Date: 16th September 2016 at 7:53pm
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With the attempt to revive the EFL Trophy by changing the format and introducing Academy sides into the competition, well it’s probably fair to say that after match day 1 of the new Group stage, it hasn’t entirely been a success.

As we head towards October’s set of fixtures for the competition, fan protests such as @AgainstLeague3 and #BTeamBoycott continue and with greater details known from the opening games, clearly they will consider their protests a success.

The headlines from the first round of games included the now Checkatrade Trophy having record low attendances across the board, managers named as substitutes for games and even a 15 year old requiring permission from his school headteacher to play in the competition.

Slightly bizarre, but in any event not the headlines the Football League would’ve wanted to come out.

For a few specifics, 392 fans took in the Fleetwood Town v Blackburn Rovers U23 game, 461 fans watched Wimbledon v Swansea City U23 game and only 1,198 watched the Port Vale v Derby County U23 match.

Clearly the pull of a potential Premier League or Championship first teamer and name making an appearance didn’t work for fans – and whilst the Port Vale game stands out as a better fan return, it must be said that was their lowest crowd in 30 years…so not good.

With such a strong emphasis from the Football League on reinvigorating the competition and benefiting young English talent in Academy sides invited, social media was on the ball.

The BBC listed a selection from the first round games, where fans were making a point of their own.

‘A 36yr old Pole, 29yr old Tunisian & 27yr old Spaniard. So much for playing ‘young English talent” wrote one in response to Leicester City’s line up.

‘Tony Andreu, a 28 year old French midfielder, has scored for Norwich U23s. Can’t wait for his debut for England,’ wrote another.

As for the more bizarre headlines, Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth made his 601st appearance against Northampton owing to an injury crisis, and he actually set up their third goal having come on as a substitute.

Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale also named himself on the bench for their game against Oxford, although he didn’t make an appearance.

And as for younger news, Tisdale named 15 year old Ethan Ampadu as a substitute for that game, as did Luton who named Connor Tomlinson and Luton tweeted pre game.

‘On the bench for the Hatters is 15 year old striker Connor Tomlinson, for whom we had to ask permission from his headteacher to play.’

He went on to become their youngest ever first teamer in their history at 15 years and 199 days.

Emeka Obi, also 15 and born in June 2001 made his debut for Bury as a substitute against Morecambe.

The BBC quoted a Bolton fan in their round up coverage as well, and Nigel Yates pointed out what many had thought themselves.

‘It is ridiculous really. When you consider the teams Premier League teams put out for League Cup and FA Cup ties, maybe the authorities would be better looking at doing something with those competitions rather than messing about with a competition that is supposed to be for Leagues One and Two. I am here because I am a Bolton fan. I support the club through thick and thin and I wouldn’t have missed the game. But the way they have messed about with this competition has made the whole thing a joke.’

Manager’s seemed suitably diplomatic in their own responses largely, but clearly few seemed overly enamoured with the experience with Under 23 sides mixed in their team selections when it came to truly Under 23 youngsters playing.

Clearly the Football League would’ve been disappointed with the turn out, especially as the EFL Trophy changes aren’t the only things up for discussion this season.

The ‘Whole Game Solution’ we’ve covered before with the expansion of the Football League to four divisions (20 teams a league to reduce fixture congestion), changes to the FA Cup, an idea of regionalisation for the Football League and even a winter break.

All of these ideas have been raised and discussed with clubs at this summer’s conference, although it must be said there’s no agreement yet. We are however at the stage where most clubs will have responded to the EFL’s request for full feedback on the changes up for discussion.

One of the club’s to go public with their response was Plymouth Argyle, and their full piece can be read by clicking here.

In short they ‘can see no advantage in extending the league structure and is completely opposed to the introduction of Premier League B teams into the EFL structure. Neither does it want to see the National League weakened by recruiting teams from their competition to expand the EFL.’

Plymouth also point out that compensating clubs for a reduction in games would mean relying on increased subsidy from the Premier League ‘at a time when it believes the EFL should not be actively seeking to increase financial dependency on the Premier League.’

As for the FA Cup, they expressed their ‘extreme disappointment’ at changes so far seeing quarter final replays trashed from 2017 onwards ‘with apparently little or no consultation’ so further changes for them would be ‘detrimental to the game’.

With Plymouth travelling more than most in a general season, whilst they encouraged the Football League to look at midweek commitments for fans, they strongly did not want to see ‘a return to a polarisation…between north and south.’

As for a winter break, Plymouth expressed their concern ‘about coinciding the break with the worst of the English weather and of the effects on cash flow.’

Exeter also published their response which can be read in full by clicking here.

