Fully back into the swing of things, the Checkatrade Trophy returned for the 2018/19 campaign at the beginning of August, with the first full set of fixtures set to take place this week.
Supporters up and down the country are in for a midweek treat as 22 ties are set to be contested on Tuesday 4 September, including defending champions Lincoln City beginning their defence of the competition at Sincil Bank against Mansfield Town.
Amongst those fixtures are unbeaten Sky Bet League One leaders, Peterborough United, as they travel to Stadium MK to face MK Dons.
Despite their promising start to the season, attention now turns towards the Checkatrade Trophy, and for Director of Football Barry Fry, hopefully another Wembley appearance.
“The Checkatrade Trophy is a magnificent competition that gives League One and Two Clubs a realistic chance of getting to Wembley,” Fry said.
“It is an incentive for chairmen, managers, players and supporters - I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in two finals and it is a fantastic feeling for everybody connected to the Club.
“As a manager and a player the ambition is to get to Wembley, and as I said previously this gives us a realistic chance of getting there. Anybody who is involved in football their dream is to be involved in the biggest matches and they don’t come any bigger than at the National Stadium.
No stranger to the competition, Fry has experienced two Wembley finals, tasting victory on both occasions. His Birmingham City side lifted the trophy in 1995, before a change of role yielded the same success with Peterborough United in 2014.
The one constant in both of those triumphs? The unwavering support of both the Birmingham City and Peterborough United fan bases, as fans of both the Blues and the Posh turned out in numbers both before the final, and at the showpiece event.
“It was a wonderful experience at Birmingham, we had a fantastic scheme of £5 for an adult ticket and £1 for a child leading up to the final, there were unbelievable crowds of 18,000 plus and that support drove us forward, without doubt.
“Wembley is always memorable, but there were over 78,000 supporters in the stadium, of which 55,000 were blue noses - that was a bigger gate than Liverpool in the EFL Cup Final that year!
“The same happened with Peterborough. We were averaging around 5,000 spectators at the time and took 25,000 to Wembley - everyone enjoyed the day out, and coming home with the trophy makes it even better.”
Whether it be his role as manager of Birmingham City or Director of Football at Peterborough United, the impact felt at both Clubs was something Fry looks back memorably on.
“As a manager, especially as I was quite vocal about winning the competition at the start of the season, it was a great feeling - you pick the team, select the players and are responsible for everything that happens on that pitch.
“I remember playing Brentford on the following Wednesday in a top of the table clash, and we won in front of 25,000 supporters - it was clear the feel-good factor rolled over.”
After changes last season, the total prize fund has now reached £3million, with teams also awarded £10,000 for a win and £5,000 for a draw in the group stages of the competition, with further financial benefits depending on the Clubs progression.
“From the Clubs point of view the financial side of the competition is invaluable. Even back then I believe Birmingham City made over £750,000, which was an absolute fortune - It is worth so much to Clubs from all aspects.”
The start of the 2016/17 season saw a change in structure to the Checkatrade Trophy, with the competition expanded to 64 teams, including 16 U21 Premier League and Championship Clubs with Category One academy status.
A work in progress, Fry admitted he was in favour of the initial idea and the subsequent rule changes adopted by the EFL to better the competition on the suggestion of its Clubs.
“There were mistakes made when the change of format came in, but those mistakes were learnt from and rectified the following season,” Fry explained.
“I was one of those that welcomed the decision to invite Academy sides into the competition as I thought supporters would like to see the Premier League Clubs’ younger sides play as there is a lot of talent there.
“League One and League Two Clubs voted in favour of the changes, both in format and financial structure, because it guaranteed every single Club some revenue from the competition.
“Fair play to the EFL as they asked the Clubs for suggested improvements and put those into action going into the third year of the change in structure - It is constantly improving year-on-year.”
In a bid to continue the support of youth development rule changes were made ahead of the 2018/19 season with Invited Clubs only able to include 2 players on the teamsheet over 21 who have made 40 or more senior appearances.
He added: “It is a great competition to develop players, for both the Invited Clubs and those in League One and League Two.
“The competitiveness at youth football is not the same as at senior fixtures, and the Checkatrade Trophy allows for another competition to help nurture the talented youngsters within your academy.
“These players need time on the pitch in a competitive environment and this competition provides exactly that.”