The BT Sport Pub Cup finals produced a goal-fest like no other at St James’ Park since the Magpies famously came from 4-0 down to draw with Arsenal eight years ago.
This time it was players proudly representing their pubs that repeatedly found the back of the net at the historic North East stadium.
Finals day on June 4 was the culmination of a month-long tournament that has seen more than 190 teams compete at stadiums across the country for the right to play for the trophy and a prize for their pub of free BT Sport for a year and £5,000 to spend in the BT shop.
That right was won by CJ’s of Nuneaton, The Inn at Elderslie – our first Scottish finalists – and The Golden Hind, Birmingham, and Shifnal Town Sports Bar, who competed in our first Women’s Pub Cup Final, days before the World Cup kicks off.
The teams were all treated to a full-on Premier League experience with luxury coaches transporting them from their pub to the pitch. Once there they received advice and support from our team of celebrity managers: Robbie Savage, John Hartson, Fara Williams and Rachel Brown-Finnis.
But on the pitch it came down to our teams to deliver, and they didn’t let anyone down.
The ladies were first up and it was a case of familiar foes going toe to toe. Shifnal and The Golden Hind both qualified via our heat at Molineux and comprise of players who have competed against each other in local leagues.
The Golden Hind, a Marston’s managed house, went into the game as marginal favourites having narrowly won their last meeting with Shifnal.
They started the better of the two and took an early lead through the rapid and always dangerous Hayley Wilford.
But Shifnal fought back to level from the spot before taking the lead with an unfortunate own goal. That lead was doubled with further goals from Rebecca Brown and Savannah Howes.
A coolly converted penalty got The Golden Hind back in the game but a fifth from Danni Smith seemed to have wrapped things up.
But the Golden Hind, which had seen Solihull Ladies and Stourbridge Ladies join forces to compete together for the pub, were not done yet. Two goals in quick succession and a nerve-wracking seven minutes of injury time had to be endured before Shifnal knew they had done enough.
It was huge reward and relief for a side that had finished second in their league this year and runners-up in two local cup finals.
After the game keeper and Newcastle United fan Terri Henderson said: “It’s proper mint. Towards the end it was a bit touchy but as soon as that whistle went that was it. We’ve struggled but we got here and showed that we are number one.”
Her coach for the day and mentor, former England keeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, added: “The girls were unbelievable. They dug in, it was hard work and they showed their character.”
The BT Sport pundit also had some astute words about cup finals that she shared with the players.
The best thing about cup finals is enjoying the beautiful pitch, enjoying it with all of your teammates and it’s about cracking open those bottles of prosecco.”
As the bubbles started to flow, it was time for CJ’s and The Inn at Elderslie to grace the pitch for our third ever men’s Pub Cup final.
CJ’s, who came through qualifying at Leicester’s King Power stadium before our semi-finals at Manchester City’s Academy, started with confidence. They passed the ball around the pitch like seasoned pros and opened the scoring with a beautifully worked set piece.
Ryan Harkin provided the finishing touch by cleverly heading back across goal from the far post before the number 9 aptly gave it the full Shearer with his celebration in front of the Gallowgate End.
But against the run of play another number 9 was to have his say at St James’ Park. This time it was the Inn’s Aaron Millar who latched onto a cross to level things up.
And the side from Scotland, who have been sponsored by the family freehouse for more than five years, did it again to take a 2-1 lead when Ross Mundie fired in from another great ball into the box.
But as the rain lashed down a defensive mix-up gave CJ’s the chance to level just before half-time, which a grateful Lewis Commins was only too happy to accept.
Ryan Harkin added a second after the break, to give CJ’s the lead once again in this topsy-turvy game but as they tried to keep hold of the ball at the back The Inn pounced on an error to break and score a great leveller, Millar again on the end of it.
It looked as if it could take penalties to separate two sides that had given everything for their pubs, but there was a twist left in this tale. Winger Brady Middleton, who had been a threat all night, turned finisher when he scored what proved to be the winning goal.
It ended 4-3 to CJ’s who celebrated with manager Robbie Savage, who again got one over his former Wales teammate John Hartson after successfully leading The Gun to victory in last season’s final.
Speaking to BT Sport presenter Jeff Brazier after the game, he said: “The winner was a great goal. Great bit of skill and a great finish I thought overall CJ’s deserved it.”
It was a huge relief to pub licensee Shane (CJ) Coates-Jarman who had kicked every ball from the side of the pitch.
He said: “It was nerve-wracking but what an incredible experience. We only entered to give the lads the chance of playing on a Premier League pitch so to win it is just incredible.”
- For further highlights and details from this year’s BT Sport Pub Cup take a look at our Twitter feed at @BTSportBars