The Thundercliffe Files: the carcass trophy

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

1 November 2019

40 years ago this week, Town beat a full-strength Everton. This week's Trophy game provided the starkest of contrasts.

The Thundercliffe Files

Two games, a day short of 40 years apart. Both played on a Tuesday night at Blundell Park. A team in black and white against a team famous for their blue. A one goal deficit overturned by a two goal salvo from a forward player. The magic of the cup. Two games, so similar yet absolutely light years apart.

30 October 1979. Grimsby 2 Everton 1. Attendance 22,043.

29 October 2019. Grimsby 1 Leicester-U21 2. Attendance 341.

We all know football has changed. The gap has got greater, TV dictates, Franchise FC, and so on. But nothing sums up what’s wrong with modern football better than that 40-year difference. The first game, a rip-snorting League Cup tie against a top full-strength team, a bursting Blundell Park and a famous win. The latter, a dead-rubber League Trophy match against a 'development team' from the top flight, a benign Blundell Park and another defeat.

Development squad, B-Team, Under-21, Under-23: it is all the same. There is no place and no need for it to exist at our level. The fundamentals of a Football League, born in 1888, divorced in 1992 and now riddled with rheumatism, flogged for a (small) piece of the Premier Pie.

Tuesday’s defeat was Town’s 11th (including penalty shootouts) out of 12 games played in the competition since the return to the football league. We have mostly treated it with the contempt it deserves. On the pitch with mostly reserve and younger players blooded. And it certainly has not captured the imagination of the fans. This week’s attendance of 341 told its own sorry tale.

The well heeled responses to this "experiment" are that it encourages competition for academy teams, and blah, blah, blah... But what actual impact has their inclusion had? No B-team has got to the final so far. Indeed, out of the 16 in this year’s competition, seven have already been eliminated with only the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea having advanced so far.

There was nothing wrong with the old format anyway. Straight regionalised knockout from round one meaning no meaningless games. The average attendances in the first three rounds during the two Wembley campaigns were 3,500 in 1997/98 and 2,586 10 years later. Both seasons started with crowds of just over 1000 but picked up as the games meant something.

The Football League Trophy gave me my finest day as a Town fan. Going to Wembley for the first time ever and seeing that sea of black and white will remain with me forever. The sheer explosion of unbridled joy when Burnett caressed the winner fills my dreams.

The fact that the competition is now a carcass, picked over by rich scavengers is nothing short of a tragedy. VAR, goal music, the lack of safe standing are all amongst what makes modern football soulless. But the current state of the Football League Trophy is the damning indictment that puts the final nail in football’s coffin.