Supporters’ Trust OxVox is very disappointed to hear of the proposal, passed at the Football League’s 2016 summer conference in Portugal, to create a new format for the English Football league (EFL) Trophy, the competition formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Under the new format this year, the 48 League 1 and 2 clubs will be joined by 16 category 1 Premier League academy under-21 sides. There will be a group stage with 16 regional groups of 4 teams, with the top 2 in each group progressing to the knockout stage. Details of the format are sketchy but it appears likely that each group will be ‘seeded’ to include a Premier academy side. The likelihood must be that the strongest of these will prevail, and the prospect of reaching a Wembley final for League 1 and 2 clubs will recede.
The EFL Trophy is marketed as an attempt to rescue the competition by creating interest, while having a primary benefit to Premiership teams in providing competitive football to its academy players.
The JPT trophy had few friends in the early rounds and failed to capture fans’ imagination. Clubs lost money on some matches, and judging by their team selections and general approach some managers and coaches regarded it with disdain. However, it did provide a realistic opportunity for League 1 and 2 sides and their supporters to experience a cup run and Wembley final. Over 30,000 Oxford United fans went to Wembley for the final against Barnsley last season and the experience will live long in the memory, despite the result.
Although it is harder in the close season to establish the general view of United fans, or our Trust members, the OxVox committee has taken soundings, observed social media comment, and discussed the situation.
We are unanimous (as are Trusts up and down the country) in our opposition to the League’s decision for the following reasons.
- Fans want to see meaningful first team competitions with recognised clubs competing on a level playing field.
- There will be less chance of a League 1 or League 2 side reaching Wembley and every league club will be adding more matches to an already crowded early season programme.
- The change may reduce support and cost lower league clubs money. Some matches involving Academy sides may attract reasonable crowds, but matches between League sides may attract even less attention and smaller crowds.
- Our key concern is that potentially this is the thin end of a wedge. OUFC has aspirations to reach the Championship and beyond. This competition may symbolise a direction of travel in English football which stifles the legitimate ambition of clubs like ours to reach the higher levels of the game. The end of the road could include Premiership B sides in the lower leagues, or the formal establishment of feeder clubs. Developments which could pose a major threat to clubs like Oxford United.
Over the weekend OxVox has had extensive dialogue with United Chairman Darryl Eales and Managing Director Greig Box Turnbull on this topic.
United cast its vote in favour of the Trophy, although Darryl, who could not attend the meeting, has told OxVox that he regrets the decision and the process that led to the decision being made. He has given an undertaking to OxVox, which he is happy for us to make public, that in future the club will fully consult the Trust prior to any similar situation requiring the club to express a view. This commitment will accelerate the plans for fan representation on the Board of OUFC and ensure fans have a greater voice in the decisions our football club makes. OxVox welcomes Darryl Eales’ commitment to this initiative.
It has been made clear to OxVox that it was a Board decision and taken when it was clear that the competition itself was in jeopardy, that there was, as yet, no sponsor for the competition, it is a 1 year only trial, and also that many other league clubs would actually have preferred for the competition to be disbanded completely.
It has also been made clear that OUFC is vehemently opposed to any potential introduction of Premiership B teams to the Football League and would always vote against such a proposal if it ever were to be discussed.
Greig Box Turnbull, who attended the meeting on the club’s behalf, is a long-standing member of OxVox and, like Darryl, is implacably opposed to any changes which may adversely affect the interests of lower league clubs. We are absolutely confident that Greig has the very best interests of OUFC and its fans at heart and we will continue to support him as he establishes his role in the club.
Our view is that together we must move on from this and warmly welcome the assurances from Darryl Eales about future consultation and we anticipate better forward planning on any future issues of this nature.