Luton Town have confirmed they have voted in favour of plans to reform the Checkatrade Trophy next season.
After prolonged consultation with supporters, staff, coaches and manager Nathan Jones, the Hatters have followed the majority of League One and League Two clubs in supporting the proposals made by the competition organisers.
We have now been consulted and have been able to consult on revisions to the existing format in order to save the Trophy competition.Gary Sweet
Last month, Luton were given three options in which to select, which were retaining the current format with amendments, reverting to a 48-team knock-out competition or abandoning the tournament altogether.
Hatters made up 66.6 per cent of clubs who voted to retain the current format with amendments, which means the competition, which will once again include U21 sides, is to continue for the next two seasons at least.
Key changes will include, all teams receiving a £20,000 participation fee this season, while team selection criteria has been relaxed to allow increased flexibility for League One and League Two Clubs, with only four outfield players, not goalkeepers, having to meet the qualifying criteria this time, plus an increase in the total competition fund to £3 million.
On why Town, who reached the semi-final last term, agreed to vote in favour of the changes, despite being highly vocal in their criticism of the EFL last season, for fining the club £15k when they broke selection rules during the group stages, chief executive Gary Sweet told the club’s official website: “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.
“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.”
Other alterations for the next two seasons include, invited U21 teams playing their group games away from home, regionalisation until the quarter-final stage, to minimise overall travel time for clubs and fans, plus flexibility of fixture dates to allow teams to schedule games outside of international weeks.
Town boss Nathan Jones 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.”
Meanwhile, 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!”
The new selection criteria means sides must pick four outfield players who have started the previous or following first team fixture, are in the top 10 players at the club for starting appearances in league and domestic cup competitions for the season, have made 40 or more first team appearances in their career, are on loan from either a Premier League or Category 1 Academy Club.
Meanwhile, the new prize fund has been confirmed as £10k for a group stage win, £5k for a draw, £20k for progressing past round two, £40k for round three, £50k for the quarter-final, with the winners receiving £100k and the runners-up £50k too.
The invited clubs will be announced in June, with the group stage fixtures drawn in July as the competition kicks off the week commencing August 28.