Peterborough United for the controversial changes to the Football League Trophy, the Peterborough Telegraph can reveal.
Chief executive officer Bob Symns and director of football Barry Fry attended the Football League annual general meeting in Portugal last week when the competition re-vamp was confirmed.
Premier League academy teams will be allowed to play in the EFL Trophy - previously known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy - in a one-season trial in 2016-17.
The competition will be extended to 64 teams, with sides from 16 of the 21 category one academies invited to join League One and League Two clubs.
In a change from the current knock-out format, there will be 16 regional groups of four for the opening round, thus committing Posh to three matches in a competition that attracts pitiful crowds in the opening stages.
Symns defended the changes on the grounds of creating ‘fresh interest in a competition everyone has been moaning about’ and because the Premier League have added £1 million to the prize pot. The total prize money for next season will be £1.95million with cash prizes awarded for each win in the competition.
But Aidan Mowles, the chairman of the largest Posh fans’ group, PISA (Peterborough Independent Supporters Association), said he was ‘disgusted’ by his club’s decision to support the changes.
Symns said: “Everyone has been moaning about this competition for years, including the clubs. This is an opportunity to freshen it up and create extra interest. We are lucky enough to have won the competition, but some clubs have never got near to winning it.
“I will stress, and it was stressed repeatedly at the meeting, that it’s a one-year trial. If it doesn’t work and the clubs and their supporters are unhappy with how it works, it will be thrown out the following season.
“The Premier League have put £1 million of prize money into the pot which will filter down through the rounds. There will be more prize money for the further you get obviously and that is an obvious attraction for clubs in the bottom two divisions.
“There are concerns and my biggest is the danger of two Premier League Under 21 sides reaching the final. It would be wrong if a Football League club cannot win its own trophy. There are more details to emerge, but I understand the games the Academy sides play at home will be at the first team stadia.
“It was a difficult decision for us all because are obviously well aware of the poor gates the competition attracts, right up until the area final stage, but it’s a competition that everyone moans about and we are trying to do something to make it more interesting.
“The vote for change was won comfortably. The League One and Two clubs voted with the Championship clubs agreeing to back the decision of the clubs in the bottom two divisions.”
The English Football League issued a statement to explain their desire for change, claiming it was part of their commitment to ‘create more and better home grown players.’
The 16 groups will be split into north and south divisions with one Under 21 side in each group. The Academy sides will play one game at home and two away.
Public reaction by fans and media directly involved in the competition has been overwhelmingly negative.
Mowles, speaking personally and not on behalf of PISA, backed that point of view. He said: “It’s further proof that the Premier League feel they can do what they want to who they went, when they want.
“The Football League clubs are clearly too frightened to stand up them.
“Money was dangled and they bit, However, many fans will now refuse to go to a match involving the ‘Premier’ sides so a barely popular competition has now become one that is even less well thought of.
“I am frankly disgusted we were in favour. Clubs shouldn’t consult fans on every decision, but in an instance like this maybe they should have.”
Since the decision was announced Portsmouth, Accrington Stanley, AFC Wimbledon, Hartlepool United and Luton Town have released statements to confirm they voted against the trial.
Posh won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in March 2014, beating Chesterfield 3-1 in the final at Wembley in front of over 35,000 fans.
Proposals to increase the number of teams competing at Premier League and Football League level from 92 to 100 in time for the 2019-20 season were discussed in Portugal last week. A vote on that matter is scheduled for next year.
The Football League clubs approved plans to proceed with an initiative to boost the number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) coaches and managers in the game.
Clubs will now have to interview at least one qualified BAME candidate for any coaching position within their academies and provide details of the recruitment process to the league.
The above will also apply for first-team appointments, but on a voluntary basis at first, with 10 clubs agreeing to sign a voluntary code.