I remember the 2013 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy well. The sun-soaked green of the Wembley turf, the clear blue skies, the buoyancy of hope in my heart and the gurgles of anxiety in my bottom. I remember the huge bank of Southend supporters, and the smaller, but noisy, enthusiastic and ultimately jubilant section of Crewe fans. But I guess I remember most of all thinking that it would all be so much better if we weren’t playing Crewe, with their pride and their history and their passion. I remember thinking that I’d much rather be playing the Chelsea development squad.
Now it seems that those childhood dreams of watching my team go into battle against eleven teenage reserve players could finally be realised. The Premier League is reported to be in negotiations with the Football League as they seek to drop up to 16 U21 teams into the competition next season. And why not? We’ve been too slow to tackle the menace of smaller clubs enjoying an unforgettable day at Wembley.
I’ve written here before about the plight of the lower league clubs and the onslaught they’ve faced in recent years. It’s the same old charge sheet. First the big clubs came for the shared gate receipts. Then they came for the TV money. Then they came for our young players. Then they came for our league places. We thought that was it. We didn’t think we had anything else they could take. We didn’t even consider that they might want our modest little lower league cup competition too.
The counter-argument you hear when you object to these proposals is never less than amusing. “Don’t you think these Premier League youngsters would benefit from playing in a proper competition? Don’t you want them to fulfil their potential?”
This argument comes up so often that I’m starting to suspect our answer isn’t being heard. So if you wouldn’t mind just sitting down and paying attention for a moment, I’ll issue our response once again.
We do not give a fuck about your Premier League youngsters. Not a flying fuck. Not a walking fuck. Not a static fuck. We have been to the cupboard and we have no fucks. We have checked online and there are no fucks in stock. When Alexander saw the breadth of your argument, he wept. For there were no more fucks left to give.
Don’t get upset. Getting upset because we do not care about your Premier League youngsters is like Sainsburys, Tesco and Asda getting upset because the local butcher they’ve driven to the brink of bankruptcy doesn’t want to help them lobby for longer Sunday opening hours.
And do not, for shame, speak of helping the England team. You have no interest in that and you never have. You bicker with the England team over every match they play, you resent their use of your players. Do not dare tell us that you’ve suddenly come over all patriotic.
The motivation for this is simple. It is greed. You have proved too feckless and incompetent to manage your resources. You have scooped up so many youngsters that you don’t know what to do with them. You stockpile them and they stagnate and you don’t know what to do. And so once again you seek to squeeze the life out of us for a marginal gain on your balance sheet.
You ignore the fact that the answer to your problem is staring you in the face. If you want your players to develop as footballers, play them in football matches or don’t buy them until they have done so. The brightest talents in the England squad played first team football either at a lower level, like Dele Alli and John Stones, or at teams where youth development was taken seriously, like Harry Kane and Ross Barkley. This isn’t difficult. You’ve only got two feet. Stop buying so many shoes.
You also have your own development league and if that isn’t fit for purpose, change it. The old reserve leagues were a mix of grizzled veterans and young starlets, and they seemed to work just fine. Why not return to that? Why not insist that all reserve teams must contain four or five players over the age of the 28? Why not specifically hire players for the purpose of playing reserve team football? If you all do it, you’ll have the senior opposition you desire. Hell, you’ve got enough money to group-fund a dozen sparring squads of veterans if you wanted.
Ultimately, there’s nothing we can do. History has proved that if you want something badly enough, you’ll eventually take it. But think about this; most of your teams will only be involved for a game or two, maybe three. You’re getting very little out of this. And yet you’re taking away so much.
On that day in 2013, two teams that had been relentlessly crapped upon by modern football were granted a chance to see how the other half live. That’s the sole purpose of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. It gives us just a little bit of hope. Do you really want to snuff that out?
Is this a fair response to a polite proposal for some game time? Are the minnows standing in the path of progress? What do you think? Let us know by emailing [email protected]