Last night saw the new-look Checkatrade Trophy, a dog’s dinner of a competition if ever there was one, launched to a largely uninterested public as Valley Parade hosted its smallest attendance in more than 35 years.
Stoke City – or, more pertinently, their Under-23s team plus Charlie Adam – were the visitors for the first of three games in Group C for Bradford City following a revamp that, judging by the banks of empty seats all around the country, is going to prove a hard sell.
A paltry crowd of 1,444 was present to see the Bantams triumph thanks to a first-half goal from Timothee Dieng.
With Bury beating Morecambe 4-1 in the group’s other fixture, Stuart McCall’s side are in pole position to qualify for the knockout stage by claiming a place in the top two.
Whether that is a blessing or curse is open to debate, as a competition that began life 34 years ago as the Associate Members’ Cup suddenly looks an almighty mess.
Okay, the early rounds in past seasons might have been watched by small crowds. But, come the Northern Area semi-final and with the whiff of Wembley in the nostrils, the competition came alive – as the 60,000 Barnsley and Oxford United fans who watched an engrossing final last April will surely attest.
The presence of what are effectively Academy teams means it is difficult to envisage the Checkatrade Trophy coming alive at all – and especially if one, or even two, of the 16 invitees make it all the way to the final.
Cash, as ever, is behind the changes that also include all drawn games in the group stages being decided on a penalty shoot-out.
A prize fund that has been increased by 300 per cent to £1.95m persuaded the clubs to vote through the revamp, but supporters are nowhere near as happy as the accountants.
Football League bosses deny this is a precursor to top- flight B-teams being welcomed into the fold in future years, but the suspicion remains, which is why the build-up to last night’s first round of games was dominated by talk of boycotts and protests.
Ninety nine Stoke fans – part of Bradford’s lowest crowd since 1,249 watched Hereford’s visit in 1981 – made the trip to support a side featuring nine teenagers, plus Adam and 24-year-old defender Marc Muniesa.
A handful attempted a rendition of Delilah, the club’s anthem, during the first half but, by full-time, the travellers must have been wondering why, why, why had they made the long trip.
The reason was Dieng glancing in a well-struck free-kick by Reece Webb-Foster seven minutes before half-time that settled a low-key encounter.
Adding to the frustration of the hardy band of Potters was the winner having come towards the end of a first half in which Rouven Sattelmaier, a contemporary of Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich earlier in his career, had denied Thibaud Verlinden, Charlie Adam and two efforts from Oliver Shenton.
After the break, the pace dropped and Stoke were reduced to 10 men when Lewis Banks was dismissed for a second booking to ensure the Bantams started the new-look Trophy with a win.
Let’s hope, however, that this is the first and final year of this barmy experiment.