Competition to continue for next two seasonsClubs in Sky Bet League 1 and League 2 have voted in favour of continuing the Checkatrade Trophy in its current format with a handful of amendments for the next two seasons.
Two-thirds of those that voted opted in favour of this option; the other two alternative proposals were to revert to the previous format of a 48-club competition from English football’s third and fourth tiers, or to abandon the competition completely.
This 2016/17 season’s format, which will continue with amendments for the next two campaigns, saw the clubs from those two divisions joined by 16 invited representative sides from clubs with Category 1 Academies – including Reading FC. First refusal was given to Cat 1 clubs whose senior teams play in the Premier League, and this will be the case again for the next two seasons.
The headline alterations to the competition format for the coming seasons are as follows:
• Age criteria for Category 1 Academies remains as per the pilot season 2016/17 (6 players within the squad must be U21)
• Age criteria for League 1 & 2 Clubs has been amended slightly (four of the teams outfield players are subject to EFL ‘Full Strength’ criteria)
• Category 1 Academies will play all group stage fixtures away from home
• Alternative round dates outside of the international window will be offered to clubs
• Competition regionalised until quarter-final stage in order to minimise overall travel time for clubs and supporters
• An increase in the total competition fund to £3 million
Our involvement in the competition in 2016/17 was of great benefit to Reading Football Club.
While this is not an Under-23 competition in the same way that the Premier League 2 and affiliated competitions are, that pool of players were largely the same as those used in the Checkatrade Trophy. Across the Premier League 2, Premier League Cup, Premier League International Cup and Checkatrade Trophy, that group of young Reading players have had 40 competitive fixtures this season – almost twice as many as the previous year.
And some of our most intriguing and eventful games came in the Checkatrade Trophy. Our group games saw us win away at Bristol Rovers and Portsmouth in front of partisan home crowds – the latter with the drama of penalties. And we needed spot-kicks again in the knock-outs to see off Southampton in another nervy, well-contested fixture, before the campaign was finally ended at the hands of Yeovil as we played with 10 men for over an hour.
Midfield maestro Liam Kelly has been one of the biggest beneficiaries. He was involved in the group stages of the competition, and his performances in the centre of the park in those outings eventually saw him introduced into first-team affairs – where he has nailed down a regular place.
And we’ve been able to expose players as young as 16 like Danny Loader – who is currently representing England’s Under-17s in the European Championships in Croatia – to the hurly-burly of competitive football against open-age opposition.
Reading’s Academy Manager Lee Herron said: “The Checkatrade Trophy offered some great experience for our young players this season and it gave them exposure to different situations and environments than the ones they are used to.
“Our goal is to keep preparing these young men for a career in professional football and it can only be a good thing for their development and our club if they get to play in these kinds of games where there’s a lot at stake and a different kind of pressure than the usual youth football which they play.
“We have certainly felt the benefits of being involved in the competition and hopefully we will have the opportunity again in the next two seasons.”