Whilst confirming they saw merit in the changes to the EFL Trophy from a youth football perspective, their opening paragraphs more than outline their concerns at the wider Whole Game Solution discussion.

‘Whilst Exeter City FC has strongly opposed ‘The Whole Game Solution` from the outset – with Club representative, Julian Tagg, speaking against it at the EFL conference in Portugal last June; the Club did support the proposed changes to the Checkatrade Trophy, being persuaded by the promised financial advantages, and the advantages outlined for Youth football in general and Youth football at Exeter City in particular, as it would help us achieve our goal of giving young players first team experience. The fact that this was to be a one-year pilot, and because Richard Scudamore had rebutted the accusation that this would mean B teams by the back door saying, ‘it won’t ever happen` quashed fears and confirmed the vote in favour. However, the detailed case for change as outlined in the ‘Whole game Solution` remains unconvincing. City supporters, along with those from many other clubs, are vociferous in their condemnation of the proposed changes and potential wider outcomes for English football. The timetable allowed by the EFL does not allow for detailed consultation with our own supporters or with other Clubs, both of which are necessary to reach an informed and practical solution.’

Exeter went on to say that ‘the exercise is to enable more opportunities to screen Premier League games on primetime, weekend TV and thus increase income for the PL and FA which should trickle down to lower league clubs. From past experience Exeter City Football Club has no confidence that this will happen.’

Obviously they are against an extra league and additional teams given that response, and they are also against regionalisation.

As for the winter break, they point out that rather than solving fixture congestion it means perfectly playable weekend’s will now be lost, so it will create congestion down the line.

‘The argument that a winter break would improve English performance is confounded by the recent success of the Welsh national team who came through the same youth system as their English counterparts.’

They also point out that midweek games aren’t financially ‘sound’ for them and others, and this also applies to hastily arranged FA Cup matches – so changes seeing the FA Cup become a midweek competition would be harmful and diminish the competition which can be a lifeline for clubs at lower levels.

‘For all these reasons, and taking account of the forceful arguments from our own supporters, Exeter City Football Club will continue to oppose the proposed changes in the ‘Whole Game Solution`.’

The likes of Portsmouth and Notts County are amongst those actively seeking fan thoughts on the changes through surveys on the questions asked, and those responses will guide their full response ahead of the next league meeting on September 22.

And they are by no means alone, launching their own survey Walsall commented.

‘This is clearly a very controversial proposal and one that we as a Club are extremely sceptical of. We are yet to be convinced that the proposals can be practically achieved and financially underwritten but more importantly that they are desirable in the first place.’

Shrewsbury Town remained cautious, with their CEO Brian Caldwell saying.

‘There’s not been a great deal of detail if I’m honest. They have sent an email to have a think about some various points, if they were extending the league where would we want the clubs coming from, where would we not want the clubs coming from. Me personally, I don’t think it’s vastly wrong what we’re doing now. Having only been here for six months that is certainly my impression, it’s not broken so why fix it?’

Adding.

‘Just look at the clubs in League One. Look at us and the attendances we get and we’re probably halfway in the league, but there’s some big clubs in League One as we know ourselves and it’s very competitive. Even in League Two you’ve got clubs like Portsmouth too, so it’s a very competitive league. I don’t think the EFL will ever get agreement on the way forward to try and change the format, because it’s very difficult to get everybody to agree to anything I would suggest, because everyone`s got different agendas.’

The lack of real detail in the proposals so far was also picked up by Yeovil Town.

‘After discussion amongst the board of directors, Yeovil Town FC remains suspicious regarding the proposed changes put forward by the EFL in its ‘Whole Game Solution’. The Club currently believes there is a lack of detailed information regarding the proposed changes to the structure and format of the EFL, although feels the changes outlined would be primarily beneficial for clubs operating in the Premier League and not the EFL – the needs of Yeovil Town FC are substantially different to that of teams in the top division of the professional game in England.’

And they are the common themes coming from clubs in their responses that I can see.

Talks will obviously continue ahead of the next summer conference as the formal proposal is formulated, and no doubt clubs will be talking to fans directly in communications and fan based events between then and now on top of any surveys launched – but I don’t see how the points raised above in responses so far can be compromised on.

Reduced games lead to season ticket price questions, regionalisation a few years down the line (on top of the above rivalry comments) will see promotion and relegation effect the division splits and clubs could well end up in the wrong region to make the right numbers up.

And they are just two things that jump straight out for me, and they certainly won’t be the only additional questions raised. Some may be cleared up at the league meet on September 22, but I wouldn’t expect the next update to give any real clarity.

I’m sure you all have your own thoughts, so don’t be shy in article comments and let us know what you think.

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