It’s fair to say the success of The Gun in last season’s BT Sport Pub Cup took landlord Nick Stephens a little bit by surprise.
The Hackney publican is chairman of the club that played in the final regional qualifier of last season’s competition at Millwall’s ground The Den in May.
They got through to the semi-finals at St George’s Park via a penalty shootout, and victory there took them to the final itself at Leicester’s King Power stadium.
This led to Nick managing his team alongside Robbie Savage in the same dugout where Claudio Ranieri led Leicester to the most unlikely Premier League success just a couple of years previously.
Now, sitting alongside the BT Sport Pub Cup trophies they won along the way, Nick recalls what the events of last year meant to the pub.
He explains: “The whole thing was amazing really. It happened so quickly that I didn’t really mobilise the troops and get as many people as I would have liked to the final.
“BT sorted out a Premier League team bus for us which was like Air Force 1. I wanted to take a couple of bottles of prosecco on there but Bondy (team captain Alan Bond) was very professional.
“It was crazy because later on people would come up and say that they saw us on TV and that ‘we were pretty tidy’ or ‘that lad should never have been sent off’.”
A red card for The Gun in the final – which was broadcast live for pub and club subscribers – was followed by one for their opponents and 2017 champions the Liver Vaults, from Liverpool. More drama followed in the 1-1 draw before The Gun sealed the title on penalties.
Wild celebrations followed at the ground, on the bus, and eventually back at The Gun where the team partied late into the night.
We got back to the pub at 2am and we were on a 3am close so the pub was in full tilt. It was properly going off. It was a really good night. We went upstairs, took the cup with us and just told the team to drink what they want.”
Nick continues the story: “I’ll never forget Bondy getting up on the table and holding the trophy aloft.”
The relationship between the team and the pub has been vital to its success ever since it was founded when Nick took on the Gun in 2014.
He grew up in Hackney and, after managing pubs for years, was keen to create a football team when he got the keys to his own business.
“We thought it would be a good thing to do for a pub in Hackney. There were some friends who wanted to do it and it all fell into place. The lads who were getting involved just cracked on with it and we have helped out here and there but they have been wonderfully self-reliant.
“I’ll do deals with breweries to get them beers, discounts on their food and put some money towards league registration. A couple of incredible designers did the logo. It’s been a real collective effort. They are so organised they should run the pub really.
“People really love the football team. They are really proud of what they have done.”
Nick, who is also a diehard Liverpool fan, sticks to watching from the sidelines rather than playing for The Gun.
I went to a couple of training sessions but they were so much better than me that I realised that my position as chairman and the respect they were supposed to have for me could be seriously under threat.”
Football is a key element of the pub’s offer. As well as the trade and the good times that The Gun FC has created, showing live football is also part of the pub’s pull.
Nick describes the pub as a “local with football, cocktails, simple food and great beer.”
He adds: “We try to do all the things you expect and do them well. We’re probably best known for picking our live music and booking DJs – all the best music you haven’t heard.”
And there is sure to be another huge party at The Gun if they can repeat last season’s success in this year’s competition.
“It was encouraging for me that the previous winners (Liver Vaults) got through to the final again. We are quite an organised team so I am hoping history can repeat itself.
“Though I keep getting way ahead of myself and thinking about the final. Bondy keeps everyone’s feet on the ground and reminds us that we’ve got to get through the heats and semi-finals first.”
Whoever makes it to the final, which this year will be played at St James’ Park, Nick has some words of advice.
“Now I know what it’s all about and what a cool idea it is. If you make the final, make sure you drum up as much support as you can. If we get there we’ll take more people with us.”
It’s a long road ahead for The Gun and everyone else in this year’s BT Sport Pub Cup.
We are tripling the number of teams that can take part to nearly 200 this season, which for the first time includes a Women’s Pub Cup competition.
The tournament kicks off in May and will be played at more top class grounds than ever before – including stadiums in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Men’s and Women’s Finals will take place at St James’ Park in June with the winning pubs picking up £5,000 of equipment and free BT Sport for a year for their pub.
And in a major move this year we will be providing free kit to the first eligible 1,500 teams that register to play in this year’s tournament – that’s kit for more than 20,000 pub footballers.
So, think you can be the next Gun and win the BT Sport Pub cup? Get your finger on the trigger and enter now.
- Click here to register your team for the Pub Cup now. The BT Sport Pub Cup is open to any men or women’s amateur team who wants to represent their local BT Sport pub, either as an existing team or in a new side for the tournament. You must be over 18 to take part. Maximum one team per pub. T&Cs apply.