I’m going to dive straight into this topic, as I can’t think up a snappy introduction to this morning’s article, which is a massive shame. Normally I like to write something pretty irrelevant to the main body of the article… Oh look, I’m being irrelevant as we speak!
I’ll leave the comedic writing to Rob in future, that was awful…
Anyway, recently, Chesterfield Town and Swindon Town made it to the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, setting up a Wembley date which on Sunday, Chesterfield won 2-0 on the day, thanks to an owl goal and a late Craig Westcarr strike.
Personally, I think the initial idea of having such a tournament as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is fantastic. Open to the forty-eight clubs emanating from League One and League Two, the tournament is divided into a Northen and Southern category, before the two regions come together in the later rounds. The JPT offers fans of teams from League One and Two the opportunity to enjoy a cup run and with lowly teams being knocked out of the big domestic tournaments early on, it does offer a little more excitement.
Whilst I think the staging of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a wonderful idea, the stadium used for the final itself, Wembley, is a poor choice.
On Sunday, 49,000 fans of both Chesterfield and Swindon Town descended on Wembley, with a fair amount of fans from both sets of support not even Town fans. This isn’t a stab in the dark, as I actually live in the Chesterfield area and I know countless people who went down to Wembley as falsetto Chesterfield fans.
With Wembley far away from being sold out and numbers distorted by a following of plastic fans, it has to be asked whether a smaller stadium should be used for such a trophy? Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, would geographically offer more of a focal point as a ‘half-way’ house for Northern and Southern clubs and would have created more of a fight for tickets, rewarding those who regularly go to Chesterfield and Swindon matches first and if that didn’t sell out, then by all means, let it go to general sale. As it was, tickets for Sunday’s final were as common as pig manure. They were so common, that I know of a twenty-year old lad who has donned a Mansfield Town shirt all his life, only to turn up at Sunday’s match in the guise of a Chesterfield Town fan. Both clubs are fierce rivals to each other and it’s gross to think that a season ticket holder at Chesterfield’s B2Net Stadium would have been sat next to a Mansfield Town fan on a day out on Sunday.
Manchester City’s 47,805 capacity stadium would have the greater potential to have sold out and would reward the true fans of both clubs. Would a fake Chesterfield fan really want a day out at the Etihad Stadium? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice stadium, I’ve always enjoyed my visits there on an away day, but it wouldn’t mean the same to a fake fan as it would to a Chesterfield fan. A fake fan just wants to experience Wembley, whereas a Chesterfield fan genuinely wants to see their team lift a trophy.
With the use of Wembley for this tournament, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final risks becoming an exhibition match for opportunists, and our national stadium is at risk of becoming a show-pony. When people say ‘Wembley’, I think of the FA Cup Final, last season’s Champions League Final between Manchester United and Barcelona and the Carling Cup Final. Those matches sell out and millions around the world tune in to view such events.
To reiterate, I really believe that the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a fantastic tournament, I’m a big fan of allowing clubs from the lower two leagues their own tournament. However I do not think Wembley is an appropriate stadium, it’s too big a venue for what is an incredibly small tournament.
Now for the revelation: I have been to a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final, played between Scunthorpe United and Luton Town, where Luton emerged victorious, 3-2 in extra time through Claude Gnakpa’s last-gasp lob over Joe Murphy.
Now, I didn’t have the same level of morality now as I did back when I was seventeen, otherwise I’d have refused the trip to Wembley. In the days building up to the match however, it seemed apparent that Grimsby Town fans couldn’t stop laughing at bragging Scunthorpe United fans who just a few years previous had mocked Grimsby for reaching a ‘nothing’ final. You see, it’s not even held in great prestigue by those competing for it, so why does it suddenly become so ‘big’ towards the end. Every club wants to stay in the FA Cup, yet the JPT has rules where a club has to field a select amount of first-team players.
My Dad, being a Scunthorpe United fan had asked me if I wanted to go and I said ‘yes’. I was seventeen, why wouldn’t I? As an Arsenal fan, it gave me an excuse to watch Henri Lansbury for the afternoon, who was on loan to Scunthorpe from Arsenal at the time. I wasn’t particularly excited to be there, and Scunthorpe didn’t sell out their allocation.
There was an instance earlier in the season where Sheffield Wednesday didn’t want to play a full-strength team for the JPT, but had to field key first-team players as part of the rules. Gary Megson, the then-Sheffield Wednesday manage, found a way round this by substituting his big players within a few minutes of the match starting. If teams respect this tournament in such a manner, is it really such a prestigious tournament to be in, do clubs really want it?
Low TV audiences, a half-empty national stadium and falsetto fans of the competing teams make for a sham of a final, a disrespect to a 90,000-seater stadium.
The final crippling blow on this subject is that whilst Scunthorpe didn’t sell out their allocation, I believe Chesterfield didn’t either? It really is pathetic we hold this tournament’s final within Wembley. If this continues, Wembley loses it’s identity. Peterborough United won promotion to the Championship at Old Trafford after it had been moved from Wembley to Manchester United’s stadium. That day would have been just as special for Peterborough had it been at Wembley.
That’s your lot from me today, see you in the comments…