The re-named, re-launched Football League Trophy (for the time-being called the Checkatrade Trophy) kicked off this week with the Sky Blues entertaining West Ham's Under 23 team and emerging with a 4-2 victory. I am not in favour of the 'pilot' re-structuring which sees a number of Premiership & Championship club's Under 23 teams participating in the new group stages. Fans around the country turned their backs on the competition this week with the vast majority of attendances for the first round of matches under 1,000 and some as low as 400. There were 2,091 at the Ricoh – an attendance only topped at Bramall Lane – and the pitiful crowds may convince the Football League that they have made a mistake. Billed as ‘innovation’, a phrase that is not always a good thing, first impressions are that this is a half baked solution to a problem that never existed in the first place and one that pleases no one, especially the fans.
It's still not clear to fans why the FL made these radical changes and it does not bode well for next summer when the 72 League clubs vote on a major restructuring of the League to expand the current three divisions of 24 clubs to four divisions of 20. Coventry City have always been known as innovators, especially under Jimmy Hill and Derrick Robins, but the latest changes and the proposals on the table next summer would surely have those two giants from the club's history turning in their graves.
There are still however some benefits of the re-jigged competition, primarily a Wembley final. Try telling the 40,000 Oxford United fans who followed their team to Wembley for last year's final that the competition is a waste of time. And, if the Sky Blues happen to get a whiff of Wembley in their nostrils, the fans will turn out in hordes, as they did in 2013 when over 31,000 watched the Crewe game.
Many people have asked me this week how Tuesday night's crowd ranks in the club's all-time low crowds. Putting aside the attendances at Sixfields (there were 12 crowds below 2,000 there with the lowest 1,214 v Hartlepool in the FA Cup) the lowest in the club's time in the Football League (post-1919) for senior games are as follows:
1,086 v Millwall (Full Members Cup) 1985-86
2,059 v Crystal Palace (Division Three South) 1927-28
2,091 v West Ham Under 23s (Football League Trophy) 2016-17
3,781 v Wimbledon (Full Members Cup) 1989-90
3,974 v Newport County (Division Three South) 1954-55
4,744 v Hartlepools (Division Three North) 1925-26
4,785 v QPR (Division Three South) 1953-54
4,976 v Portsmouth (League Cup) 2016-17
I'm pretty sure the next game in the competition (at home to Northampton on 4th October) will generate a larger crowd than Tuesday's, and with one win under their belts there is a good opportunity to progress in the trophy.