team was this week eliminated with an embarrassing 6-1 hammering at the hands of Cheltenham Town - a side next to bottom of the Football League.

Given the EFL is opposed to allowing lower league clubs blooding their young talent, it seems somewhat hypocritical to allow 'bigger' teams to throw their youngsters into the competition - especially when they get hammered like Leicester's youngsters.

Fans have been swift to show their disapproval towards the tournament. Only 60 Brighton supporters made the trip to see their under-21 side lose 3-0 against League One strugglers Coventry City, a game attended by just 2,085 fans in total.

Oxford United recorded a record low attendance at their Kassam Stadium as just 1,383 fans turned up - including a home contingent of just one more fan than made the trip to Rotherham United for their FA Cup third round tie on Saturday.

These two points should be enough for the EFL to question their approach to the Checkatrade Trophy. This should be a competition solely for lower league clubs, who should be encouraged to pick whichever team they perceive to give them the best chance of success on all fronts.

So it's time to stop the irrational fines and give clubs the freedom to compete in the competition however they see fit. And, all being well, let's hope Bolton aren't involved in the tournament at all next season.