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EFL Trophy attendances: Do stats back up fan complaints?

The EFL Trophy has long been a crucial piece of silverware for League One and League Two clubs in England, offering them a rare chance of glory. While the lower league clubs compete in both the FA Cup and League Cup, they rarely reach the latter stages, let alone taste ultimate success, with those competitions dominated by the Premier League's ‘Big Six'.

Founded in its modern format for the 1983/84 season, when the competition was restricted to sides in the English third and fourth divisions, the EFL Trophy's original purpose was to offer ‘smaller' clubs the chance of a Wembley final and cup glory.

However, in the last few seasons, the inclusion of Premier League Under-21s sides has caused a stir, with some clubs and their fans feeling that their inclusion undermines and devalues the competition.

As a result, EFL Trophy attendances have dramatically fallen, with several instances of supporter boycotts of these games. Attitudes towards the competition are divided, with some fanbases split down the middle, leading to significant tensions. Low attendance may also be discouraging sponsors who provide the competing teams with valuable income.

But, is it really true that EFL Trophy attendances have declined? Or is it more to do with team performance? Well, Football Ground Guide takes an objective look here…

EFL Trophy 2023/24 format

The competition is contested by 64 clubs in total, with 24 clubs from League One, 24 clubs from League Two, and 16 U21 sides from Premier League clubs. They are split into 16 groups of four teams, with eight groups in the North section, and eight groups in the South section.

The group stages have just concluded, with the top two clubs of each group progressing to the knockout stages.

EFL Trophy attendances figures

Out of 48 stadiums used, Pride Park, the home of League One side Derby County, is the biggest to be used in the competition, with a capacity of 33,597.

Even though the Rams topped their group, the attendances at their EFL Trophy games were risible. Only 2,726 fans passed through the turnstiles for their first game against Lincoln City, a game they won 2-0. Their second game at home saw even fewer fans turn up to see them beat the U21s side of their Midlands rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 4-1. Just 1,952 fans watched that game.

Pride Park, home of Derby County, whose EFL Trophy attendances have been risible.
Photo by Icon Sport

Stadium MK (MK Dons) is the next biggest stadium used in the competition, but again, attendance has been poor. MK Dons saw only 1,704 fans watch their game against Chelsea U21s.

Carlisle United, meanwhile, set a new all-time record for their lowest attendance in the competition, for their game against Harrogate.

Does anyone get big crowds for EFL Trophy games?

Yes, but not many. Poor EFL Trophy attendances are a theme throughout. In fact, only one club has broken the 10,000 mark in total, let alone for one fixture, and that's Football League newcomers, Wrexham AFC, who have had over 7,000 at each of their home EFL Trophy games against Newcastle U21s and Port Vale.

Fratton Park
General view of Portsmouth's Fratton Park Stadium – Photo by Icon sport

Portsmouth is the next club with the highest attendance, with 8,662 combined attending the two games played at Fratton Park in games against Fulham U21s side and Gillingham.

While these numbers for these clubs are quite low, there are even lower attendances with other clubs in the competition, due to fans boycotting the tournament, deeming it as a training exercise for Premier League Academy sides.

The prospect of watching an Academy team doesn’t draw fans of those lower league clubs, and this was again proven at Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers ground, when they had a miserable attendance of 442 people watch them beat Crystal Palace U21s.

Burton Albion and Newport County also had low attendances. Burton welcomed in only 473 to watch their match against Everton U21s, while Rodney Parade had just 800 in to watch Newport against West Ham's U21s.

In total, in the group stages so far, a total of 142,883 fans have watched 87 EFL Trophy games this season, with an average attendance of 1,905 across the board.

What is the highest EFL Trophy attendance in 2023/24?

Wrexham vs Newcastle United U21s on the 5 September 2023: 7988.

Racecourse Ground, home of Wrexham AFC, which has had the highest EFL Trophy attendances this season
Wrexham's Racecourse Ground | Photo by Icon Sport

Why are fans protesting at EFL Trophy games?

Fans and clubs remain upset at the inclusion of Premier League and Championshiop, citing the games as a waste of time and resources. They complain that these fixtures are not competitive matches and are merely glorified training sessions for those 16 Academy teams who are invited to participate.

What is the highest-ever EFL Trophy attendance?

The 2019 EFL Trophy final between Portsmouth and Sunderland at Wembley Stadium saw a record attendance of 85,021.

Who is the EFL Trophy sponsor now?

The EFL Trophy has had numerous names throughout the years due to sponsorship obligations. Formerly known as the Papa John Trophy, it is now known as the Bristol Street Motor Trophy.

Philip O'Rourke

Philip O Rourke is a Dublin-based journalist and author of Forgotten Football Clubs, 50 Clubs Around the World. He appears on the Forgotten Football Clubs podcast and, in his spare time, travels around Europe to different football stadiums, trying to watch as many different clubs as he can.

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