The English Football League Trophy, currently known as the Papa John's Trophy for sponsorship reasons, is an annual English association football knockout competition open to the 48 clubs in EFL League One and EFL League Two, the third and fourth tiers of the English football league system and, since the 2016–17 season, 16 under-21 sides from Premier League and EFL Championship clubs. It is the third most prestigious knockout competition in English football after the FA Cup and EFL/League Cup.
|Organising body||English Football League|
|Founded||1984, as the Associate Members' Cup|
|Number of teams||64|
|Current champions||Sunderland (1st title)|
|Most successful club(s)||Bristol City (3 titles)|
|2021–22 EFL Trophy|
It began in the 1983–84 season as the Associate Members' Cup, but in 1992, after the lower-division clubs became full members of the Football League, it was renamed the Football League Trophy. The competition replaced the short-lived Football League Group Cup. It was renamed again in 2016, as the EFL Trophy.
The first draws are made in August, then the competition runs as 16 regional groups, each containing four teams. The top two from each group qualify for the knockout stages before the two winners meet in late March or early April in the final at England's national stadium, Wembley. The basic north/south format of the competition has existed since its beginnings, with some Midlands and East Anglian clubs fluctuating between the north and south draws each season. Other details have varied over the years, including in some years inviting clubs from the semi-professional Conference Premier, and holding a round-robin group stage prior to moving into knockout rounds.
The current (2020–21) champions are Sunderland, who beat Tranmere Rovers 1–0 in the 2021 final, which was played just one day after Salford City won the previous season's final, which had been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The most successful club is Bristol City, who have lifted the trophy three times, in 1986, 2003 and 2015, and were finalists in 1987 and 2000.
The competition was inaugurated as the Associate Members' Cup in the 1983–84 season and followed on from the short-lived Football League Group Cup. The competition was renamed the Football League Trophy in 1992. This was in the same year of the reorganisation that followed after Division One broke away to form the Premier League and the Football League became responsible for just the lower three professional divisions.
The competition was renamed again in 2016, becoming the EFL Trophy, coinciding with the Football League rebranding to the English Football League. The first season under the new name saw sixteen Category One academies, of Premier League and Championship clubs, join the competition, a move which has been criticised for attempting to insert Premier League 'B', or academy U21 teams into the English football pyramid.
64 teams enter from Round One, including all 48 teams from League One and League Two, along with 16 category 1 Premier League and EFL Championship academy/under-21 sides. The competition now features 16 regional groups of four teams (with eight groups in each of Northern and Southern sections), with the top two from each group progressing to the knockout stages, the first two rounds of which remain regionalised before an open draw from the quarter-finals onwards.
During the group phase, if the scores are level at the end of the match, then penalties are taken immediately without recourse to extra time. The winning team is awarded 2 points and the losing team 1 point.
In the first year of the tournament, the 48 eligible Third and Fourth Division clubs were split into North and South sections of 24 teams each. The first round had 12 knockout ties in each section, and the second had six. In each section the two second-round losers with the 'narrowest' defeats were reprieved, and joined the six other clubs in the regional quarter-finals.
A major change was introduced for the 1985–86 tournament, with 8 three-team groups being set up in each of the two sections. Teams played one home and one away game and the group winners proceeded to the regional knockout stages. This format was tweaked the following season, with two teams qualifying from each group, resulting in an additional 'round of 16' knockout stage in each section.
For a number of seasons in the early to mid-1990s, the competition ran with only seven three-team groups, two teams in each section receiving a bye into the knockout stages. This was owing to League reorganisation and the demise of Aldershot and Maidstone United, which resulted in there being fewer than 48 teams in the 3rd and 4th levels.
The group phase was abolished for the 1996–97 tournament; instead, 8 teams in each section received a bye to the second round, where they were joined by the 8 winners of the first-round ties.
For the 2000–01 competition, eight Football Conference sides also played in the tournament, resulting in 12 ties in each of the north/south sections in the first round, with only four teams in each section gaining a bye into the second round. The number of Conference entrants was increased to 12 starting in 2002–03, resulting in 14 first-round ties, and two teams in each regional section gaining a bye into the second round.
The competition has always been contested by all teams at Levels Three and Four of the English football league system. Since the 2016–17 season, sixteen Category One academies have taken part in the competition.
