On the 30th and 31st August 2016, the first round of the EFL Trophy saw massive protests across the country. Large numbers of fans did not attend the games in which their teams were playing. Why did this happen and what might happen next?
What is the EFL Trophy?
The EFL Trophy began in 1983-4 season and is a Football League knockout cup competition. Formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (and various others throughout its history), it gives lower league clubs a chance of glory. Traditionally, it used to feature Conference clubs too but they stopped taking part in the 2006-7 season. Since then, it has featured just the 48 clubs from League 1 and League 2. Yet for this season, on a trial basis, 16 extra clubs will take part. These changes have fans of League 1 and League 2 clubs up in arms.
Why Fans Are Protesting
It is not that the EFL trophy is being expanded that is the problem; it is which clubs are entering. Lower league trophies such as the EFL Trophy and the FA Vase allow the possibility of a day out at Wembley and a shot at some silverware for smaller clubs. The 16 clubs invited to enter into this year’s EFL Trophy are all, except one, from the Premier League. These Premier League clubs will feature their “B Teams” (or “Reserve” teams). It is this fear of encroachment by the biggest clubs that led to the protests that began in July. With the first round at the end of August, protestors finally made their feelings known.
The only non-Premier League team to receive an invitation was Newcastle United, relegated to the Championship at the end of last season. The Magpies made it clear that they were not interested in taking part, choosing to focus on promotion back to the Premier League and opting to loan out their development players.
The Results of the Protest from Round One
The trophy has usually been a success due to the small pool of clubs taking part and the greater chance of some silverware. Attendances have never been high, but they have been reasonable since the trophy began over 30 years ago and within the normal range of expectation. The massive wave of protests during the first round led to an average attendance of just 1,400 per game at the games taking place on 30th and 31st August – much lower than would be expected. Many of the clubs taking part recorded their lowest ever attendance figures.
Using the hashtag #BTeamBoycott, a handful of clubs and fans began and a mass protest through social media. This spurred a nationwide campaign to boycott the games. However, we must remember that although fans do not like these changes – the clubs themselves were asked to vote on the trial. Two thirds of the 48 clubs asked for their opinions felt the changes would be a good thing for the tournament.
Will The Protesting Continue?
In the short term, the answer is “yes”. There are numerous pages set up on social media dedicated to reversing this decision. Regular Twitter feeds report the number of ticket sales being fewer than 1,000 for upcoming Round 2 games. Although the majority of clubs feel that this is a good move, the fans are continuing to vote with their feet with the minority of clubs who voted against the motion.
What the long-term effect will be has yet to be seen. This is only a trial at present. Even though 32 of the clubs feel it is a good move, it will be reckless to ignore fan feeling on the matter. If clubs start to lose money because they are simply not selling the tickets, they may re-evaluate their decision to allow Premier League development teams to enter the competition.