Game plan: keep the drama on screen when you show football

By Jo Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Kicking off: make the most of the football season by getting your pub's game plan in order
Kicking off: make the most of the football season by getting your pub's game plan in order

Related tags Bar Public house Football

Football and other major sporting events bring pubs lucrative sales opportunities, especially for those located near football grounds or those that screen big events.

Ideally, the only trouble and drama seen on match days in pubs is from the action on the pitch, but although there has been a significant reduction in the amount of football-related violence in pubs in recent years, sadly clashes between rival fans do still occur and licensees need to focus on doing all they can to minimise the chances of this happening in their premises.

Banning team colours: 


■ After games, a ban can help avoid issues between rival fans because fan allegiances aren’t identifiable

■ A colours ban can make away fans feel less intimidated about visiting your venue


■ If there is any trouble it makes it harder to identify culprits if not wearing colours

■ Wearing colours can help add atmosphere and a sense of occasion on match days and encourage friendly banter between fans

■ It can help to reduce trouble by seeing an array of different colours in your venue because it promotes a sense of united sporting community and friendly rivalry


Paul Eastwood, general manager of Stonegate’s Famous Three Kings (FTK) in West Kensington, London, winner of Best Sports Pub in the Great British Pub Awards 2016, says: “We always show sports with ‘rival’ groups of fans. One of the main things that we aim to promote is that we are a sports pubs (not a team pub).

“I come from a sports sociology background and lots of trouble comes through identity and territory. If people identify a pub as belonging to them then they can become protective and aggressive of that venue.”

He adds: “I’m always keen to play it down if anyone suggests we are affiliated to any one club or nation. For example, we have a massive following for Juventus but rather than say we are a Juventus pub, we describe our pub as ‘a host for the Juventus fan club’. This makes everyone well aware that the pub is not theirs, but they are here as our guests.”

Bringing fans together

The pub has launched a fan league that aims to get supporters from eight different local teams playing football together and enjoying friendly rivalries outside of the pub. It also holds parties that bring groups of fans together such as Lazio and Roma.

Eastwood adds: “Normally if you put these guys in a pub together you expect trouble, all we get is friendly banter, respect and love of the game and a great community spirit and atmosphere.”

According to Malcolm Mant, licensee of Greene King lease the Compton Arms in Islington, near Arsenal’s ground, setting the right standards and tone for your business with fans is key. He says: “You need to have your line in the sand that it is unacceptable to cross. Having no swearing and aggressive chanting may sound a bit nanny state, but in a football environment it can escalate very quickly into something that is hard to control. Nipping it in the bud at the source with some banter and a smile on your face while you’re doing it works wonders.”

The FTK’s Eastwood adds: “Com-munication with the fans is key, my customers know the line that is acceptable behaviour, if they cross this they risk not being allowed in and would then miss out on future events.”

Having plenty of floor staff collecting glasses, keeping customer areas clear and talking with fans also helps to ensure any inappropriate behaviour is stamped out quickly, with many operators doubling the number of staff working on big-game days.

Eastwood says: “Our staff are well trained and don’t serve anybody who appears to have had too much drink or who gets too rowdy. We use radios to connect the bar, door and management teams, which helps when controlling the crowd.”

Mant, whose pub is a member of Arsenal Pubwatch, operates without door staff on match days. He says: “Being friendly and visible is far more effective than warning signs or prohibitive-looking penguins on the door.”

But for many operators having door staff for big match days is a must to help prevent any potential trouble. And for pubs near to football grounds, where thousands of fans pass the door, it is about crowd control.

Match day planning tips

  • Prep well ahead of the big games to ensure speedy service, which will help reduce issues and maximise profits
  • Make sure staff are well briefed on what areas they are working in and stick to them
  • Ensure the bar is well stocked with enough beer and spirits optics easily to hand and that you have extra ice already prepared
  • Make sure you have extra stock in case you are busier than you think
  • Double the amount of staff for busy match days
  • Have plenty of extra glasses ready in stacks so you can keep up speed of service
  • Make extra float up before service
  • Make sure toilets are well stocked so staff aren’t taken away from the bar

No price promotions

Not running price promotions on beer on match days is also advised by leading operators, which helps ensure you only attract customers who want to enjoy watching the game over a couple of pints and not those looking for an eight-pint session where things are more likely to get out of control.

Having the right gender and age mix of customers on match days is another tactic employed by some to help prevent trouble in their venue.

Danny Grayson, director of two Champs Sports Bar & Grills in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, including one near Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane, says: “Two hours before the match for local games we offer free children’s drinks of cordials and lemonade. People are never going to cause any trouble in front  of children.”

The FTK’s Eastwood adds: “We are also female-friendly, which helps with a more congenial atmosphere in the pub.”

Michael Hill, licensee of freehouse the Strawberry, a stone’s throw from the Newcastle United ground, says: “The days of mindless football violence are gone. I see minimal violence these days because football is now more about families going to the game together and all coming to the pub. Encouraging families in helps diffuse any problems.”

Swapping to plastic glassware on match days, expect for outside drinking, isn’t a tactic recommended by some operators.

Champs’ Grayson says: “If police are concerned about a game they will recommend using plastic glasses but this causes more issues. It is reverse psychology and gives out a message that you have got no confidence in people’s behaviour.”

Eastwood adds: “Sometimes we will use plastic glassware, which is more for people dropping glasses when its really busy than any thoughts of trouble.”

Philip Cutter, licensee of The Murderers/Gardeners Arms in Norwich city centre, who can serve between 5,000 and 8,000 pints on a busy match day, says: “We work really well with the local police and discuss potential flash points at forthcoming games. If we have a coach load of away supporters turn up at 10am, who are no problem and just want to enjoy the first beer of the day, they are welcome here, but I let them know that I will call the police to let them know they are here. It is about covering my back too.”

Making use of Pubwatch

Getting involved in football Pubwatch schemes in your area is also recommended. Compton Arms host Mant says: “The Arsenal Pubwatch is a useful tool where we get information regarding how many away fans are expected for a certain game, where they are being shepherded to and from by the police, minimum serving hours expected by the police, etc.”

FTK’s Eastwood adds: “Keeping in touch with your licensing officer is also important because they can inform you of anything they would like you to do. It’s also an opportunity to feedback to them what initiatives we have in place to control any problems. I also like to tell them when we are expecting to be busy on events that they may not expect us to be busy (eg, ice hockey).”

He adds: “By good two-way communication, you can alleviate most concerns the police may have about your venue by being proactive in your approach to running a safe venue.”

Banning team colours is a tactic employed by some operators to help reduce the chances of trouble at their venue. The Howling Hops in London’s Hackney Wick, has become a drinking venue for West Ham fans since their move to the London Stadium a year ago. The bar’s operations manager Katie Sheasby says: “So far, we have allowed team colours sometimes, but at other times we have asked people not to return to the venue in team colours after a match. We manage each match on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the local police.”

The Compton Arms’ Mant says: “Because of the match-day environment we create – friendly, respectful, warm – yet encourage competition and banter; team colours have never been an issue. In fact, in here, it adds something to the occasion.”

Communicating with residents and businesses close to your pub is also key. The Murderers’ Cutter says: “I go around local businesses if there is a big game and if I think we will be busy I say ‘this
is my mobile number and if they have any issues to give me a call and I will sort any issues out as quickly as I can’.”

Champs’ Grayson says: “We look after the local community by putting on discos throughout the year with food for £1, drinks, bouncy castle and face painting. It helps to keep them on-side.”

He adds: “The main thing is to be nice to people, which will help create a reputation for a great place to come to watch football that is trouble free and family-friendly.”      

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