The Football League Trophy (also known for sponsorship reasons since 2007 as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy) is an English association football knockout competition, open to clubs from Football League One and Football League Two, the bottom two divisions of the four fully professional divisions in the English football league system (those four divisions being the Premier League, the Football League Championship, League One and League Two, in order of precedence). The current competition is open to 48 clubs with the first draws being made in August and the final of the competition being held in March at Wembley Stadium, England's national football stadium.
The competition began in the 1983-84 season as the Associate Members' Cup but from 1992 it has been named the Football League Trophy after the lower league clubs became Full Members of the league. The competition replaced the short lived Football League Group Cup competition which was only played between 1981/2 and 1982/3 (although confusingly, in the second year it was also called the Football League Trophy). Apart from the first year when it was not sponsored, the competition has also been known by its various past sponsorship names: the Freight Rover Trophy, the Sherpa Van Trophy, the Leyland DAF Cup, the Autoglass Trophy, the Auto Windscreens Shields Trophy and the LDV Vans Trophy.
The basic format of the competition since its beginnings has been to run two parallel North/South competitions, with the winners of both meeting in the national final at Wembley. The format of the competition has otherwise varied over the years, including in some years inviting clubs from the semi-professional Conference National, and holding a round robin group stage prior to moving into knockout rounds.
The competition was inaugurated as the Associate Members' Cup in the 1983-84 season, (when League One and Two were known as Division Three and Four), as a way of providing more games for the lower division clubs. It followed on from the short lived Football League Group Cup played in 1981-82 and 1982-83, although confusingly also called the Football League Trophy for this second year. These competitions however were not restricted to the lower leagues. Before the Group Cup, Texaco Cup-Anglo-Scottish Cup had been a similar lower league competition, but these also allowed clubs from the Scottish Football League to enter. The competition was renamed from the Associate Members' Cup to the Football League Trophy in 1992, in the reorganisation that followed after Division One broke away to form the Premier League, and The Football League became responsible for just the lower three professional divisions (although all four are still eligible for their other cup competition, the Football League Cup).
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