The People’s Cup 2017 – in review…
Wokingham UB50 took the spoils for walking football during the FA People’s Cup final in Birmingham, but the real winner was the game itself as it was showcased to the nation in the West Midlands…
UB50 came from behind to defeat Leeds Titans 3-1 in a tense final and claim the crown, which earned them a trip to Wembley and gave them the opportunity to receive their trophy in front of a 90,000 capacity crowd during half time of the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea.
The Berkshire side profited from a Leeds sin-binning to take control of the tie and earn their place alongside the Grimsby Ancient Mariners in walking football history.
Not that all the action was saved for the showpiece, with earlier matches in the finals including a 3-3 thriller between home favourites Birmingham WFC and the defeated finalists Leeds.
Wokingham themselves defeated Birmingham in the semi-finals courtesy of a magnificent 5-4 win against the home side.
Almost twice as many teams entered the walking football category of the FA People’s Cup when compared with last year and enhanced media coverage helped to showcase the game to the watching public, which was aided by a notably high standard of football throughout.
In total 210 teams took part across 26 different venues throughout the UK, with 38 teams progressing to six semi-finals – the winner of each going on to the grand final just a stones throw away from long-time FA Cup semi final host Villa Park.
The competition was this year watched by more people than ever, and highlights of the finals were screened on BBC One ahead of the FA Cup final in May. The best of the action from the day was also available to watch on the BBC Sport website.
The FA People’s Cup is the biggest five-a-side competition in the country and it was undoubtedly positive to see walking football playing such a central role during just its second year as a category.
The BBC’s coverage of the event included some excellent, moving stories including a piece on Jan Milner (no relation of Liverpool star James!) who managed to rekindle her love of the game by joining the superbly named Retro Rovers.
The corporation’s live-streaming of the final also helped to add a certain gloss to proceedings while ensuring the finals were accessible to those unable to travel to the second city to watch events unfold in the flesh.
The FA have confirmed that walking football will again play a key role in 2018, and have admitted they are looking at ways to improve the competition based on feedback from this year’s event.
One of these elements will include focusing on the quality of refereeing, which is something that can be a cause for consternation and grievance at clubs across the country – we have covered that topic in these pages before.
Next year’s event will undoubtedly benefit from the new rulebook that the FA introduced earlier this year to clarify some of the core issues, such as running and the head height rule, which came a little too late to make any real impact in the regional heats.
What is certain is that walking football will benefit by having its place on the national stage, something that can only help drive new players through the doors of clubs across the country and help to increase general awareness of its benefits.
Wokingham UB50 are this year’s standard bearers, but who knows – it could be your club that walks out on the hallowed turf at Wembley in 2018.