NO matter what any Premier League bigwig might tell you, fans are the lifeblood of football.
And by supporters, I mean the ones who actually show up to matches.
Those who travel the length and breadth of the country to follow their team when they can.
Who are there through the lows, no matter how long they last, and not just the highs.
So that is why an increase on last term’s laughably low crowds in the Checkatrade Trophy is so important when it recommences this week.
You can forget about the benefits of youth player development and the pros and cons of Premier League Under-21 teams being included.
If we still see embarrassing attendances of 308, as we did when Middlesbrough Under-23s were thrashed 3-0 by Shrewsbury, or the 393 of Barnet 1-2 Peterborough, those aspects will be irrelevant.
The competition’s future, like any, rests on supporters turning up to watch it.
And to the EFL’s credit, they have tried to address it with a revamp at the back end of last season.
The punitive rules on team selection have been relaxed, regionalisation has been extended to the quarter-finals and invited Under-21 sides (definitely Under-21 this year, they insist) will play group games away from home.
Whether that will be enough to attract more spectators through the turnstiles, we’ll have to wait and see.
But Luton, who host Tottenham’s kids tomorrow, ARE confident their numbers will go up in this year’s competition – though their attendances were relatively decent last year anyway.
Chief exec Gary Sweet told SunSport: “Despite opposition to the original reformatting, our crowd levels were still relatively healthy last season compared to other clubs.
“We expect an increase this season as more supporters will feel less opposed to the rules.”
Luton were unhappy with the restrictions on team selection last term as they wanted to use the competition to give kids minutes, and were subsequently fined for doing so.
The club and its fans were also very wary of the introduction of Prem youth sides – though have since been convinced by the EFL that it is not a pre-cursor to league participation.
And Sweet praised the governing body’s much-improved communication at the end of last season in the revamp as it allowed the club to consult fans on the matter.
Still, more can be done in the Hatters supremo’s eyes.
He said: “We’d like to have complete freedom of selection of the starting eleven and remove any criteria for team selection.
“For us, the principle of being able to develop our players is fundamental.
“Our fans also suggested the competition is regionalised up to the semi-final – it could make the games more affordable, reduce travel times for midweek games and help increase attendances.”
Sweet sees merit in the clash against Spurs’ stiffs as well as the competition overall – and will hope Luton’s fans feel the same.
He added: “The game will be a competitive test and will provide a different, educational challenge for both sets of players.
“The EFL Trophy still provides an important opportunity for lower league clubs to go to Wembley and lift silverware!”
A trip to the Home of Football is guaranteed to boost ticket sales.
Keep up to date with all the latest transfer news and gossip with our live blog
But the games leading up to it need to have enough bums on seats to justify the competition’s existence.
Let’s hope the rejigging of the tournament can recapture the imagination of fans.
Because without them, the game is just 22 guys kicking the ball around a very expensive park.
THE transfer market should zip into overdrive this week.
But one particular switch triangle requires one move to spark another.
Middlesbrough are all set to take Ryan Shotton from Birmingham.
Yet Brum need a replacement before they sell and are gunning hard for Bristol City’s Aden Flint.
Harry Redknapp has already made two bids but with the Robins wanting £5million and Blues valuing him at half that, both transfers could be scuppered.
EUNAN O’KANE signed a whopping four-year deal at Leeds this week.
The length of the deal may come as a shock but from the outside but not from within Elland Road.
My spies tell me new boss Thomas Christiansen absolutely loves the Irish playmaker, and calls him “Xabi Alonso”.
Not much to live up to then…
Best of the weekend
THE MIGHTY BOUCH: Nottingham Forest new-boy Andreas Bouchalakis netted two wonder goals but it was curling second which takes goal of the day. It helped provide Forest’s first away win of 2017 and ensured a happy return to Griffin Park for boss Mark Warburton.
SEALED WITH A KISS: Bolton’s Gary Madine badly wanted to take a free-kick against Millwall but lost out to team-mate Filipe Morais. Instead of arguing with the Portuguese, striker Madine gave him a little kiss on the head before Morais bent it like Beckham from 20 yards. Madine then ran over to join in the celebrations. The Trotters can go a long way on team spirit this season, transfer embargo or not.
TAYL OF THE UNEXPECTED: Ex-Newcastle defender Steven Taylor – remember him? – headed home his first goal in English football for two years to help new club Peterborough blitz Bristol Rovers.
FIGHT CLUB: Shameful scenes at the Riverside where a brawl broke out in the coach park between more than 200 fans, leading to five arrests and leaving children as young as ten injured. The violence began just before the final whistle when Sheffield United supporters thought their side had scored a last-minute leveller against Middlesbrough, only for it to be harshly disallowed. One copper was sent to hospital while inquiries are ongoing.
SUPER SAVER: A different kind of hat-trick for Alex Cairns as the Fleetwood keeper pulled off a terrific triple save to deny Aaron Pierre twice and then Billy Waters. Uwe Rosler’s Cod Army have picked up where they left off last term.
HULLOVA PLAYER: Abel Hernandez proved he is one of those frustrating players who is too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League with a super hat-trick as Hull tonked Burton. The Uruguayan hit 21 goals at this level two years ago but only five in the Prem last term. Cameron Jerome will feel his pain.
THE 39 MISSTEPS: Surely no other player will have an earlier bath than Tomas Kalas this season? The on-loan Chelsea defender was sent off just 39 SECONDS into Fulham’s draw with Reading. Looked harsh to me as a Fulham player looked to be covering.
COPP A LOAD OF THAT: James Coppinger’s penalty in Doncaster’s shock win at Blackburn means the 36-year-old has netted THIRTEEN consecutive Rovers’ seasons.
BAYO ROCKS VALE: Celebration of the day goes to Wycombe big man Adebayo Akinfenwa, who enjoyed his second headed goal against Port Vale with his own version of The Rock’s ‘People’s Elbow’ move from WWE. You’d fancy Bayo to take up a career in wrestling when he hangs up his boots, too.
TALKING POINTS: Should Burnley prise prolific Chris Wood away from Leeds, just how big a blow for Thomas Christiansen’s side will it be? And after battering Aston Villa, are Neil Warnock’s Cardiff genuine promotion contenders this year?