Cheltenham Town's return to the EFL this season, after promotion from the National League, saw them re-enter a new-look League Trophy, and it's fair to say they embraced the change.On the pitch, group stage victories over Everton Under-21s and Bolton Wanderers were followed by a 6-1 triumph over Leicester City U21s in the second round, before a narrow third round exit at the hands of Bradford City.
Off the pitch, the club looked at competition-specific pricing strategies, promoted the matches accordingly, and enjoyed what chairman Paul Baker describes as “reasonable crowds”.
“We as a club find it to be a really positive competition,” Baker said. “It’s nice to be playing different teams and going to different grounds.
“To be seeing players that may be featuring in future Premier League teams. It’s a good opportunity for our younger players to be playing against the high quality players we see from those teams. That’s been really encouraging and the quality of football is better in those games, I feel.
“Financially, it’s been a very good competition for us. The prize money is attractive and critical for clubs of our stature, and the opportunity to play at Wembley is something not to be sniffed at. It’s a great experience for the town. It’s a very important fixture in our calendar.”
As well as an enhanced prize fund, the 2016/17 Checkatrade Trophy included 16 invited teams from clubs with Category One Academies, and featured a new group stage format in the first round.
The format was introduced with the intention of rejuvenating the competition and assisting in the development of the very best young players in English football, by exposing them to first-team football against more experienced professionals.
“I think what the competition is trying to do is a really good thing,” the Robins chairman added. “It’s also a reason why Premier League and Championship clubs loan a lot of their younger players to clubs like us – it’s really good for player development.
“In terms of our players, they’ve enjoyed the distraction away from the normal league activity, but also playing against teams and players they haven’t played against before.
“I’ve got a few highlights from this season’s tournament, including beating a very strong Bolton team 1-0 and also beating Everton 2-1 with two late goals. Plus, entertaining the Bradford chairman and directors. They were a really great bunch. Even though they won, we really enjoyed meeting people we hadn’t seen for a few years.
“Overall, this is a really important competition for us.”