The final of the Johnstone Paint trophy will soon be played, giving the chance for a lower league team to bring silverware back to the club. With Bradford losing the Capital One Cup final and no representative from League 1 or 2 in the FA Cup semi-finals the JPT is the only opportunity for cup success for the lower leagues. Two teams have progressed from the southern and northern finals but the Wembley date is the decider for the competition.
Crewe Alexandra represent the north and Southend United the south, but what have these teams really won or lost by progressing through the rounds? The first worry fans and managers may have is the effect a good cup run can have on the league. Southend United are currently 6 points off a playoff position in League 2 and would consider themselves still in contention. If they had exited the JPT in the earliest round then you must beg the question as to whether they could be above the dotted line of the playoffs at this point of the season. Crewe on the other hand have 54 points in League 1 and would consider themselves safe, however are too many points off a promotion push so now safety is secured, the JPT is no distraction. Southend would therefore be hoping that the JPT is worth the risk of a few lost points in the league.
If the JPT is not a distraction, either through no worthy bid for promotion or depth of squad to handle competitions, then it still is not financially great. The winnings for reaching the final are known to be poor and would not match up to a third round FA Cup game against a big Premiership team but recent statistics have shown that by reaching the final teams may expect a decent windfall. The money, however is not what the competition is about, it is about giving the chance for fans to have bragging rights against rival clubs. Mostly, the only true success a lower league team can really have is from promotion and a windfall from an FA Cup game when the big teams enter. So what better way to let clubs battle it out to bring success for the fans that rarely have that kind of experience and enjoyment that brings? Crewe or Southend will be champions and cup winners, something teams like Arsenal and Everton can’t say and while the cups may be fought on different battlegrounds the celebrations and feeling of ecstasy when the trophy is lifted is the same. That experience of Wembley is something amazing for English football fans and this competition gives the opportunity for fans to see their teams win in the home of English football.
The ripple effects from a successful Johnstone Paint final can be great for the winning club. In previous years, winners of the JPT have carried on to more success, in the past twenty years alone, six of the winners have since become Premiership teams, two of which have won it twice. Teams have in the past won it and used that experience to springboard up the tables, using the JPT as another platform to perform and get used to winning. The JPT could therefore be seen as a possible glimpse into the future of which teams are ready for, or moving towards, long term success.
The reputation of JPT victory for managers therefore, could be great, and even though Phil Sturrock has lost his job at Southend, his JPT trophy run wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. For Crewe, however, it may be a bit different, with their manager Steve Davis guiding Crewe to playoff success last season after an unbeaten run of 19 games. With safety and a JPT now added to his CV this season, a JPT victory would really stand out for him. After being linked with Burnley earlier in the season he is definitely lower league hot property now and the JPT can only move to prove that.
The Johnstone Paint Trophy may not draw the greatest crowds yet when Coventry entertained Crewe in the first leg of the regional finals there were over 31,000, a record for the Johnstone Paint outside of a final. It shows an interest for the competition that rivals the cynicism that it often has to deal with, it shows that lower league teams want to see their teams fight for success and that winning competitions is important to all football fans.