In the 20 or so years that Shane Coates-Jarman has run his pub in Nuneaton, he has always had links with a local football team.
That was until just weeks before CJ’s were due to play in this year’s Pub Cup heat at Leicester’s King Power stadium.
The licensee picks up the story: “We’ve had some great teams here in the past but this year our Sunday league team folded. When I found out we had made it into the Pub Cup I got talking to the lads about having the chance to play at these incredible places and we managed to get a team together.
For them it was the ultimate dream to get to play at a Premier League stadium.
And they didn’t just play. They won at Leicester, booking a place in the semi-finals day at Manchester City’s Academy.
A tough group saw them face the likes of 2018 champions The Gun, but again they prevailed.
“We hired a coach for the day and had plenty of beers loaded up for the way back, either to celebrate or commiserate, luckily we were celebrating. It was an amazing experience for them.”
Not long after they were off to the final at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, this time in a coach fit for a Premier League team, courtesy of BT Sport.
They faced Scottish side The Inn at Elderslie with assistance on the night from celebrity manager Robbie Savage.
Shane continues: “The conditions were atrocious and Robbie didn’t want to get his hair wet by coming out of the dugout, but he was a big help. He said we knew the players better than him but he could offer tips if we wanted them.
“At half-time he gave us some ideas and pointed out some weaknesses. It was really good to have him there.”
CJ’s had started the match well, scoring a great early goal, but soon found themselves trailing to a resurgent Inn at Elderslie. They equalised before the break and then got two goals ahead in the second half. A third for their opponents and a late rally kept it interesting all the way to the end of the 90 minutes but CJ’s held on for a 4-3 victory.
We didn’t make it easy for ourselves, laughs Shane. It was heaven when the final whistle went.
Cue celebrations on the pitch, which carried on for the journey home and back at the pub for a little late after party for the players.
The BT Sport Pub Cup trophy now takes pride of place in a bar which is already adorned with football shirts signed by the likes of Ronaldo, Henry and Gerrard. Football and live sport is clearly at the very heart of the business.
Those mementoes will soon be joined on the wall by a shirt from the final signed by the entire CJ’s squad.
The audio-visual equipment, which includes a projector and several big screen TV’s is also set for an upgrade after Shane picked up £5,000 to spend in the BT Shop as part of the prize, along with free BT Sport for a year.
It will add to a venue that has already had a significant change of direction in the last couple of years. Not only has Shane changed the name from The Prince to CJ’s but he has also added a restaurant on the floor above the sports bar.
He has taken on three chefs and seen his dry sales overtake wet sales, in a 60/40 split.
“It’s taken a few years but it’s slowly getting there,” he continues, “We are getting new clientele coming in.
“Downstairs is very much a sports bar. We do a lot of boxing and football. It was absolutely rammed for the Champions League final.
“I don’t see why you can’t have a nice restaurant and a sports bar downstairs. Getting the balance right can be awkward but you have to do different things these days to get people out.”
It seems to be working with the publicity gained from their Pub Cup triumph creating enough interest to run a side once more from the pub next season – and they won’t be short of kit after picking up a new strip at every stage of the Pub Cup journey.
Shane adds: “Having a team does generate interest, especially when they come back afterwards to watch the football. It really creates an atmosphere.
“Winning the Pub Cup was a dream and the lads are already talking about next year and defending the title. They want that experience again.”
With the form they showed this year, you wouldn’t bet against them.