We’re going to Wemberleeeey!
So why don’t I feel as excited as I did when we beat Millwall over 2 legs just over a year ago? I’ll try and explain…
Before I start I want to make something clear. If you are going to Wembley or not I’m not going to judge you.
I’m proud and thankful the team have got to the final. I’m delighted for Darryll Eales, Michael Appleton and the coaches and backroom staff that have turned Oxford United into a club to be proud of again.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t there last night to cheer you on. Over 1,200 of us went to the New Den in last year’s semi-final first leg. Around 500 fewer made the shorter trip to Kennilworth Road for this year’s one legged semi-final. I was one of the missing 500.
Who or what is to blame? Well for me it’s the EFL and perhaps more specifically Shaun Harvey, the Chief Executive of the Football League (recently rebranded as the English Football League). They have turned what was a chance for clubs from the bottom two divisions of the league to take part in a competition they had a realistic chance of winning, into a competition that doesn’t know what it’s for.
The EFL started life as the Associate Members’ Cup in 1983, and has gone through various formats, usually regionalised, with either a straight knockout from the first round, or sometimes a group stage to start the competition. Teams as diverse as Southampton, Stoke City, Swansea City, Scunthorpe United and Stockport County have taken part. For some teams it was the springboard that saw them progress in the league.
This year the competition included 16 Premier League and Championship ‘B’ teams with ‘Category 1’ Academy status, and with that attendances have tumbled. Record low attendances have been recorded as fans boycott a competition they see as being devalued by the inclusion of ‘B’ teams.
But why have they been invited? According to Shaun Harvey in a BBC interview in October one of the objectives was“creating opportunities for younger players to play in senior competition”, but when the likes of Luton and Portsmouth are fined £15,000 each for fielding ‘under strength’ teams that claim rings a little hollow. Luton chief executive Gary Sweet commented “We played nine graduates of our academy in that game at Gillingham, and seven against a West Brom side containing four players, two of whom who were internationals and had been transferred for several million pounds, and still beat both.”
At the same time Stoke City, one of the ‘B’ teams that took up the invitation to take part, fielded a team against Bury that included former internationals Bojan Krkic, Marc Muniesa, Peter Crouch and Giannelli Imbula and was worth a combined £31 million in transfer fees. At least they weren’t ‘under strength’ I guess. The game ended 1-1.
In the same interview he was asked “Barnsley played Oxford in last season’s final. It was a fantastic day for those two clubs. There were 59,230 supporters there and it generated a lot of revenue. How would you feel if Chelsea played Everton in this season’s final?”
Shaun’s reply was “If we end up with two-non EFL clubs in the final, I suspect it will be disappointing for the 48 clubs in League One and League Two. The same question is not always asked of the Football Association, whether they would be disappointed if two teams from the EFL got to the FA Cup final. I suspect they would support it in exactly the same way. Competitive football means winning teams get through to the final.” As this man is running the Football League he should understand the difference between the competitions in English football. The FA Cup is for every member of the Football Association, (he seems to think it’s just for the PL teams based on his answer). The English Football League Trophy was founded as a competition for tier 3 and 4 sides.
For someone who is supposed to be the guardian of the Football League Shaun Harvey seems to be more concerned with what the PL teams want. One minute he is fining teams for fielding young English players in competitions, then he’s announcing a £2.25million initiative to financially reward EFL clubs who introduce young English players into their starting line-ups. Given the chance the PL teams will swamp the Football Leagues with their ‘B’ teams which could spell disaster for smaller teams.
His ideas have been divisive when they should be uniting, as together we are stronger.
This morning it’s been reported that Oxford United would vote against any repeat of the ‘B’ team experiment for next year’s competition. Plenty of L1 and L2 clubs voiced their concerns before the start of this season’s competition. League 1 and 2 clubs now need to recognise that the revamp of the Trophy hasn’t worked (attendances down on average to around half of last season), and pledge now that this season’s pilot won’t be repeated and that a return to a competition for League 1 and 2 teams (with the possible addition of conference teams) is the only way forward.
A promise that this season’s farce won’t be repeated will allow me to cheer my team on at Wembley.
Whatever will be will be? Not if we unite, as a group of supporters and clubs, to make our collective voice heard.