Sheffield United took the first trophy of the EFL season by winning the EFL Trust’s walking football cup. A stunning strike for Blades Paul Stacey saw Sheffield beat Kidderminster Harriers 1-0 in a pulsating final after a thrilling day of walking football.
In the impressive surroundings of Aston Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground 12 teams from around the country came together to contest the finals. To reach this stage these teams have already a won local competition which was held by over 70 EFL and conference clubs. This gave players the opportunity to represent their club, wearing official club colours in the regional finals, with the winners and runners up progressing to Saturday’s national finals. The competition is growing in stature with an increase of participation year on year. Over 1,500 men and women from a record breaking 200 teams have taken part in this year’s competition – a 17% increase in teams from last year.
The EFL Trust, tournament organiser Aiden Couch commented, “Walking Football has grown enormously over the last few years and we’ve had more men and women take part this year than ever before. Once you get to 50 the opportunities to take sport in competitive sport really decreases and so people tend to become inactive which can create numerous health problems. The walking football cup is one way EFL clubs and their community trust are tackling this issue. A survey completed during last year’s competition showed that 82% of participants believe their physical health has improved by playing walking football, with 79% of those competing in last year’s competition saying their level of exercise has increased.”
The closely fought group stages
Reigning champions Blackpool looked on course to retain their title going unbeaten through the group stages and topping group two. Behind them the contest for second spot and a place in the semi-final was wide open with Colchester, Notts County, Luton Town and Cheltenham separated by just one point going into the final group game. Colchester fifth draw of the day against Bradford saw them finished unbeaten on five points but out of contention. With Cheltenham playing Blackpool and County and Luton playing each other, a win for any team would put them in pole position. With both games finishing 0-0 it was Luton who progressed on goal difference by just one goal.
Group One was just as close; eventual winners Sheffield United got off to a slow start losing to 2015 champions Plymouth Argyle. Whilst the Blades went from strength to strength that proved to be the Green Army’s only win. Going into the last round of group fixtures Blackburn Rovers, Dagenham and Redbridge, Sheffield United and Kidderminster Harriers could all qualify for the semi-finals – with intriguingly Blackburn playing Kidderminster and Sheffield United playing the Daggers. The Blades quickly went into a 2-0 lead it whilst the Rovers, Kidderminster game was incredibly tight and could have gone either way. Eventually the game finished 1-1 which meant the Harriers edged out Rovers by just a point.
Semi Final Drama
Sheffield United faced Luton in the semi-final and where their more clinical finishing saw them 2-0 winners. The other semi-final between Kidderminster and reigning champions Blackpool proved to be an epic. A cagey game finished 0-0 after full time. The game opened up in extra time with Blackpool creating a string of chances, which the Harriers gallantly defended to set up a dramatic penalty shoot out. Amazingly the first 14 penalties were all converted before the Kidderminster keeper pulled off a brave save – only for the Blackpool stopper to cancel out the advantage with spectacular save. The champions reign ended however, with the next round of penalties when Blackpool missed the Kidderminster playing cooly slotted home to take them to the final.
Legends raise awareness of prostate cancer
Before the final a team of Aston Villa legends including Ian Taylor, Shaun Teale and Bryan Small took on a PCUK team which featuring former Stoke, Notts County and Southend striker Dave Regis. Although the Villa team ran out 3-1 winners the game proved a vital opportunity to raise awareness of prostate cancer which is key issue for men aged over 50.
The Blades Victorious
So the 2017 walking football final was to be Sheffield United v Kidderminster Harriers. Having drawn 0-0 in the group stages, there was again nothing to choose between the teams. It was only Paul Stacey’s stunning strike that separated the teams.