THE BLOG
26/03/2015 08:41 GMT | Updated 25/05/2015 06:59 BST

Johnstone's Paint Final - Don't Let the Premier League Big Boys Muscle in on an Unfashionable Yet Well-Loved Cup Competition

On Sunday, 72,000 football fans attended a football match at Wembley Stadium that most people were entirely unaware was happening. In future years, should the English Football Association get its way, those people might be a little more clued-up.

The match was the final of the Football League Trophy - or the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, as it's known for sponsorship purposes. It was contested between Bristol City and Walsall, and won by the former, 2-0 - for a record third time in the cup's 32-year existence.

Wembley days out are sparse for these two sides, who currently compete at opposite ends of England's third tier, though perhaps less so for the victors, City, who were there as recently as 2008 for the Championship play-offs.

As expected, the turnout was sizeable. More sizeable, in fact, than each of the division's past four play-off finals, since Millwall beat Swindon there in front of 73,000 spectators. That includes the 2012 showpiece, between the two well-supported clubs of Huddersfield and Sheffield United, which drew a crowd of 52,100. Interest in the JPT is high, clearly, even if no-one is shouting it from the rooftops.

Under new proposals brought by FA chairman Greg Dyke, Premier League clubs could enter B teams in the competition from next season, after plans to induct them into the Football League pyramid were met with widespread disdain.

A Football League statement read: "Clubs have been asked to consider the concept of permitting 16 under-21 teams from clubs with category one academies to participate in the Football League Trophy.

"The competition would feature 16 groups of four teams with one U21 team in each group, before a knockout stage leading to a final at Wembley Stadium."

The idea is part of the governing body's plans to shake-up English football, and its national team, by giving the country's under-21 players exposure to a more adult match environment. Just how they expect our national game to improve by sending teams of teenagers to get their arses walloped by 16-stone centre-halves at Morecambe, I'm not so sure. Still, only one of the 48 League One and Two clubs that compete in the competition, Wimbledon, has voted against Dyke's plans - which remain informal, for the time being.

When proposals for League Three were revealed in May 2014, Dyke said: "Our intention is not in any way to devalue the quality or attraction of football played in England.

"Nor is it applied to undermine the traditions and integrity of our football pyramid."

It's hard to see that not being the case here, regarding the JPT - whether it helps to develop young players or not. It may spark a bit of interest from followers of the Premier League, keen to track the progress of those who would normally be scattered like grain amongst lower league clubs, on 28-day loan after 28-day loan (these will shortly be consigned to the past when the Football League's window for emergency signings is abolished next season). But can you imagine 72,000 fans flocking to Wembley to see Stoke B versus Everton B? Me neither - and that would be my main gripe.

Don't get me wrong, no team starts the season looking to win the Football League Trophy, in the same way you wouldn't choose to drink Carlsberg on a night out. But when you've caned all your taxi money on cans of Red Stripe and Stella Artois 4%, those £2 bottles become strangely appealing.

Likewise, when your club's League Cup and FA Cup ambitions are wiped out by mid-November, you begin to view the JPT in a completely different light - it suddenly becomes significant to a handful of clubs. Previous winners Swansea, Southampton and Doncaster Rovers all used the competition as a springboard for promotion, either later that season or the next, and Bristol City - 10 points clear at the top of League One - look set to follow suit this time around. Fans of all three (/four) will speak highly of its impact.

Sunday's final may have passed without notice, but those 72,000 at Wembley would prefer to keep it that way, I'm sure.

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