Alex - Hell No!
Okay, before I reel off my multitude of reasons as to why I have absolutely no desire to pay any attention to how the lads are doing in this tournament, let's put into perspective what exactly the EFL Trophy is.
From what I've gathered, it's a convoluted fusion of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and your average run-of-the-mill reserve league system - where the scraps of the top flight facing off against football league teams, who may or may not field second-string sides themselves if they don't fancy risking injuries. When you say it like it is, it doesn't sound too entertaining does it?
This leads to what I believe is the crux of my argument - going to Wembley for a tournament which has a clear deficiency in quality just undermines the entire significance of going to Wembley at all! Remember how it was three years ago: the city in it's entirety was lining coaches, cars and trains amid the tantalising prospect that we could turn over Man City and win the League Cup. Think of the euphoria when Borini's goal went in; the subsequent buzz around a jam packed concourse at half-time, with the thought of how close we were to victory dancing on the mind and mouth of every mackem.
Can you honestly say to yourself that watching the lads win the EFL Trophy will even come close to offering a comparable experience? I'm sure it would be refreshing to see us win silverware, but if a significant trophy isn't at stake, there's nothing to motivate me to make that trip down to London.
Moreover, it might even be questioned that, even if I was to make the journey, would I be truly watching Sunderland? If you look at the graphics to the right-hand side of Sky Sports News, you'll notice that it doesn't say 'Sunderland', but rather 'Sunderland U23'. If there was ever anything to kill the hype of watching your team in a cup final, it would be the knowledge that you weren't even watching your proper team. In my dream cup final, Lee Cattermole would fire a thirty-yard thunderbolt from seemingly nowhere to nab a stoppage time winner over some big arrogant team like Chelsea. Instead, the most we could expect from a Checkatrade trophy Wembley excursion is a couple goals from Joel Asoro or a brace from Don Love against someone like Rotherham. Not quite the same, really.
Even if the majority isn't going to be in my favour in this argument, at the very least a sizeable portion of our fanbase will be - and that's reason enough to make my final point. If people aren't encouraged by the age-old prestige of the FA or League Cup, then the city won't empty out half as much as it did for the Man City game, and as a result the atmosphere down in London will pale in comparison to the last final we were in. Who wants to turn up to Wembley to see empty seats everywhere? What if our opposition is a tiny club that couldn't fill their half even if they did give a shit?
Well, that's my side of the debate, and if I'm completely honest, I can't see how it can be reasonably disputed.
Damian - Hell Yeah!
So it isn’t first team football. It isn’t at the lofty heights we’re used to in the Premier League. The stars of the tournament often times aren’t necessarily even household names as a result of that lack of recognition from the less die-hard of supporters. But ask yourself: as a Sunderland fan, is all that really such a bad thing?
The success of Sunderland's development teams in recent years has been anything but mediocre, earning Robbie Stockdale a promotion to the first team staff and giving us more than a few academy products of real quality. It’s no secret that some of the more massive clubs in Europe have sent scouts on many occasion to view a showcase of our clubs best talent.
The realists amongst you will know that being an academy player ain't easy, by any means. It's a long slog through a landscape in equal parts exciting yet demoralising, bright yet bitter. Littered along this path are the fallen, those that didn't get the right scout at the right match or couldn't shake an injury, suffered a personal loss at that tender age with no support network or those that just simply couldn't cut it.
But they do it. They train, they play, they train, they play. One track mind, one target, one goal. One path. They follow this path with the blessings of the club. They follow it because it's the only real path left to them. There can be no room for error on the pitch or off it, they make or break here and now. It's not an easy life.
The only question that remains is simple: Do these young players deserve anything less than the total commitment from the beautiful red and white army of away supporters? Do they deserve less than those willing to put their precious time and well - earned money in, crossing borders and trudging through unfamiliar streets in the worst of conditions? Of course not. They deserve it. They fight for it, they shed sweat and tears with a short contract and no guarantees as their only bedfellows. Above them sit the regulars; comfortable and understanding of their future, guaranteed the glory of donning the jersey week in, week out, even if some of them don't deserve it.
So follow them, by all means follow them and perhaps one day you'll be able to say of a future hero "I was there when he started. I was there and I cheered when he began the road to this point. At that place, at that time, I saw what would come." That feeling, those words are as rare as diamonds. Grab the opportunity to feel that.
Convoluted the tournament itself may seem, the reality is that Sunderland sent a squad of lads with hunger, potential and determination to represent the city and its people and cast their die with every other upstart and urchin out there. They’re young, they’re not popular enough to meet the monstrously high standards of those that own the rights to televise and profit from the business side of this life, but they are wearing the jersey and they are fighting. What more can be asked of them?