With the respective 2020 and 2021 Papa John’s Trophy Finals now upon us, it is my pleasure to officially kick off the ‘Wembley Weekender’, which will see us mark a quite unique pair of matches under the famous arch.
Firstly, my congratulations go out to each of the Finalist Clubs involved, though on this unwanted anniversary marking ‘one year on’ from football’s pandemic shutdown, it is desperately sad that games of this magnitude are unable to welcome the heartbeat of any football club…the fans.
Our intention, alongside the Clubs, was to always try and find a solution whereby we could welcome supporters into the National Stadium, but unfortunately that hasn’t been possible due to the various restrictions associated with COVID-19.
It was the desire of both the League and the Clubs to ensure the Finals took place and, whilst we have had to operate under difficult circumstances, it has presented us with the unique opportunity for an action-packed weekend of football.
The occasion is no doubt one that can captivate an audience, albeit through our television screens, particularly given the fact that the Papa John’s Trophy Finals this year represent the first English domestic finals of the season, and the first opportunity to lift a trophy. The contractual broadcasting obligations we must meet have also been factored into our decision-making when determining the dates for these Finals.
I am hoping that the 2020 Final between Portsmouth and Salford City will be a fitting end to what had been a fantastic competition, albeit a year later than we all expected. It remains important for the continuity of the competition that we recognise the achievement of both Clubs in reaching the Final, and therefore their opportunity to lift the Trophy and make history. Portsmouth are, of course, bidding to become the first team to retain the Trophy, while Salford will be looking to win it for the first time, and at the first attempt.
Equally, the 2021 Final between Sunderland AFC and Tranmere Rovers looks set to be a fantastic match between two Clubs in fine form in league and cup competition. Sunderland are the top scorers in this season’s competition, while Tranmere have produced some excellent performances and were winners of the Trophy in 1990. I wish all four Finalists the very best ahead of the weekend and beyond.
I would like to thank Papa John’s, who stepped in at what was a difficult and uncertain time for EFL Clubs and football in general, to become the Official Title Sponsor of the EFL Trophy at the start of the 2020/21 campaign. With fans locked out and Clubs ability to earn revenue severely limited, domestic football still faces a challenging financial future, so support from commercial partners both old and new, has been a vital source of revenue for the League and its Clubs.
Looking forward, after 12 months of empty stadiums, fans can be assured that the EFL will be doing all it can in the coming weeks and months to get our turnstiles turning once again. With the Government’s roadmap now set out, it is vitally important that football and the nation does it all it can to halt the spread of the virus, get vaccinated and enable restrictions to be lifted for the start of next season.
To this end, throughout the year all EFL clubs have stepped up without hesitation to serve their community and have provided stadia for mass testing and vaccinations, made over 500,000 phone calls to isolated fans and delivered 1 million food parcels (and counting) to people in the community.
So, with regard to our 72 member clubs – including our four Finalists at Wembley - we congratulate each and every one of them for the resilience and determination they have demonstrated by continuing to deliver vital community work against all the odds. This has provided a lifeline for so many during the challenges of the last 12 months and we thank them unreservedly.
Enjoy the Finals and stay safe.
Trevor Birch, EFL Chief Executive