I never thought I would ever write a piece for ALS telling you why you shouldn’t go to a match. The club is ingrained in me that I have forced my son to get a season card despite knowing the misery that will inflict on him. I’m surprised Social Services haven’t been called. I rock up on a regular basis and scale stairs over and over again to put flags out for people to wave around and sacrifice being in my seat at kick off to sort out the big surfer for the Roker End. I think I qualify as a fan. That’s what makes it difficult to write something that tells you to turn your back on the game tonight.
For some, as the rain pours down and the winter sets in, this will be music to the ears. A justifiable excuse not to go to a match against a Premier League youth team but that is not the point. I would encourage you to go along to see the academy prospects if it were not for the context. I am an opinionated sod. Those opinions will absolutely be buried should a night in Trafalgar Square beckon, but for now let me have them.
The Leasing.com Trophy is an abomination. It epitomises everything that is wrong with modern football. In its previous guises the trophy represented something a bit special. Barring the odd miracle such as Chesterfield reaching the semi finals of the FA Cup or Bradford (under Phil Parkinson) reaching the league cup final; it was a rare opportunity for teams in the bottom tiers to actually have a meaningful chance of putting together a competitive cup run. A trophy that was theirs. Then in the 16/17 season the rules changed. 16 Category 1 academies were introduced to the competition. “That’s no bad thing for English football” I hear you cry. Valid point, however, I would ask how this impacts on the wider sustainability of English football. Last season we know what the outcome was. My aforementioned lad left Wembley devastated, but thankfully it was not at the hand of Man City kids. At the moment the finals seem to be largely contested by the teams who have stringent rules applied to who they can pick. The final itself is a huge pay day, a trip to Wembley can boost the coffers of some of these lower league clubs. Let’s wind back a little though. In the round before the quarter finals 3 out of 8 teams through were from academy teams. Those were three matches that could have featured smaller clubs fetching bigger crowds with an eye on a Wembley trip. Yes we played Newcastle so I accept the point that there was one academy from a smaller club fetching a big crowd but hopefully you accept the principle.
This trophy was set up as a contest that gave fans something to get a bit excited about; it is degenerating into a development trophy for the richest clubs in the country. The attendances have seen boycotts out of principle and the mood around the trophy itself has been soured. The trophy for League one and two clubs is being dictated by rules which require them to play squads suitably strong enough to qualify as first teamers. Add this to the other cup games with squads nowhere near the volume of Premier League or Championship squads and you can see the strain in terms of injury and fitness. Then assume that these clubs all have the aim of promotion in a league where you have to play (ordinarily) 46 games and that strain is magnified. And if you don’t comply with the rules? Well I’m not sure Bury would have been in a position to pay the £5,000 fine. The competition is the antithesis of what is was created to achieve. Small squads in low leagues get fined if they don’t play the requisite number of first teamers; other hugely rich premier league clubs don’t have to play any games at home because the costs of hosting outweigh any benefits. In fact Man City were reported to be furious about the timing of their quarter final with us because it meant they couldn’t play their academy players in the second leg of their league cup semi final.
Stay away tonight; the trophy has become a place where we are being used to develop squads of teams with riches in excess of the clubs who used to enjoy this cup. If we win a few more games though I’ll be booking a hotel at Wembley.