Date: 10th June 2016 at 10:22pm
Written by:

The Football League, or as it now wants to be called, the English Football League (EFL), have held their Summer Conference and confirmed that member clubs have agreed that from the 2016/17 season, 16 Category One Premier League/Under 21 sides will be welcomed into a new and fresh format for the Football League Trophy.

Most will know it as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, but their sponsorship expired this summer, and we’ve already had plenty of talk of format changes to the domestic cups and even the suggestion of introducing a new League Three to the football pyramid in the future – and the idea of introducing Under 21 sides to the Trophy competition is a logical first step with it also being suggested that Under 21 sides could also fill a spot in the speculation League Three introduction.

Whilst it’s tagged as an ‘ongoing commitment to creating more and better home grown players’ any potential boost in reality that this might give to the next generation is offset by the fact that the emergency loan window has now been abolished, so youngsters will miss out on that chance to gain professional league football under their belts in that manner.

In any event, it’s no great surprise to see this idea come to fruition as it has been spoken about for a while, but it is only an agreement to trial it for a season at this stage.

With changes to the Trophy now agreed, it will see 64 sides from League One and Two, plus the 16 Under 21 set ups, and the competition itself will now include a group stage format with 16 regional groups of four sides competing against each other.

Each side will play the other once, but the Under 21 side will have only one home game

The top two sides in each group will progress through to the knockout stages of the competition, which will continue to be North/South based, and the Final will be, as usual, at Wembley Stadium in April.

The full details are expected within the next fortnight, and by then I would imagine the 16 competing Under 21 sides will also be confirmed – but it’s very much expected they will be Premier League based and any Championship Category One sides will miss out.

As part of the agreement, it’s also being said the Premier League are contributing £1million to the competitions prize fund to take it to £1.95million, and bonuses will be spread based on victories.

It’s also reported the vote itself wasn’t straight forward with a number of clubs voicing their displeasure – but the vote count hasn’t been released either from what I tell. But not every club being on board with this would’ve been expected to be honest.

With wider changes up for discussion as well, such as the introduction of a new division to allow the Championship, League One and League Two to reduce to a 20 side make up, chief executive Shaun Harvey said of the Summer Conference.

‘I would like to commend clubs for engaging in an open-minded and thought provoking discussion of these important matters. As outlined at outset, any decisions can only be made by clubs themselves and it was therefore essential that they had the opportunity to hear more about the thinking that has underpinned the Board’s approach and were able to debate all the relevant issues. Clubs have asked for more information, further consultation and the opportunity to discuss additional matters at subsequent meetings during 2016/17. In parallel, we will develop discussions with the FA and Premier League alongside other stakeholders across football, as we look to find what is best for the English game.’

For the wholescale changes that are up for discussion, no vote or final decisions will be taken prior to the Summer Conference in June 2017.

I’m not 100% this list is accurate in terms of Category One clubs currently, but feel free to correct in article comments – that said I’m not aware of other changes since Reading joined, and Bolton Wanderers dropped out I believe.

Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Norwich City, Reading, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Other clubs could achieve that status at the next audit, and equally some clubs also don’t highlight their rank.

Whilst some will no doubt welcome this, namely the Premier League sides looking to boost the experience of their youngsters, plenty of fans will see it as the start to a slippery slope where wider football is again and further marginalised for Premier League priority.

Many will of course see it as a first step towards B teams, and again the advantages or disadvantages of that depend on where you sit in the pyramid and how much cash you have behind you.

And with mixed views already about the Trophy, the regulations surrounding squad changes and the like, many will also wonder if increasing the game schedule – given all the talk of reducing fixture schedules of late – will see the competition quickly lose more of its potential shine with weaker sides being picked, which defeats its purpose of being a better opportunity for a day out at Wembley for clubs at that level.