New-look EFL Trophy snubbed by top clubs and criticised by fans
The revamped EFL Trophy has begun life snubbed by a host of top Premier League sides and criticised by club owners and unhappy fans.
The competition, formerly known as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, had already caused controversy when it was announced that 16 top-flight clubs would be invited to enter their academy teams.
However, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham opted against taking part, so Championship sides Norwich, Brighton, Derby, Wolves and Reading will now enter their youngsters alongside the traditional participants from League One and Two.
Clubs initially voted on the changes to the competition but Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony is now unimpressed, telling BBC Cambridgeshire: "If I'd have known such a large amount of Premier League sides (would not take part) then no chance." And Cambridge chief executive Jez George added: "I'm surprised the package wasn't secured with the bigger clubs ahead of the vote."
Fans on social media were baffled by the so-called regionalisation of the 16 groups of four teams, while others threatened to boycott the competition.
Cambridge are grouped with Middlesbrough, Scunthorpe and Shrewsbury while Cheltenham face a 340-mile round trip to Blackpool, with Everton and Bolton travelling down from the north-west to face the Robins.
The EFL Trophy Twitter feed explained that the regional split for groups was done on a divisional basis, and Cheltenham were one of the 12 most northerly clubs in League Two.
The English Football League told Press Association Sport it was aware of the criticism from some of its members but explained that the clubs who declined the invitation were concerned about fixture congestion, while many have loaned young players out and feared they would not do the competition justice.
It also responded to fan criticism by stressing that the revamp is a trial for one season only.
Leicester and Chelsea deciding to take part provided a boost to the competition, although the Stamford Bridge club will play their first two fixtures - against Swindon and Exeter - a fortnight after the rest of the round of matches.
West Ham were another top-flight club to accept the invitation and were drawn against Coventry, Wycombe and Northampton.
The EFL had initially said every invited team would play one game at home but tenancy issues meant the Hammers will play all three away, meaning disappointment for fans of their opponents hoping for a trip to the Olympic Stadium. The EFL confirmed that situation will be looked at again after the group stages should West Ham progress.
Meanwhile Newcastle, the only non-Premier League side of the original 16 clubs first approached by the Football League, claimed in a statement that they were told from the outset they would not be involved and have since made other plans.
Nevertheless, EFL chairman Shaun Harvey said: "Now that we have finalised what has turned out to be a longer than expected invitation process, we can start to work with our clubs and invited sides to ensure everyone gets the maximum benefit from being involved.
"The next stage is getting the group stage under way and the draw has thrown up some exciting prospects. I'm looking forward to seeing how the competition develops on the pitch and also the reaction it gets from the crowd.
"But as stressed previously this is a one-season trial and only at the end of the pilot will we take a step back and consider what lies in wait for future seasons.
"Whilst it's disappointing not to have some of the Premier League sides involved in this season's competition, they were all appreciative of the opportunity to participate and could see how the EFL Trophy would benefit their squads in the long term."