Fans unhappy over under-23 team plans for EFL Trophy

Football fans have reacted angrily to a plan to allow Premier League clubs to field under-23 teams with up to four overage players in the EFL Trophy next season.

Radical plans to revamp the competition, previously known as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, were announced earlier this month.

But the decision to expand the now sponsor-less competition to a 64-team format comprising teams from League One, League Two and 16 "category-one" academies was far from unanimous.

Several English Football League (EFL) clubs said it was an attempt to smooth the way for top-flight B teams joining the lower leagues.

This idea was first floated by outgoing Football Association chairman Greg Dyke in 2014 but was heavily criticised by EFL clubs and fan groups.

One of those, Against League 3 (AL3), has already rejected the EFL Trophy plans.

"The EFL and its clubs are well aware football fans do not, and have never, supported these plans," campaign manager James Cave said.

"AL3 has regularly canvassed supporters and sought their opinion, as have organisations like Supporters Direct.

"Our studies show over 75 percent of lower league fans are against the implementation of B teams.

"Yet the B teams idea is a mere symptom of a far larger problem in English football: supporters are unrepresented by our FA, our leagues and often our clubs.

"Following England's defeat to Iceland, it has never been more necessary for fans to question what is really being done to our sport."

These questions are likely to spread now that EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey has revealed invites to compete in next season's EFL Trophy will be sent to the 15 Premier League clubs with category-one academy status and Newcastle United, as they finished higher in the league pyramid last season than the five clubs with category-one status in the EFL.

If any of those clubs turn down the chance to join the competition -- which will feature 16 groups of four, arranged on a north/south basis, before becoming a knockout tournament with the winners of the northern and southern halves meeting at Wembley -- Norwich City, the next-best finisher last season, will be invited.

But contrary to what was discussed at the EFL AGM in Portugal three weeks ago, the invited clubs will be able to field U23 teams, not U21s, with three outfield overage players and a goalkeeper.

The Press Association has seen a letter from Harvey to League One and Two clubs that said: "The PL development league (to be known as Premier League 2) will from next season operated as an U23 league rather than U21s.

"On this basis, we will adopt this eligibility criteria for the EFL Trophy. Their criteria also includes the ability to include three overage players and a goalkeeper in their team."

Harvey also said penalties will be used to settle draws in the group games, with the successful team earning an extra point. Teams will be able to use three substitutes from 18-man squads and knockout games tied after 90 minutes will also go straight to penalties.

Harvey added that scrapping extra time will be reviewed for the semifinals and final "if there is a compelling or commercially attractive reason" to do so, and if the additional 30 minutes was called for a fourth substitute would be allowed.

League Two Portsmouth, one of the most vocal critics to the EFL Trophy plans at the League's AGM, have restated their opposition to introducing Premier League clubs into an EFL competition.

Ashley Brown, chairman of the Pompey Supporters' Trust, said: "We believe this to be a step in the wrong direction for English football and a weakening of our fantastic pyramid structure.

"Unfortunately, the power of the Premier League is driven by their huge TV monies and although Portsmouth FC is strong enough to oppose this proposal, many other clubs are not.

"I believe the problem with the national game will be solved by investment in grassroots and (EFL) academies, not handouts to allow B teams to compete in the EFL Trophy."

The vote at the AGM in favour of allowing Premier League involvement in the EFL Trophy was carried when Harvey told clubs that the Premier League would double the prize fund to nearly £2 million if the proposal was approved.