The Football League Trophy, or “Checkatrade” for sponsorship purposes, returns this week with little anticipation for Carlisle supporters.
Over recent years ideas on the competition have fluctuated, with regular changes to the format and representative teams making the tournament a bit of a sham in the eyes of many!
A competition in running for 35 years, which was initially designed for the promise and success of third and fourth division teams, has now become a farcical attempt at aiding those at the higher reaches of the English footballing pyramid.
Shaun Harvey, the Chief Executive of the English Football League, has certainly had a long-standing effect on lower league clubs and have proved unpopular with many traditional football fans.
The first came in the summer of 2016 where the “Football League” was re-branded as “The English Football League”, alongside a new fancy identity and branding which looks more like that of an energy company!
It is, however, the restructuring of the Football League Trophy which received the most uproar and scrutiny from fans and managers alike.
This restructure has seen many changes implemented and experimented with, none more so than the introduction of Premier League “under 21” teams to the competition. The ideology and reasoning behind this is questionable, with board members believing it will “give young players a chance in a competitive professional environment”.
All of this seems to have had little effect at all.
Adversely, with record low attendances and very little interest in the competition, the changes are far from thriving.
From Carlisle’s point of view, a trophy which was once heralded by supporters is now ridiculed and interest in a cup run is non-existent with most – let’s be honest who would be interested by playing Stoke Under 21’s on a cold Tuesday night in November!
In a regional based group stage of the competition ,Carlisle’s draw usually would whet the appetite any fan.
Nevertheless, the wounded Football League Trophy gains little interest from the Cumbrian faithful.
Last season saw a pretty meager attempt at success in the tournament, getting knocked out at the group stage. Along the way came a home defeat to Leicester’s Under 21’s and with this a lowest Brunton Park crowd for 25 years, barely over 1,000.
As the Blues get under way this Tuesday against Morecambe numbers can be expected to be higher than that, though not substantial enough for more than one side of the ground likely to be opened up to the home faithful!
The sole away tie in the group is a trip to Sunderland, a game in recent years which would have been a tasty fixture for any fan.
Back-to-back relegations though have left Sunderland competing in the competition for the first time, and a 52,000 seater Stadium of Light may prove to be a bit quiet with so many empty seats likely.
All in all, Carlisle will look to do well in a competition which has proved successful for them in the past. Contrarily, the two-time winners may not fixate fans like previous campaigns of the past.
Picture Credit: Carlisle United