The English Football League (EFL) demonstrated ignorance and a lack of understanding with wider issues this week, in doing so it deepens a rift between its member clubs and the administration of the EFL. The much derided EFL Trophy, now renamed Checkatrade Trophy, was always a bone of contention. Now the fears of lower league clubs have been manifested in the form of ridiculous fines.
The concept of the revised EFL Trophy was after the lower tiered Football League clubs spoke out against the proposed League Three option, fearing the inclusion of Premier League B Teams would be a further example of looking after the big clubs at the expense of those without. Also, it would have damaged the accessibility of the current loan system.
The Football Reflective was a fan of the idea (Fair and Three) as it took a holistic view. The current loan system hasn’t proven to be beneficial for the donor clubs. Aside from Manchester City, who appear to frequently send their coaches to assess and assist those loaned out, once a player has left the nest they are under the guidance of lower grade coaches using lesser facilities.
The FA, after years of mounting evidence that suggests the national team has a bleak future, is desperate for a solution. When League Three was written off, they needed a halfway house. A trial to see if there would be the appetite for B Teams to mix in competitive ties with lower league clubs.
They took the essence of a good idea and managed to turn it against itself.
The EFL Trophy in its former guise was a good opportunity for the teams from the bottom two tiers to have a day out at Wembley. Not many cared for the competition until that chance was on the horizon, but when it appeared a play-off final vibe arose.
Adding select upper league clubs’ under-21s to the mix destroyed that slight fantasy. The idea of Stoke U21s v Wolverhampton U21s at Wembley doesn’t have any of the romance. All it would do is confirm to the smaller clubs that football in this country only cares about those higher up the league pyramid.
But the clubs that bemoaned the idea of League Three do need to take some responsibility. Their fears have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, acted out during the EFL Trophy.
Most blame has to go to the EFL itself. This week they fined twelve clubs, ranging from £3,000 to £15,000 each, for fielding weaker sides(five players must have appeared in the previous game, or contain the five most used players from the season as a whole). A format they didn’t trust has now hit their pockets.
Luton chairman Gary Sweet summed up the disparity best when he remarked he shouldn’t be paying fees to give his youth players experience. To make matters worse, his club’s youth defeated a side from the higher tier. So, is the Checkatrade Trophy only about developing youth players from big clubs?
The fear of the voiceless now realised with the opening of a cheque book.
The EFL Trophy fines come at the same time as talks to restructure the EFL to four leagues of twenty teams collapsed. Here the clubs and league are equally short-sighted. Chief Executive of Shrewsbury, Brian Caldwell, has been one of the most outspoken against. His concern, one mirrored up and down the country, was a reduction in fixtures would mean less money.
The EFL countered this by promising more Saturday fixtures, seen as a way to avoid the lesser attended midweek matches, claiming this would actually increase overall revenues. That plan was supposedly scuppered by the FA’s latest oversees TV deal for the FA Cup. The weekends they’d planned to use are now locked in for FA Cup ties.
By removing themselves from the negotiating table too soon, the EFL has failed to see its strong hand. Without the EFL clubs there is no FA Cup. The football league could have driven the demands for better distribution of wealth and proceeded with the reformation of its structure.
Not compromising for a few FA Cup weekends means its platform stays stuck in the past.
The Championship may be the fifth most watched league in the world but it has the weight of the entire lower tiers on its shoulders. It can’t thrive unabated like the Premier League, there is a glass ceiling imposed due to the EFL’s overall structure. It may carry the load but it is the EFL that should shoulder the burden.
Doing nothing will only see the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow.
By being overly defensive of the FA and Premier League’s intentions, the EFL and its members have only spited themselves. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to obscurity and obsoletion is paved with paranoia.