DEANO’S DIARY STAGS BLOG: The Football League Trophy - Beauty or the Beast?

Stags in EFL Trophy action in midweek
Stags in EFL Trophy action in midweek

Watching George Foster lift the Freight Rover Trophy in 1987 at Wembley for my beloved Mansfield Town as a 13-year-old lad remains one of, if not my happiest, childhood memory.

I recall being super desperate to listen to local radio updates of the Northern Area Final second leg at Chester and digging out the huge family ghetto blaster for the night.

Pre-internet never mind social media it was crackly radio updates or teletext if you were rich enough to have a teletext TV!

Living in Tibshelf at the time local Nottinghamshire radio signals were intermittent at best and I not so fondly remember bending the long spiky silver radio ariel every which way desperate to pick up a clue of what was happening at what was then known as Sealand Road, Chester.

Sat glued to the speaker as news of our aggregate victory and Wembley qualification filtered through I recall shaking with excitement then subsequently discovering family I didn’t even know who suddenly broke out in Amber fever and began sourcing minibus availability for May.

The day of the final itself was purely magical as I proudly wore a rosette for the first time in my life and every car we passed on the way down to London seemed to have a Stags scarf hanging out the window.

I’d never been to London before, I think the furthest I had been to a Stags away game was stood in what appeared to be a ditch at the time at Saltergate.

No doubt you remember what side used to play there as I’m not allowed to use the C word online or in print!

If I had arguably behaved really well I was allowed a trip out to Doncaster with a friends father and my early memories of Belle Vue were being effectively caged as an away fan stood in lashing rain behind a goal.

I felt penned in and remember joking to my school mate and asking whether it was half-time when they threw us the raw meat?

However May 1987 was Wembley, this was different and this was special. Wembley Way was awash with yellow and I was stunned by the sheer size never mind the quality of the match programme as I’d never seen one in A4 size before.

Watching my team win on penalties at a stadium with a booming loud announcer and a real life working electronic scoreboard was as good as it got.

My side were playing under the twin towers that you only ever saw on TV, the national anthem had been proudly belted out and the fact you were sat in a whopping £10 seat at a football match all added up to a totally surreal experience.

I remember my second visit to Wembley and being ridiculously underwhelmed - an England game v Yugoslavia that was incomparable to that Stags win in 1987 and meant next to nothing to me on the night as an event, played on a freezing Wednesday night within an atmosphere as flat as a pancake.

Fast forward almost 30 years to today’s equivalent Football League Trophy competition and although much appears to have changed this season especially maybe fundamentally much has stayed the same? Understandable apathy in the early rounds but if your club gets just one round from Wembley would that float your boat?

Would you be happy to see your side win at Wembley regardless of whatever rules are thrown in place?

At face value is it a bad idea to have a separate disciplinary system for this cup potentially giving banned players valuable game time in between their league suspensions?

Flip the coin and does anyone really want two extra first round games and the admission prices and player injury risks that go with that?

Is there really any point with an extra point for winning a penalty shoot-out?

The gaffer himself said they hadn’t practised penalties and discouraged tackling towards the end after suffering the two injuries.

As a Stags fan who maybe loves travelling away will you be happy to tick off another away ground to see the Stags play live at Derby County later this season regardless of the fact there may just be a sprinkling of fans inside?

Will you fancy a local Championship ground visit more than Accrington Stanley away yet again on a Tuesday night? Incidentally that treat is coming soon!

Would there be a better atmosphere at Wembley and a bigger crowd for the Chubby Checker Trophy Final if the likes of Stags played a Derby County U23 side under the arch or would you prefer taking on the Hartlepool first team?

Back in the day realistically the Freight Rover Trophy competition was your only real chance of Wembley as a League Two or Fourth Division side.

Now the play-off final is the potential total party package of Wembley and promotion all wrapped up in the ultimate day out if you win.

Following the freshened-up side that lost to Doncaster last week and add the injuries to boot the question has to be does anybody need the competition anymore?

Even if you change the cup teams around to keep players fresh for League Two battle the following Saturday, does that even work?

We have remixed the side for both home midweek Cup games this season and yet not managed to win the following two home League Two games a few days later with some fresher players on paper.

Is the Football League Trophy now a headache nobody needs?

You used to have to dream of seeing your club at Wembley.

In 2016 with ultra-realistic photo graphics you can play stunning cutting edge video games with your own clubs real players and likenesses, playing in your clubs current home or away sponsored shirt in a perfectly created virtual world in the comfort of your own home!

It is a dream practically delivered, signed and sealed in a video game console box!

Add in brand spanking new virtual reality headsets and soon you will be able to really feel like you are playing at Wembley too! Changing times.

So what will the powers that be come up with next season to entice fans to attend live midweek Football League Trophy games?

Makes you wonder where the line will be drawn or even if they will rub out the line entirely.

Will those in power invite lower league French, Spanish and Italian sides into next seasons competition and repackage the tournament as a lower league European Cup?

Why not go the whole hog and open it up to sides from other continents and the odd Major League Soccer sides youth team?

Call it the Chequered Flag Global World Cup, play three halves of 30 minutes and have compulsory midnight kick-offs as maybe television has a window of opportunity for live football at that time!

Why not assign all Sunday League sides a raffle number and have a lottery style half time draw and give the winner a wildcard entry into next seasons Football League Trophy?

No doubt fans won’t be consulted so perhaps the competition rules will force clubs to give all fans a free packet of dry roasted nuts on the way into the ground or a complimentary ticket for the next travelling circus playing locally, whatever their preference!

Of course I’m exaggerating maybe a touch but are those ideas any more ridiculous than a transfer window in 2016 in which more than a billion pounds is spent by Premiership fat cats or a Championship club raking in millions selling players that only ultimately delivered Premiership relegation a few weeks ago? Crazy days!