From the Portsmouth programme

The following article appeared in the club’s official matchday programme for the game against Portsmouth (played on March 21, 2015).

B teams and the JPT

Dons Trust board member Kris Stewart looks at the recent proposal to allow Premier League clubs to enter B teams in a reformatted Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Last May, FA boss Greg Dyke’s “England Commission” reported with proposals that aimed to improve the performances of the England national team. The story that dominated discussion of the report was the plan to attack the basis of the English football pyramid by parachuting Premier League B teams into a new third division.

At the time, your elected Dons Trust board had this to say: “The FA abdicated its responsibilities in 2002 when it sanctioned the franchising of a single club to Milton Keynes. If it pushes ahead with this proposal it will have abdicated its responsibilities to all its members, bar the largest Premier League clubs. The B team proposal is entirely without merit. While we have concerns about other parts of the report … we believe that the B team proposal brings the entire report into disrepute. We will be happy to engage in a genuine consultation once the report has been withdrawn.”

Unfortunately, while most of football outside the Premier League agreed that the “League Three” idea was awful, our forthright approach in telling the FA to withdraw its report and start again properly didn’t get the backing it needed.

And now the idea has reared its head again, in modified form. For the moment the worst parts of the original plan have gone. Instead, we now have the suggestion that the early rounds of the Football League Trophy (currently sponsored by Johnstone’s Paint) will be turned into a set of guaranteed games for the many young players who Premier League clubs want to gain first-team experience but don’t want to play them in their own first teams.

As the Football League announced the other week, “Clubs have been asked to consider the concept of permitting 16 U21 teams from clubs with Category 1 academies to participate in the Football League Trophy. The competition would feature 16 groups of four teams with one U21 team in each group, before a knockout stage leading to a final at Wembley Stadium.”

This would establish the principle that our first team should be required to play competitive matches against the B teams of Premier League clubs – which in itself would be a worrying precedent to set. More worrying, though, is that this proposal would hardly improve things for the very many young players accumulated by Premier League clubs who have little if any chance of first-team experience. Three games is all that would be guaranteed for them. Is there any chance whatsoever that those three games will satisfy Premier League clubs for long?

The Football League added: “Given the previous concerns of the League and its clubs about Premier League B teams playing in the pyramid, any final proposal would also be accompanied by a change to the League’s Articles of Association that would protect the current 72-club constitution.”

Wimbledon fans know better than most what happens to agreements and rules when they no longer suit the paymasters. And we know the pressure Football League clubs feel under when the Premier League threatens to pull the financial plug. So we should be forgiven for having very little faith that any change of rules now would stop the Premier League clubs coming back again, with their financial carrots and sticks, once they have established the principle that our first teams should play against their B teams.

Not only is it the (not very) thin end of a (huge) wedge, but in and of itself it’s another really poor idea. It’s true that the early rounds of the JPT haven’t quite captured our imagination yet – though I believe some people did enjoy a trip to Buckinghamshire this season. But as a 30-year-old competition it currently has some integrity, and we shouldn’t sell that for a few quid and the promise of a game against players who aren’t up to first- team football.

Your elected Board will discuss how best to oppose this idea, and we’ll keep you up to date with progress.