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Does the FA Trophy suffer the same problems as the EFL Cup?

Wednesday 29th November 2017

At the weekend Non-League sides across the country took to the field in the final qualifying round of the FA Trophy, but is the competition suffering the same problems as other cup competitions?

The tournament is only open to sides in the four tiers of Non-League football from the National Premier down. For most teams it will be seen as the third most important competition of the season, the league is the bread and butter, while the FA Cup offers riches and great rewards if you can make a run to the first round.

The FA Trophy does offer financial rewards, but not huge, unless you reach the final rounds. While some of the smaller sides will relish the chance to play one of the bigger National Premier sides, it does not have the opportunities the FA Cup does. Prize money starts at £3000 for winning the Preliminary Round and it then rises by £1000 at each stage up to the Fourth Round Proper when it reaches £10,000 then it's £20,000 for the semi-finals and then £60,000 for the winners, with £30,000 going to the runners-up.

Like the FA Vase, for sides from the fifth tier down, it does offer the finalists a trip to Wembley. From personal experience, a trip in the final to the home of football is a fantastic day, but more often than not the competition gets in the way.

Second tier cups

For Premiership and Football League sides it is the equivalent of the EFL Cup and for those lower down the pyramid the EFL Trophy.

For the top teams in the country, the FA Cup has become an opportunity to rest players and give those on the fringes a chance. However, this has had a knock-on effect on other competitions with virtually all Premier League sides now playing weakened teams in the EFL Cup even in the later rounds.

Many Championship sides are now doing the same, even if they are drawn away to a Manchester United or an Arsenal. In recent years we have seen great EFL Cup runs by teams lower down the pyramid, would these have happened if the top sides didn't make team fulls of changes? As for the EFL Trophy or the Checkatrade Trophy or whatever it is called this season the less said about the better.

The FA Trophy itself

This weekend the National North and South sides entered the FA Trophy with some sides fielding stronger teams than others. National North leaders Salford City made a host of changes and paid for it with a 4-0 defeat at fellow league side Brackley. Will they be bothered, yes, but it does mean the competition won't get in the way of their main goal this season, promotion.

The low attendances also mirrored the other cup competitions. Between Friday and Saturday’s games, only three matches witnessed four figured attendances in the competition, with the highest being 1215 at Stockport v Southport. This coming weekend is the FA Cup second round and for those Non-League sides still in the competition, it will possibly be the biggest day of the season.

The Future

While the competition may continue to lose its importance, it won't be changing, it has been a staple in the Non-League calender now since 1969. The draw was made on Monday for the First Round Proper with the National Premier sides entering. While for most it won't be the most exciting draw of the season one club got pretty much their dream draw as Haringey Borough were drawn at home to fellow London side Leyton Orient.

Again, from experience, my team was in the National Premier division when we won the FA Trophy and it was only after getting through the quarter-finals did people really get behind the side.

If the last two seasons are anything to go by it may be an unwanted distraction. The last two winners of the FA Trophy Halifax Town and York City, have both been relegated from the National Premier in the same season.

Like the EFL Cup for the smaller teams, it will always mean more. However, on the whole, it seems destined to be another cup competition in the back seat of English football with a very limited future. Every season a few sides will have those magical moments in football, but for the majority of clubs who enter the competition, it will be one of the lowest priorities of the 2017/18 season.

Simon Hahn

Lifelong sufferer following Darlington FC from League Two to the Northern League. Freelance Sports and data journalist. Living for 3pm on Saturday.

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