Hypocrisy. This is the word that best describes the opinion of most fans, and management when talking of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. When you win “It’s a legitimate piece of silverware”, but when you lose it is suddenly “A Mickey-Mouse cup” and you’re “focusing on the league”. But, categorically, once and for all, should we care about this lower league tournament?
Of course we should! It is a chance for teams of the lower leagues to experience the glory that is often reserved for the Premier League. The FA Cup has become a tournament that is, after rounds four or five, near enough a knock-out version of the Premier League – why shouldn’t the clubs of Leagues One and Two have their tournament? It therefore astounds me when managers take a snobby, hypocritical view on the tournament, and field weaker elevens to save their first team for the ‘important’games, when other clubs playing in the tournament, who are often higher in the league, play their full strength squads. They will no doubt then spout nonesense in their post match interviews about how devastated they are to be out. Why not field your strongest eleven then? Hypocrites.
I firmly believe that the respect given to the tournament begins with those higher up in the club. The Chairman, the managers and the players, will nearly always be listened to by fans. As a Peterborough United supporter, I experienced this last season. Our Chairman, Darragh MacAnthony, set out our objectives for the season in July: to win the league, and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Now, admittedly the former did not go to plan. But the announcement of the latter made those fans who had taken that snobby view of the tournament, think: wow, we’re really taking this seriously, maybe it does mean something after all.
We of course went on to lift the trophy at Wembley Stadium after beating Chesterfield 3-1, and I can honestly say it was one of the best days of my Peterborough United supporting life. To see your team win at Wembley, and to see your club captain climb those steps and lift a trophy is an amazing feeling. No matter what trophy he may be lifting.
It was therefore extremely refreshing to hear Swindon Town manager, Mark Cooper state how it is one of the club’s primary objectives to reach the final this time around after dropping out on penalties in the Area Final last season to Peterborough United.
“This gives you a real opportunity to play at Wembley,” the Town boss, 45, told BBC Wiltshire.
“We were a penalty shoot-out away from getting there. We were so close last year so now we want to go and play at Wembley, of course we do.”
The tournament should also be championed more by the players of the clubs, because, with the greatest of respect, a lot of them will never get the chance to play for any other piece of domestic club silverware at Wembley stadium. There are also a fair share of ageing players in the bottom two Football League divisions who may have never won a trophy. These are the people that should be bigging-up the tournament.
Hypocrisy also runs deep if your reason for not caring is that “the prize money isn’t good enough”. Money, money, money. Admittedly, just over £50,000 for winning a tournament is not a lot. But I can guarantee that everybody who claims the money is not good enough to warrant trying to win it, are the same people who constantly bang on about how money is ruining football, and how it was better in their day. Hypocrites.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is also not about money. It’s about offering the clubs of lower leagues to play centre-stage at the home of English football…
It may also be that, compared to other English trophy’s the ‘JPT’ is still relatively young. Started as the Football League trophy, its debut season came in 1983. Compare that to the FA Cup, which started it’s career as a tournament in 1873. I’m not saying that the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy will ever be as big, or as sought after as the FA Cup, especially seeing as one is a competition for 736 teams, and one is for 48, but it will take time for it to become a more respected tournament.
This is exactly why teams should care about it more now, because in 20 or 30 years time, when The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, or whomever may be sponsoring it then, is a much more well respected event people will be looking at the most times a club has won it. I also firmly believe that it will become a source of, maybe not quite embarrassment, but a cause for mild shame if your club has not won it before. Over time it is also likely that the prize money available will rise as well, but that should not act as an extra incentive.
It is also a rare trophy where there are no ‘favourites’. Obviously the bookies will still put odds on games, but it really is a tournament in which anyone can beat anyone. This is perhaps because the step up from League Two to League One is the smallest in the Football League. Clubs such as Peterborough, and more recently Rotherham have been promoted straight from League One after just a solitary season in the division. This lack of gap was most recently shown when MK Dons succumbed to League Two side AFC Wimbledon. It was a match laced with history and drama which I am sure you are all sick of hearing. But it was the first time that the League Two side had beaten their bitter, and richer rivals since Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes.
So, Football League fans, let us kill the hypocrisy. We all want our clubs to win trophies so that in the future, when the inevitable question of history arises we have some ammunition. And let’s be honest, we’ve all felt a tinge of jealousy when we see another club lifting that trophy at Wembley. Some fans say it is embarrassing to be in the tournament. Yeah, what could be more embarrassing than seeing your beloved club win a trophy at Wembley stadium?