Tommy Lee: JPT can't be Premier League sticking plaster

Since signing for Chesterfield in 2008 I've been fortunate enough to be part of some special occasions for this football club.

Wednesday, 30th March 2016, 7:27 am
Updated Wednesday, 30th March 2016, 8:32 am
Tommy Lee Columnist

I played in the last game at Saltergate and the first at the new stadium.

I have been part of two promotion campaigns, winning League Two twice and narrowly missing out on promotion to the Championship last season.

But, without question, my most cherished memory came in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final against Swindon Town in 2012 at Wembley Stadium.

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Chesterfield FC at Wembley v Swindon Town. Tommy Lee with trophy

I had the best seat in the house to witness Craig Westcarr slide the ball past Wes Foderingahm and send 20,000 Spireites in to delirium.

It’s the best feeling I have ever experienced on a football pitch.

The feeling of achievement was overwhelming. Not only because we beat a much fancied Swindon team but because of the run that got us to the final.

We had to beat Notts County 3-1 at Meadow Lane, Tranmere Rovers 4-3 at home and then after a 1-1 draw at Deepdale we beat Preston North End 4-2 on penalties.

That set up an area final with Oldham Athletic. We triumphed 2-1 in the first leg and then defended doggedly in the return with Jack Lester scoring in the last minute to seal a 1-0 victory.

We were heading to Wembley.

It’s a tournament that is close to my heart so you can imagine the antipathy that came over me when I read that the Premier League are in discussions with the Football League to introduce 16 Under 21 or ‘B’ teams to the tournament.

Apparently the move would ensure more ‘competitive football’ –whatever that means – between the ages of 18 to 21 at Premier League academies.

Chesterfield FC at Wembley v Swindon Town. Tommy Lee with trophy

Where do I start?

The JPT, or in its former guise, The Football League Trophy, isn’t and shouldn’t be treated as a ‘pay as you go’ work experience facility for the Premier League.

The competition offers lower league clubs, professionals and fans the opportunity to achieve something memorable and worthwhile.

Admittedly the early rounds can often slide under the radar but the north-east/west, south-east/west seeding format often throws together local derbies and as soon as Wembley is in sight, excitement grows.

Introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams would compromise the competition’s integrity and devalue any success achieved.

I’m pretty certain nobody wants to spend their hard earned travelling to a neutral stadium on a Tuesday night, to watch their side play a youth team in the first round.

And imagine trying to describe to the grandkids, that time you won at beating a ‘B’ team en-route. It’s nonsense.

The real issue that needs addressing by the Premier League is the hoarding of young talent by the richest clubs in the land.

Top academies are allowed to collect youngsters from all over the world, like they are collecting football stickers, in the hope that, every now and again, they grab themselves a ‘shiny’.

And why wouldn’t they? They have the finances and there is nothing in place to stop them.

But, as a result, a bottleneck has been created between under 21 level and the first team and these academies are left with more players than they know what to do with.

It’s a problem created by the Premier League and that is where the problem should be addressed and remedied.

Let’s not ruin a fantastic tournament just so the Premier League can put what is tantamount to a sticking plaster over an open wound.

I hope the powers that be treat this idea with the derision it deserves.

“Thank you for the generous offer of your ‘B’ teams but I think, in this instance, we’ll be alright.”