What is the Football League Trophy, or EFL Trophy?

Paul Gerald · Profile
What is the Football League Trophy, or EFL Trophy?

Here’s an introduction to the Football League Trophy, also known as the EFL Trophy.

English soccer has many tournaments, including the FA Cup and the League Cup, aka the EFL Cup. Both of those are considered lesser competitions than the actual league season, especially for the clubs in the Premier League and the Championship, which are the highest levels of the English Football League.

Another rung down the ladder, below the FA Cup and the League Cup, you find the League Trophy. (Yes, somehow, in English parlance, a Trophy is less than a Cup. And for you Americans, they don’t even have bowls.)

Learn about all the leagues and cups of English soccer.

 

So the FA Cup is a non-seeded, non-bracket tournament for pretty much everybody in the country. The League Cup is the same thing for the 92 fully professional clubs. And the League Trophy is the same thing for just League One and League Two. Sort of.

In other words, again for you Americans, it’s like a baseball championship for Single-A and Double-A only. And the format is a little different from the FA Cup and League Cup, in that the League Trophy has a group stage followed by a knockout stage.

Rotherham, then of League One, won the EFL Trophy in 2022.

How does that work? In the group stage, everybody plays everybody else home and away, and then the top two advance to the knockout stage. During this group stage, if a game draws, each team gets a point, then they have a penalty shootout to determine who gets a “bonus” point.

Next, they play one-off games to determine who advances. The final is at Wembley Stadium.

Bolton Wanderers, above, are the defending champions after the 2022-23 EFL Trophy.

For smaller clubs, it can be a pretty big deal, because it’s something they can win, or at least something that can get them to Wembley without having to get past clubs in the Championship or Premier League.

At least, that used to be the case. Such is the power of these bigger clubs that, since the 2016-17 season, the big boys looked down at the little Trophy and said, “You know, we could use that.” And so the Football League passed a rule that said Championship and Premier League teams can send their Under-21 squads into the League Trophy.

Let’s just say it wasn’t a popular decision. One common way for fans to show their disgust was to simply refuse to show up. The all-time record low attendance mark was set at many grounds, such as Fratton Park, home of Portsmouth FC, where all of 1,355 people showed up to see them play Reading FC’s academy team.

Basically, small-club fans said “Screw you, League, for messing up our tournament with your greed,” and the big-club fans said, “Screw you, League and Club, for trying to squeeze even more ticket money out of us to watch a bunch of reserves play.”

tweet showing empty Kassam stadium for efl trophy game

Everyone’s fear, for the first go-round of the new format, was that the big final, at Wembley in early April, would be Manchester City Reserves (no, not New York City FC, the actual reserves), against the Chelsea Under-23s. And that, let’s be honest, would suck for everybody.

As it happens, we got a good old fashioned final, with Oxford United, who played their way heroically up to League One, taking on Coventry City, a formerly big-time club (see the 1987 FA Cup) then toiling away in League Two.

Coventry won themselves a trophy on the day, which is really quite a story, even though hardly anybody gave a crap. But, you know, tell that to the folks here in blue and white. Also, they went on to make the Championship a few years later!

Last year’s final wasn’t much of a contest, Bolton rolling Plymouth Argyle on the day. Both were League One then, but Plymouth got the last laugh by being promoted to the Championship for the 2023-24 season.

Written By Paul Gerald
Paul Gerald, Owner and Founder of Groundhopper Soccer Guides · Profile
Paul is a traveler, writer, publisher and soccer freak. He started Groundhopper Soccer Guides as EnglishSoccerGuide.com in 2014. When he's not kicking around England working on this site and his book, you can find him at Providence Park in Portland, cheering on the Portland Timbers.

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