Football League chief jumps to the defence of 'farcical' Checkatrade Trophy

Sheffield United and Walsall played in front of a mostly empty Bramall Lane in the Checkatrade Trophy
Sheffield United and Walsall played in front of a mostly empty Bramall Lane in the Checkatrade Trophy
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English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey has asked for the Checkatrade Trophy to be judged at the end of the season as dwindling attendances and perceived irreverence from clubs leave it ripe for criticism.

The competition was revamped this season, with a group stage introduced and 16 category one academy sides joining the 48 clubs from League One and League Two in an attempt to rejuvenate the cup.

There was plenty of leg room at Bramall Lane

There was plenty of leg room at Bramall Lane

A number of top academies opted not to take part as Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all rejected the invitation, with the EFL having to extend the invite further down the football pyramid.

Some campaigners labelled the decision a 'farce' before the competition even began and attendances have shown most fans are in agreement.

There were 457 people at Barnet's 5-0 defeat to Norwich Under-23s on Wednesday night while at Grimsby, the shirt numbers of the Leicester Academy side added up to more than the attendance, 709 against 609.

One of the biggest attendances came at Bramall Lane where around 2,600 watch Sheffield United take on Walsall. Grimsby Town, who are next up for the Blades in the competition, tweeted last night to say that the attendance for their game against Leicester City was the lowest ever recorded for a first team game at Blundell Park.

Both Grimsby and United are now both eliminated, making next month's tie a 'dead rubber'.

Accrington tweeted a joke about the number of their supporters who attended their 4-1 win at Chesterfield. "Reports of an away following of 2 at Chesterfield last night are untrue. We counted at least 6...," they posted.

Meanwhile, Bradford came under scrutiny after goalkeeper Colin Doyle was substituted three minutes into their game against Bury as they seemingly tried to work around the rules for selecting "first-team players". The match report on the club's official stated that replacement Rouven Sattelmaier "came on for some much-needed game time".

But Harvey has called for any further criticism to be held off until the end of the tournament, which is now in the middle of a one-year pilot of the new scheme.

"The clubs will decide the format of the competition," he told Press Association Sport.

"We run the league for their benefit and all these factors will be taken into account. There was an element of misunderstanding and confusion over its objective. It was never about getting B-teams into the Football League.

"We need to continue the competition, see what the benefits are and measure it at the end and not at this intervening time.

"There is confusion from the league's perspective as to ultimately what the issue is with the competition. Low crowds are a concern but this was an innovative approach to solve a big problem.

"We will be doing plenty of work to try and understand what the reticence is towards the competition, we need to to make sure it is properly managed in the end."

Harvey said the EFL and its members would deserve credit if a future England international was discovered having been given a chance for his side in the Checkatrade Trophy.

"We are a big-time player in the area of youth development," he said.

"Understandably, the Premier League clubs get the most profile but there is no God-given right to say you know which is a future England player.

"No-one knows because it is not done on a template, it is not done on how rich you are, it is done on the ability of the player and how you best get it to come forward.

"If one future England player cut his teeth in that competition and made the difference, our clubs should be getting a slap on the back for allowing it to happen rather than be criticised like they are in certain quarters."

Harvey was speaking at the Leaders Sport Business Summit at Stamford Bridge on the same day the EFL announced a new £2.25million financial incentive for its clubs to field young, home-grown players.

A statement read: "EFL Futures will help clubs to develop more young players within the EFL and provide direct financial rewards to clubs who regularly promote home-grown players from their academies into the first team.

"A sum of £750,000 per season is being made available for the next three years to reward those clubs who provide starting opportunities in Sky Bet EFL fixtures for home-grown players under the age of 21 and are qualified for England (or Wales for Cardiff and Newport)."