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How outside opening brought our Pub Cup champs together

Victoria licensee Zena Ives reveals what the Wembley win means to her pub community

The Victoria football team were triumphant on the Wembley turf in this season’s men’s Pub Cup final – and it has been quite a journey for the pub itself too.

Back in April, the pub in the Portslade area of Brighton revamped its outside space, so it could trade under the new guidelines after lockdown.

An old courtyard was given a makeover with the help of local tradesmen and a graffiti artist. Zena Ives, licensee at the wet-led Star Pubs & Bars venue, also had the foresight to put up a large outdoors TV, to cater for the pub’s huge base of sports fans.

She said: “My customers are crazy sports fans and they’ll watch anything. I chose to open our little courtyard with the TV and a gazebo. We could only fit 46 people, but every weekend we were rammed.”

And little did she know that the decision would ultimately lead to a journey to Wembley.

It was during these sessions that a bunch of lads at the pub, led by regular Owen Scerri, decided to enter this season’s Pub Cup.

“We have a darts team and a pool team but up until Owen’s lot we never had a football team.

They were all getting excited throughout the Euros watching the games in the garden and they kept seeing the Pub Cup adverts and just decided to go for it.

The team had never played any competitive matches together before but were all capable footballers with confidence in their ability.

And that confidence was not misplaced. After successfully entering, they won the seven-a-side southern heat at Bisham Abbey to book their place at Wembley.

Zena continues: “When we found out they were playing at Wembley there was a bit of a sense of disbelief. They were getting super-excited.

The whole pub was invested in what was happening. All the updates were going on The Vic WhatsApp group. It went all over a local news group as well so the whole Portslade community were behind them.

Zena joined the team at Wembley for the final and watched on proudly as they triumphed 4-0 against Bradford side The New Line.

Later that day they returned to The Victoria to a rousing reception from regulars at the pub (and for one or two drinks to celebrate).

“They represented the pub so well and they are all far wiser than their years. I was very proud of them. They really showed maturity and appreciated what they had experienced.

Even now some of them are still in shock that they had the chance to play there. It is still the talk of the pub, and that trophy is a real conversation starter.

In fact, the trophy has even been used to help raise money for charity.

“We did a morning where people could have their photo taken with the cup in return for a donation to the charity Mental Health United.

“There was so much interest in it and we made more than £200.

“We’ve even had people standing outside taking photos of it. We saw more people coming into the pub off the back of winning the Pub Cup and we still do now.”

The trophy is currently behind the bar but will soon be moved to a new area in the pub so it can be displayed next to newspaper cuttings about the Victoria’s victory, a signed Pub Cup shirt from the final and the jumbo cheque for £1,000 to spend at the BT shop that also formed part of the prize.

The money will be spent on a new TV for the pub, with Zena putting up a plaque next to it as a permanent reminder that it was paid for by the triumphant football team.

It’s a fitting way to mark the success of a team that has helped further cement the already strong community at the pub with sport at the heart of its offer.

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