Stevenage chairman says ‘something needed to be done’ to breathe new life into Football League Trophy

Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace

Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace - Credit: Archant

Phil Wallace says Stevenage were happy to back proposed changes to the Football League Trophy that will see 16 Premier League U21 teams take part in the competition this season.

The Football League last week announced proposed changes to the competition, which was previously known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, which will see a trial for the new season of 64 teams made up of League One, League Two and 16 Premier League U21 sides.

The changes will also see a new group stage introduced with 16 regional groups of four teams, with the top two teams progressing to the knockout stages of the competition.

Speaking about the changes, Wallace told the club’s website: “Our own position was that we agreed that something absolutely needed to be done with this competition and the 16 groups of four proposal, with two clubs going through to the last 32, was an interesting development.

“In our opinion it is much better than the existing system of 48 teams, where some clubs get byes and some don’t – a system which we have always thought to be unfair and unacceptable.

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“EFL clubs are understandably wary of ‘membership by stealth’ so considerable comfort had to be given to us that this proposal was not opening the door to Premiership B teams in the EFL.

“With that comfort given, if we wanted the 16x4 mini league format to replace the existing system of ‘random byes’, then it was either invite 16 National League teams in - which had been tried years ago and dropped - or accept the request from the Premier League to trial 16 Category One U21 sides.

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“Since it appeared there had been no previous discussion with the National League on this proposal and it was a one season pilot, it wasn’t a difficult decision for those clubs wanting a fresh format to agree to the board’s request and accept 16 Category One Premier League U21 sides for a one season trial.”

Adding his thoughts to the proposed changes to divisional structure in the Football League that could see the professional game expanded to five leagues, each made up of 20 clubs, Wallace said: “For the record, our stance on the inclusion of Premier League B teams forming part of the EFL is that we are totally against it.

“The feeling we got from the AGM was that the only clubs that would be admitted to the EFL to form a new League Three, if that ever happens, would be clubs from the National League.

“We do not believe there is a fixture issue in the lower leagues and most clubs would rather play more games, not less.

“We commend any initiative that opens the door to debate about bringing our collective operating losses under control but debate, as far as we are concerned, means full consultation with the fans, not just the stakeholders.

“That will be our position going into the 12 months of discussion before the clubs vote on the wider - and permanent - potential changes to the EFL in June 2017.”

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