Checkatrade Trophy. What? Exactly. Difficult to stay updated. The EFL Trophy, formerly Associate Members’ Cup and Football League Trophy, has been through its fair share of name changes since its inception in 1983. Formerly known as Sherpa Van, Autoglass, LDV Vans and Johnstone’s Paint just to name a few, it has never been that popular and with the current format limited to League One and Two clubs and 16 U23 sides from Premier league and Championship club Academies things have become even worse.
But, as it often happens, once clubs find themselves close to a trip to Wembley, all of a sudden their fans start taking note. You would not explain otherwise the 80,841 who flocked into the old Wembley in 1988 (Wolves v Burnley) or the recent 74,434 who attended the game between Coventry and Oxford United two years ago.
The bottom line is that whatever the trophy, a trip to Wembley is always an occasion to celebrate, especially for clubs who have not a fair chance in the other knock out competitions and, among these, even more for the ones who have been through very hard times. Take the above mentioned Coventry, humiliated with a season in exile in Northampton, still fighting for survival and to settle in a place they can call home. Or Southampton back in 2010 when they were in League One for the first time in 50 years. Talking to their fans, they all have fond memories of that day, at the end of a season they started with -10 points. That win represented the watershed, the turning point in their history and, incidentally, the first trophy since 1976.
Coming next Sunday two huge clubs, from the opposite sides of the country will meet at Wembley. Both Portsmouth and Sunderland boast quite a reputation to have some of the most vocal, loyal and passionate fans in the land. It looks like Wembley will register a sell-out, with more tickets sold for this final than the one played by Chelsea and Man City a few weeks ago.
Both clubs have been through tough times. In 10 years Pompey passed from lifting the FA Cup to administration (twice), three relegations, a string of charlatans playing with the assets and history of the club before being rescued by the Supporters Trust.
Sunderland was more simply (but tragically) badly managed and a lot of money spent unwisely leaving the club on the verge of collapse. Two relegations and a Netflix Series later the Black Cats found themselves with new owners and a brighter future to look forward to.
Considering all that, it’s fair to say that both sets of fans have had their share or bad luck, bad results and bad experiences to last for a while and a trip to Wembley is more than deserved. It will only be a short break though as both clubs are embroiled in the promotion struggle. With Luton now looking as good as promoted there’s only one automatic place left for grabs, plus one via the play off lottery. It looks like this final will be only the appetizer, a nice bonus, with the repeating of this match at the Stadium of Light on April 27 the real season, and possibly recent history, definer.