Sheffield United took the first trophy of the EFL season by winning the 2017 EFL Trust Walking Football Cup. A stunning strike from 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 in the finals. To reach this stage, finalists had already won their local competition which was held by over 70 EFL and conference clubs.
The competition gives 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.
Year after year, the competition is growing in stature with an increase in participation. Over 1,500 men and women from a record breaking 200 teams have taken part this year – a 17% increase from last year.
EFL Trust’s Walking Football Cup 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 part 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 trusts 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’s fifth draw of the day against Bradford saw them finish the tournament 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 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 this time more clinical finishing saw them take a 2-0 win. The other semi-final between Kidderminster and reigning champions Blackpool proved to be dramatic. After a cagey game finished 0-0, it opened up in extra time with Blackpool creating a string of chances, which the Harriers gallantly defended to set up a suspenseful 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 a spectacular save. The champions’ reign ended however, in the next round of penalties when Kidderminster 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 (Prostate Cancer UK) team 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 a key issue for men aged over 50.
The Blades Victorious
The eagerly anticipated 2017 Walking Football Final between Sheffield United and Kidderminster Harriers was incredibly close, with hardly anything to chose between them having previously drawn 0-0 in the group stages. It was Paul Stacey’s stunning strike that separated the teams in the end and sealed victory on the day for Sheffield United.