TRO­PHY NEEDS TO HAVE A REJIG

The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS - WITH EDITOR ALEX NAREY

Last May, my­self and a few col­leagues from The NLP vis­ited Wem­b­ley for the sea­son’s cur­tain­caller – Fi­nals Day where Thatcham pre­vailed against Stock­ton Town in the FA Vase, and Brack­ley pro­duced a come-from-be­hind vic­tory against Brom­ley in the FA Tro­phy. There are lit­tle things that stick in your mind when you at­tend th­ese games, and I’ll never for­got our se­nior writer, Matthew Bad­cock, turn­ing to me as the clock hit 94 min­utes in the Tro­phy clash with Brom­ley win­ning 1-0 – his 800-word match re­port just wait­ing for his in­tro­duc­tion – be­fore ask­ing: “This will be the first time they have won this, right?” It was at that mo­ment the ball hit Roger John­son’s out­stretched boot and de­flected past David Gre­gory to hand Brack­ley their lev­eller, be­fore Kevin Wilkin’s side went on to win an emo­tion­ally-drain­ing penalty shootout. Watch­ing the play­ers cel­e­brate and com­mis­er­ate, I saw first hand what this piece of sil­ver­ware re­ally meant.

Hin­drance

But for now, and for many Na­tional League sides who will line up in the com­pe­ti­tion for the first time in a cou­ple of weeks, the Tro­phy ap­pears to be noth­ing more than a hin­drance. Just as Premier League sides treat the FA Cup with noth­ing but dis­dain in the early rounds, many Na­tional League man­agers ap­pear to be do­ing the same with the Tro­phy. Ask Gary Wad­dock at Alder­shot what he wants for Christ­mas and it isn’t a place in the FA Tro­phy sec­ond round; a home tie against Bed­ford Town serv­ing as the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to rest play­ers ahead of the hec­tic fes­tive pe­riod. It will be the same for Ley­ton Ori­ent against Beaconsfield Town and Wrex­ham at home to Bos­ton. Win­ning re­mains the ob­jec­tive, but th­ese clubs have pri­or­i­ties else­where. With the Na­tional League open­ing up the play-offs to the top seven teams, clubs know the win­dow for a pro­mo­tion chase has widened sub­stan­tially. Did Mac­cles­field and Tran­mere re­ally need the ex­tra games last sea­son as they chased their dream of a place back in the Foot­ball League? Was it a sur­prise that both went out in the first round? The FA Cup brings fi­nan­cial gain and na­tional recog­ni­tion, but the Tro­phy sim­ply blocks up the fix­ture pro­gramme and stretches squads to the limit as clubs pre­pare for the home straight of the league. Then there is the is­sue of the prize money at stake. There is £6,000 on of­fer for clubs tak­ing part in the first round on De­cem­ber 15 – de­cent money for the likes of Strat­ford but a week­end’s clean­ing bill for their op­po­nents, AFC Fylde. It costs clubs to get to Wem­b­ley, so even the £60,000 pock­eted by the win­ners could get lost in the ex­penses. To be hon­est, I un­der­stand some Na­tional League clubs’ stance on the Tro­phy. There are Foot­ball League sides who ap­pear to be in de­nial about their Non-League sta­tus as it is as they at­tempt to turn their ves­sel around to head back to where they came from. So who are we to tell them where their pri­or­i­ties lie?

Ac­tion Plan

What to do? For me, the Na­tional League in­volve­ment needs to hap­pen ear­lier. Play­ing the first round ten days be­fore Christ­mas doesn’t help; so why not get the big guns in a few weeks be­fore so man­agers aren’t as tempted to rest play­ers with such a de­mand­ing sched­ule loom­ing? Christ­mas can make or break a sea­son, we all know that. If the Na­tional League sides came in a round ear­lier it also gives more Step 3 and 4 clubs the op­por­tu­nity of land­ing a big draw. Or why not keep Na­tional League (Step 1) clubs away from each other in the first round draw. This again opens up more op­por­tu­ni­ties for smaller clubs to land the dream tie. Hav­ing wit­nessed the Tro­phy at the sharpest end, I can see what it means to the play­ers and the fans. But there is too much bag­gage in the way and the FA needs to ad­dress this. It’s a com­pe­ti­tion worth fight­ing for!

PICTURE: PA Images

WHAT A DAY! Brack­ley Town’s Gareth Dean cel­e­brates his side’s 95thminute equaliser in The FA Tro­phy fi­nal last May

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