Between 2000–01 and 2005–06 the competition was also open to a certain number of Football Conference sides. These are listed by season below:
- 2000–01: Chester City, Doncaster Rovers, Dover Athletic, Hereford United, Morecambe, Rushden & Diamonds, Scarborough, Yeovil Town
- 2001–02: Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Doncaster Rovers, Leigh RMI, Scarborough, Southport, Stevenage Borough, Yeovil Town
- 2002–03: Chester City, Dagenham & Redbridge, Doncaster Rovers, Halifax Town, Hereford United, Leigh RMI, Morecambe, Scarborough, Southport, Stevenage Borough, Woking, Yeovil Town
- 2003–04: Barnet, Chester City, Dagenham & Redbridge, Exeter City, Forest Green Rovers, Halifax Town, Hereford United, Morecambe, Scarborough, Shrewsbury Town, Stevenage Borough, Telford United
- 2004–05: Accrington Stanley, Aldershot Town, Barnet, Carlisle United, Dagenham & Redbridge, Exeter City, Hereford United, Morecambe, Scarborough, Stevenage Borough, Woking, York City
- 2005–06: Accrington Stanley, Aldershot Town, Cambridge United, Crawley Town, Dagenham & Redbridge, Exeter City, Halifax Town, Hereford United, Kidderminster Harriers, Morecambe, Stevenage Borough, Woking
Since the addition of the Category One academies in 2016–17, the following sides have competed in the competition:
- Current (2019–20): Arsenal (since 2018–19), Aston Villa (since 2019–20), Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham (since 2017–18), Leicester City, Liverpool (since 2019–20), Manchester City (since 2017–18), Manchester United (since 2019–20), Newcastle United (since 2017–18), Norwich City (2016–17 and since 2019–20), Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur (since 2017–18), West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers (2016–17 and since 2018–19)
- Former: Blackburn Rovers (2016–17), Derby County (2016–17), Middlesbrough (2016–17 to 2018–19), Reading (2016–17 and 2017–18), Stoke City (2016–17 to 2018–19), Sunderland (2016–17 and 2017–18), Swansea City (2016–17 to 2018–19), West Bromwich Albion (2016–17 to 2018–19)
The final of the EFL Trophy is held at the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium in London, the English national football stadium. The first final in 1984 was due to be played at the then Wembley Stadium, but owing to damage caused to the pitch during the Horse of the Year Show, it was moved to Boothferry Park in Hull. From 2001 to 2007, during the rebuilding of the former Wembley, the Football League Trophy finals were played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Source: napit.co.uk (Only until 2010)
The overall record attendance for the final is 85,021, set at the new Wembley Stadium in 2019 by Portsmouth and Sunderland. The record attendance for the final at the old Wembley Stadium was 80,841, set in the 1988 final between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley. The record attendance for the final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was 59,024, set in the 2007 final between Bristol Rovers and Doncaster Rovers. The 2020 and 2021 finals are being played with no fans present, but clubs have raised money for charity by selling supporters virtual tickets.
|EFL trophy final attendance records|
|Wembley Stadium (new)||85,021||2019||Portsmouth||Sunderland||2–2 (5–4 pen.)|
|Millennium Stadium||59,024||2007||Doncaster Rovers||Bristol Rovers||3–2 (a.e.t.)|
|Wembley Stadium (old)||80,841||1988||Wolverhampton Wanderers||Burnley||2–0|
The highest attendance for any game apart from the final came on 5 February 2013 for the Northern Area final, when Coventry City lost to Crewe Alexandra 3–0 at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry (they later won the away leg 2–0, going down 3–2 on aggregate), in front of a crowd of 31,054.
The lowest attendance in the history of the competition came during the 2018–19 season when just 202 attended a Middlesbrough academy team's 1–0 victory against Burton Albion in November 2018 at Burton's Pirelli Stadium. The low attendance can be attributed to a widespread boycott of the tournament by fans of the third and fourth tier clubs as a result of the competition format changes implemented in 2016–17. 'Category A' Academy teams, also known to fans as 'B teams', from the top level clubs in the Premier League and Championship were introduced to the competition, a change proven unpopular among football fans of the lower tier clubs.
- 1983–84: No sponsor
- 1984–85 to 1986–87: Freight Rover Trophy
- 1987–88 to 1988–89: Sherpa Van Trophy
- 1989–90 to 1991–92: Leyland DAF Cup
- 1992–93 to 1993–94: Autoglass Trophy
- 1994–95 to 1999–2000: Auto Windscreens Shield
- 2000–01 to 2006–07: LDV Vans Trophy
- 2007–08 to 2015–16: Johnstone's Paint Trophy
- 2016–17 to 2018–19: Checkatrade Trophy
- 2019–20: Leasing.com Trophy
- 2020–23: Papa John's Trophy
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- Harry Redknapp comments on BBC Radio Solent
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