The Football League Trophy – a commercial execution

The football league trophy has never been the most glamorous or sought after bauble in the footballing world. Such is the low status of the FLT, that even the football fan’s most commonly evoked spokesman, Nick Hornby, was withering and dismissive of the competition in his book Fever Pitch commenting ‘what the hell is buried in the subconscious of people who go to Leyland DAF Trophy  games?’.

Since 1984, the Football League Trophy has afforded 23 clubs (and one franchise in MK Dons) the opportunity of winning silverware. The clubs involved are mostly unfashionable and traditionally unsuccessful outfits who otherwise would never have had the chance to walk out at Wembley (or even the Millennium Stadium which is where the finals were held during Wembley’s redevelopment). Whilst it is certainly true that neither the fans nor the clubs care little about the FLT until the latter stages of the tournament, the same could also be said of the League Cup and Premier League clubs. The difference being that Premier League clubs are not forced to play a certain number of first team players with the threat of a fine hanging over them. The clubs in the bottom two divisions however, are fined, if they rest a certain number of players from the previous league game – a ludicrous practice that only discourages academy graduates enjoying more game time.

For presumably commercial reasons, there has long been wringing of hands at the FA as to how they can make the Football League Trophy more desirable. It is odd that the FA and the Football League cannot see the FLT for what it is; a minor but meaningful competition that most clubs cannot afford to take seriously. Constant efforts to rebrand the competition seem misguided and unnecessary but never before have such attempts proved controversial and odious… until now.

Following the rebranding of the Football League to the English Football League, the FLT has also been rebranded. Constant rebranding has become ubiquitous in football but it is not just a name change that has caused consternation amongst fans of lower league football clubs. In their wisdom, the powers that be (and indeed the football league clubs themselves) have decided that 15 Premier League academies (and Newcastle to make 16) will join the competition as well as all clubs from leagues 1 and 2. The Premier League has shown nothing but contempt for lower league clubs so for them to now muscle in on the only trophy that is truly ours is galling in the extreme.

Would Rovers dramatic victory over Bristol Rovers in 2007 have been as enjoyable if played against Stoke City’s kids? Of course not. It would have rendered the entire game meaningless, a glorified friendly. Make no mistake; this is, once again, a decision made entirely for commercial gain, with no interest in the fallout for fans of the clubs involved. Football league clubs voted in favour, mostly without consulting their supporters in any capacity, and we are expected to accept all changes, no matter the impact on the importance of the competition itself.

With that in mind we have no choice but to call for a full boycott of all Doncaster Rovers fans from attending any FLT fixtures while ever Premier League academies are included. It might be a Mickey Mouse cup but it is ours. Having said that, we are unwilling to make a final decision on this issue without first consulting our fellow supporters.

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