If you’ve ever dragged a club up from the lower reaches of League Two on FIFA or Football Manager, you know about the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. The rest of the world, though, lives their lives largely unaware that England have a third domestic cup competition, one dedicated to lower league clubs.
This year that’s about to change, as 16 Premier League clubs—plus Newcastle—with Category 1 academies have been invited to join. It’s a move that has some traditionalist fans of lower league sides up in arms, but it’s one meant to go some way towards giving English clubs the same developmental opportunities as continental sides.
In major federations like Spain and Germany, clubs with Category 1 academies are allowed to have their youth sides involved in the lower leagues. There’s an FC Bayern Munich II competing in the Regionalliga after being demoted from 3.Bundesliga last season. FC Barcelona B play in the Segunda Division B in Spain.
In England, of course, this isn’t the case, and any move towards allowing youth and reserve teams to compete in the lower leagues has been met with heavy resistance from those who fear it will further lower interest in small local clubs. Inviting these academy sides to play in England’s third cup competition, then, is a compromise.
This season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trohpy—or the English Football League Trophy without the sponsorship—will kick off with a group stage of 16 groups with four teams each. One of the 16 Category 1 youth and reserve sides will be included in each group. The top two sides from each group then advance to a knockout round.
However, there remains a sticking point that has so far prevented Liverpool accepting the invitation: one game is meant to be played at the first team stadium for each of the invited sides, with a larger portion of gate revenue than usual from these matches will be withheld and divided amongst lower league participants.
Despite the FA announcing the revamped tournament and invited sides, Liverpool are reportedly waiting on several points of clarification concerning the game at Anfield, and until they receive such clarification, they do not plan on accepting the invitation. All of which means there's a non-zero chance this all falls through.
In full, the 16 Category 1 academies invited are:
- Leicester City
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- Newcastle United
- Stoke City
- Swansea City
- Tottenham Hotspur
- West Bromwich Albion
- West Ham United