Hatters voted in favour of Checkatrade Trophy reformation
After prolonged consultation with supporters, staff, coaches and the manager, the board of Luton Town voted in favour of the reformation of this season’s Checkatrade Trophy format for the following two seasons.
Earlier this season the Hatters were very critical of the EFL in the way the new format was announced, the timing of the announcement and that there was very little consultation with clubs and supporters prior to clubs deciding upon the ultimatum at the League’s AGM in Portugal last June.
CEO Gary Sweet said: “To propose a completely new format shortly after the B-Team issue was still raw with supporters and at the time the ‘Whole Game Solution’ was prematurely publicised I felt was extremely ill-advised, especially as neither clubs or fans were appropriately consulted.”
Sweet continued: “Supporters – and many clubs – absolutely needed to be convinced that the introduction of Category One Academy U21 teams was, in no way, related to or a prelude to the introduction of B-Teams into a reformatted league structure.
“We now know it isn’t, and we have now been consulted and have been able to consult on revisions to the existing format in order to save the Trophy competition – a trophy we proudly won in 2009 in front of 42,000 of our own supporters – from being erased altogether.”
(PICTURE: The Hatters' 18-man squad that won at Gillingham last August included 14 Academy products)
Luton Town made its feelings known over the last season when the club was fined the maximum £15,000 for fielding under-strength teams in qualifying from a group containing two League One clubs and a Premier League’s Academy side.
In a review of the competition going forward the Club has been consulted all the way through the process by the EFL and, in turn, have held meetings with a focus group of supporters groups – represented by SoLYD (Supporters of Luton Youth Development), LTST (Luton Town Supporters’ Trust), LLSC (Loyal Luton Supporters’ Club) and LTDSA (Luton Town Disabled Supporters’ Club) – which were then shared with staff, coaches and Nathan Jones, resulting in the Club feeding back its findings to the League.
Other than the Club’s vociferous stance on protecting the English football pyramid, our key concerns were to; correct the limitations of team selection for EFL clubs (to allow academy players to be selected); to clarify team selections for EPPP1 invited clubs; to further protect the competition’s regionalised format through to the final and for appropriate compensations to be awarded by the invited teams.
We are pleased that the feedback we have given has been heard, considered and broadly applied to the alterations we, along with other member clubs, were asked to vote on.
We enjoyed our run to the last four of the new-look competition, and the fact that just under 7,000 fans turned out to watch a thrilling game with Oxford United under the Kenilworth Road lights shows that our supporters embraced it too.
The relaxation of the team selection rules would have meant that only two of the total fines handed out to 12 clubs during 2016-17 would stand, had they been applied, and that is something we support as our young players have proved they are good enough to compete against Category One counterparts without fear of sanction.
We also believe the increase in funding from the 16 invited clubs to £3m is a valuable source of income to clubs, and an innovative way of filtering Premier League money down while giving young players from all levels the opportunity to develop in competitive senior football.
(PICTURE: Town boss Nathan Jones congratulates Jack Senior on his senior debut against West Brom's Academy)
From a footballing perspective, Nathan Jones and his coaches firmly believe that for more senior players from EFL teams competing against younger players from Premier League development squads is immensely valuable and mutually beneficial.
The Town boss said: “From a footballing perspective, the Checkatrade Trophy was a huge benefit to us as it gave senior players from the lower divisions the chance to play against a younger group from higher levels of the English game, but it also allowed us to pit our talented youngsters against Category One academies.
“We are pleased that our feedback has been taken on board, with the relaxation of the selection rules allowing us to play the players we choose to. We strongly feel our young players deserve the same opportunity as those from Category One academies.
“Just as importantly though, the EFL have assured clubs that it isn’t the thin end of the wedge in terms of Premier League clubs being able to enter B teams into the league. I know our supporter groups have been consulted all the way through by the club’s board when giving our views, and hopefully any fears they had on that front have been allayed.
“These are some of the best young players in the country from the top academies we are coming up against, and with the prize money increase, it’s an excellent way of filtering some of the Premier League cash through to the lower divisions while benefitting our own players on the pitch.”
Tony Murray, chairman of LTSC, added: “Not only are we satisfied that this isn’t the thin end of any wedge, but the revised format presents a genuine opportunity for a much-needed redistribution of wealth from competing Premier League club to the lower leagues, a notion which every supporter and supporters’ trust would agree with.
“We are grateful that supporters were able to be consulted during the process and are happy with the outcome. Let’s hope we can progress next season as far as we did this, without the fines!”