Wigan Athletic chief executive Jonathan Jackson has launched a robust defence of the Checkatrade Trophy ahead of tonight’s final group game against Accrington Stanley at the DW Stadium.
The competition has come in for a great deal of criticism following the decision to allow Premier League teams to field Under-21 sides against League One and League Two clubs.
And despite last month’s clash against Middlesbrough Under-21 drawing just 876 fans – the lowest home crowd since Latics joined the Football League in 1978 – Jackson says the competition does have its huge benefits.
“The Checkatrade Trophy – and before that the Auto Windscreens Shield, and Freight Rover Trophy, which this club won – is a much-maligned competition,” he acknowledged.
“But within football, it’s seen as a great way of getting young players out there on to the pitch.
“Other than this competition, it’s very difficult to get young players into a competitive environment.
“I know there’s been a lot of negative press about the academy teams coming in, and that was something that was proposed by the EFL, to make a change, to try something different.
“It was something the Premier League approached the EFL about, because of the huge problems in getting academy players the necessary experience so managers could get them into the first team.
“That’s a real problem that the governing bodies are trying to help to solve.
“This is obviously one of the ways they are trying to do that.
“After it was proposed to the EFL, the clubs in League One and League Two voted for the competition to be changed.”
Jackson points to the opening group game against Blackpool back in September as proof of the competition’s use.
“There were over 1,500 people in attendance, including over 600 Wiganers, and I thought it was a thoroughly entertaining evening,” he said.
“Some obviously disagreed, but it was great to see so many youngsters out there and the benefit of them getting out there in a competitive environment – in front of a crowd – is massive. It might not be the most important game ever played, but for the young lads who took part, it was a huge step in their development.”
Jackson also revealed the changes to the competition, and allowing in Premier League academy sides, has been hugely beneficial from a financial point of view to lower-league clubs.
“I know the prospect of playing against Middlesbrough’s Under-21 side wasn’t the most eagerly anticipated on the fixture list,” he added.
“But at the same time there is a financial reward to EFL clubs for allowing the academy teams in, which makes the prize money up for grans for every match very attractive.
“For the young lads who are playing for the academy sides, it’s a great experience for them to play against senior players.
“It depends which way you look at it, and certainly within football there have been mixed feelings.
“Certainly I can see the benefits, and it is a change from what’s gone on before it.
“It does change the competition, but I don’t think it devalues it at all.
“Change is always difficult for some people to accept, and it might not even be permanent.
“It’s being reviewed on a season-by-season basis, and we’ll see how that goes.”