Pub football teams around the country are set to enjoy a Premier League experience as part of this year’s BT Sport Pub Cup.
More than 190 teams will compete in the men’s and women’s tournaments at 12 top grounds around the country.
And those that make it through to the latter stages will get expert advice from players who have performed on some of the biggest stages of them all.
Robbie Savage, John Hartson, Fara Williams and Rachel Brown-Finnis will all be on hand to guide the teams that make it through to the semi-finals day at Manchester City’s Academy on May 27 and the finals at St James’ Park, Newcastle on Tuesday June 4.
We visited last year’s winning pub, The Gun in Hackney, to catch up with the Pub Cup managers and get their thoughts on this year’s tournament.
Name: Robbie Savage
Caps: 39 (Wales)
Pub Cup pedigree: Robbie led The Gun to a dramatic penalty shootout victory against previous champions The Liver Vaults last season.
The former midfield general turned BT Sport presenter and pundit said he is keen to replicate his victory from last season.
“I loved the whole experience, it was brilliant,” he said: “The standard was very good and it was very competitive. It’s about taking part of course but when you are in it you want to win it. It’s like being a professional for a period of time. The way the players get treated, you look and feel like a Premier League player.”
However, he was also keen to take a cheeky swipe at the Pub Cup management record of his former Wales team mate John Hartson, who has narrowly lost two Pub Cup finals.
“John managed the winning team from the year before and they were 1-0 up against 10 men but I have my powers of man management. I altered one or two things with Bondy (Alan Bond, Gun manager) and we won the game on penalties which was an incredible achievement against the hot favourites.
If I was John, I would be very disappointed with myself. He should have stepped down really after losing two finals. He’s very lucky to retain his job.”
Name: John Hartson
Caps: 51 (Wales)
Pub Cup pedigree: John has been there from the very beginning, managing in the two previous Pub Cup finals at the Emirates and at Leicester’s King Power stadium. He is also the previous owner of The Halfway Inn, in Swansea.
Striker John was quick to respond to Robbie’s jibe over his Pub Cup record.
It would be good to get one over Robbie. I have lost the previous two but the second one was on penalties and they equalised late. There was controversy over their goal too – I think we need VAR this time!”
He added that with heats taking place in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland and England, we could potentially see greater progress from non-English sides.
“The reason why the finals have been all English affairs so far is because the majority of the teams that entered have been from England. We would like to get more teams from all the different nations involved.”
He added that the tournament is a chance to make memories that will last a lifetime.
“It’s a really good opportunity for amateur players to get involved in such a big thing. That’s why I enjoy it.
“I’ve been there and seen it, I was born and bred on a council estate in Swansea and I know what it means to these boys when they win it for their local area. They can take the cup back and put it in the pub. That will be part of the pub’s history.”
Name: Fara Williams
Caps: 168 (England), 5 (GB)
Pub Cup pedigree: Fara is making her debut in the launch year of the Women’s Pub Cup but she is no stranger to the industry having presented a BT Manager of the Month Award to the Ingate Free House in Suffolk last year.
England’s most capped player is looking forward to taking on one of the players she shared the pitch with whilst on England duty.
“It will be great – especially against my roomie. Me and Rachel were roommates for years and she used to say I would go on to be a manager. It will be interesting.
“I’ll want to win, especially against Rachel but it is more about the fun.”
The Reading midfielder added: “We have seen the growth in women’s football and things like this are only good for grassroots women and for the men. It’s a great opportunity to get involved.”
Fara got involved in the pub industry when she visited The Ingate Freehouse. The pub, which has registered for this year’s competition, was rewarded for the support it gives Beccles Town Ladies FC
“Grassroots teams need sponsorships and that pub really helped that team,” she said.
That pub showed a lot of the women’s games on TV as well so it is a great supporter of the game. I’m not really a gin girl but they had some great gins too!”
Name: Rachel Brown-Finnis
Caps: 82 (England), 1 (GB)
Pub Cup pedigree: Former England stopper Rachel is a new recruit to the Pub Cup management staff but the family is in the business with her brother a landlord at a pub in Burnley.
Rachel says that the competition is a wonderful chance for men and women to enjoy playing like a pro.
“It’s a great opportunity to play and get involved. It is not an elitist competition. You can experience some of the things that we did as players, seeing big stadiums and enjoying that camaraderie. People could get hooked on it.”
It’s really exciting that it’s opened up to women this year. We know how many people love football – whether you are male or female it’s irrelevant – and it’s a brilliant way of combining where people watch the game with a love of the game and wanting to play it.”
“I don’t care who we are playing against, over that white line I want to win. Set-pieces will be sent out on email before, I’m a stickler for defensive duties so I will be barking those out.”
However, she admits that once she gets the manager’s tracksuit on the competitive juices will start to flow.
- For more information about this season’s Pub Cup visit www.btsportbusiness.com/pubcup