Daniel Merchant, general manager of the Three Elms pub in Whitchurch, Cardiff, is hoping that his pub’s team will be selected for a second BT Sport Pub cup after narrowly missing out on the finals last year.
"I think the best part of it, for me, was that it reaffirmed our dedication to live sport. For the guys who played in the football, it really refocused them on us being one of the best places to watch sport – that was the biggest benefit for me.”
For Merchant, travelling to the heat at Queens Park Rangers’ Loftus Road in west London with the team members and their families was unforgettable.
"It was a great team-building experience. We were backed financially to get us all up to London by mini-coach. It was a fantastic day out.
"Also the experience of playing at a football league ground was, for most of the boys, something they'll never forget really."
Pub Cup calendar
10 May 2018 - Loftus Road, QPR, London
11 May 2018 - Goodison Park, Everton, Merseyside
14 May 2018 - The Hawthorns, West Bromwich Albion, West Midlands
15 May 2018 - Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, Dorset
16 May 2018 - Easter Road, Hibernian, Edinburgh
17 May 2018 - Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday, South Yorkshire
20 May 2018 - Semi-finals - St George’s Park, FA Headquarters, Staffordshire
2 June 2018 – Final - King Power Stadium, Leicester City
While they ultimately didn’t manage to reach the final at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium – which was won 2-0 by a team from Liverpool’s Liver Vaults pub – the tournament has had a more lasting impact on the Three Elms.
"It definitely opened up new customers to the fact that we show sport. Where the boys from football would have already used the pub quite regularly, it definitely opened up the pub to wives, girlfriends and mums who came to the football. We've definitely seen an upturn in the amount that they started using the pub afterwards."
Merchant is a firm believer that basing a sports team at his pub is fundamentally good for business.
"Over the years we've supported women's teams, kids' teams and men's senior teams, and I've always thought that the knock-on effect of that is that we're always seen as a pub that does things for the community in terms of helping teams financially – buying new kit and buying equipment. I think it definitely helps with public opinion of the pub."
Should his team progress further in the tournament this time around, it will be managed by either ex-pros John Hartson or Robbie Savage at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium in this year’s final.
Savage said: “These opportunities weren’t around when I was younger. The fact that these guys have got an opportunity to play at a Premier League ground with their mates is brilliant.
“The only opportunity I had was to play at the Racecourse ground in Wrexham if we got to the cup final in the youth leagues. You got a great buzz playing there, even at a young age when Wrexham were in division two.”
Savage believes there to be a “huge connection” between football and pubs, whether it’s watching top-flight football on one of its screens or turning out for a pub side on a Sunday.
“I used to go and watch my local side called the Black Horse – they were the best team in Wrexham. After the game they all used to go back to the pub where there’d be a big tray of chips, big tray of sausages, game of pool or darts, and you’d watch the football in the afternoon.
“I’ve turned out a couple of times on a Sunday and it was great. I’m sure a lot of the players were getting over their hangovers from the night before – but there was real camaraderie, togetherness, fun and a will to win. If I gave the ball away they’d have a go at me, which is right because they’re taking it seriously.”
While Savage's former Wales national team room-mate Hartson has experience of coaching under former Wales manager Chris Coleman and working at Scottish side Livingston, the opportunity presents Savage, who appeared 39 times for his country, with the chance to grace the touchline of one of his former clubs in what will be his first experience of coaching an 11-a-side team.
“I’m excited. I manage an under-12s side now. I think it’ll probably be easier managing an adult side because the parents from opposition sides can sometimes be a nightmare! Managing a pub side will be a great experience for me.
“I’m sure the standard will be good – the standard of my local pub sides when I was growing up was fantastic. One thing for sure is whoever I manage, I will want to win. It’ll be feisty with big John – no question about it. I’ve got to be tactically better than him.
“Will I know the players? I might have to go and watch the semi-finals as well, I’ll have to know where they play. I’ve got to do a team talk, which I’ll be quite nervous about – you imagine speaking in front of a group of people you don’t know, maybe having a go at a few. They’ll be thinking ‘who’s this guy?!’ It’s going to be interesting.”
How to enter
The tournament is open to teams representing their local BT Sport pub or club, whether it is part of an existing team, an established team or a brand new team.
The team crowned champions will win a free BT Sport subscription for a year and £5,000 worth of equipment for their pub.
Teams wanting to enter and to find the nearest BT Sport pub can visit www.btsport.com/pubfinder