Papa John? Don’t Preach

Doncaster Rovers playing against MK Dons at the Keepmoat Stadium

Turns out a global pandemic has only intensified Jack Peat’s hatred for the EFL Trophy

I found my blood boiling once again last month when Rovers lined up against Wolverhampton Wanderers under-23s in the Papa John’s (yes the Papa fucking John’s!) Trophy on an ill-fated Tuesday night.

You might think it strange that even in the midst of a global pandemic I still have the capacity to hold some deep-seated resentment for the tinniest of tin cups that is the EFL Trophy, to wit I would say; you clearly don’t know me well enough. Yet amid the furore that is Covid-19 and the devastation that it has left in its wake I found my bitterness towards the cup actually growing stronger.

The issue is that when academy teams were first invited to compete and the competition lost all respect for itself, we could publicly demonstrate our angst against the midweek waste of time in ways only football fans can. We boycotted games (probably to the detriment of our own club), created a pithy hashtag, and we made a point of forgetting that we were even playing tonight, only checking the Sky Sports app because we’re bored or whatever.

“Even in the midst of a global pandemic I still have the capacity to hold some deep-seated resentment for the tinniest of tin cups that is the EFL Trophy”

Indeed, Rovers fans went one step further by organising a separate game altogether at Jubilee Park in Humberston, with spectators preferring to watch the Internet Mariners taking on the Donny R’sonists rather than indulge in the sparsely attended (862 people, to be precise) clash at Blundell Park. Research by the football forum FAN Banter found that such paltry attendances have not been hard to come by since the introduction of U23 teams, regularly dropping below the 1,000 mark due to the #BTeamBoycott.

Of course this year leaves us little room to reflect in that regard and, as such, the governing bodies may have been looking forward to some respite due to fans being told to mandatorily stay away from games rather than voluntarily not turning up. No fans? No big deal. But I won’t let them get away with that because I’ve got a second gripe, in the shape of Papa John’s, or more specifically, Papa John.

After adopting several iterations over the years via brands such as Leasing.com, Checkatrade and, in its glory days, Johnstone’s Paint, the powers that be have this year decided to adopt a racist pizza brand to front its beleaguered trophy in a year when there is more focus than ever on the steps the league is taking to eradicate such prejudices. In 2018 the pizza chain’s founder, John Schnatter, used the N-word during a media training exercise when asked how he would distance himself from racist groups of which he had reportedly cosied up to.

He made the comments during an exercise to stop him saying such things, that’s the terrifying part. Just months earlier he had blamed poor sales on NFL players taking the knee before games which, in his opinion, had led to a reverse in viewer ratings and decreased same-store sales across Papa John’s franchises, which were the official pizza sponsor of the league at the time. Several white supremacist groups expressed support for the brand in the wake of the comments, yet no apology was issued in the aftermath.

Schnatter eventually resigned after the N-word controversy and last we heard his wife had left him and he was eating 40 pizzas a month to prove the company had changed his recipe. But the EFL’s affiliation with the brand is not a good look. It marries a tournament that desperately needs people to take it more seriously with a pizza brand that, not three years ago, was forced to park its sponsorship of the NFL due to historic skirmishes with racism, and once again makes us question whether we need any of this amidst what is already a packed football schedule.

“Fans who already feel disconnected from the game are bound to feel even more disillusioned when changes happen without them at least being able to shout about it on the terraces”

Behind closed doors it may seem like none of this matters, but in reality it really does. Fans who already feel disconnected from the game are bound to feel even more disillusioned when changes happen without them at least being able to shout about it on the terraces. Five subs! Fucking rubbish. Papa chuffing John’s Cup! What’s next – the Fray Bentos flippin’ Premier League? And also, of course, the serious stuff, like the long-term financing of the Football League, its clubs and all the daft competitions it likes to entertain.

It’s why this fanzine has returned this season, and as its editor Glen Wilson points out we’ve had a pretty good success rate so far. We left the world in 2020 only to see a global pandemic spread, President Trump reign supreme and Mrs Brown’s Boys given airtime on Saturday night TV. Since our return a vaccine has been found, Trump has been booted out, Dominic Cummings received the same treatment and Doncaster Rovers featured live on Match of the Day. If we can do that, surely we can cleanse the EFL trophy and have rid of its terrible sponsorship.

And I know what you’re thinking. That if by some miracle we make it to the final at Wembley when fans are allowed back into the stadium and we can all sit around and drink beer and stuff slices of Papa’s pizza into our mouths, would I go? Well of course I fucking would, but that doesn’t make me a hypocrite. OK?!

by Jack Peat

This article initially appeared in print in issue 102 of popular STAND fanzine, published in December 2020.

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