Pampered Premier League professionals might be able to pull out all the stops on an under-soil heated, carpet-like surface in front of 50,000 fans, but could they still give a top flight performance on a cold, wet, Sunday morning atop a quagmire near their local… while still hungover?
Maybe they could. But it’s hard to imagine modern-day football prima donnas – possibly paid the cost of a pub freehold in weekly wages – getting their heads around pub football and its quirks.
In light of the disengagement caused by the insane amount of money fans spend following their team around the country, and the fees paid for broadcasting rights and players alike, lower league and amateur football has developed a sub-culture all of its own.
Carlsberg’s cult-classic ‘If Carlsberg Did Pub Teams’ advert – featuring a who’s who of retired England greats – launched before England’s 2006 World Cup campaign and nestled itself in the hearts of the staunchest football fans. And not a day passes without mobile phone footage surfacing somewhere of a beer-bellied ’baller levelling a flashy upstart with a tackle worthy of a police caution.
But how can pubs grasp this pub footballing gold dust – fashioned from mud, sweat, beers and healthy dollops of Deep Heat – and use it to boost their standing in the local community, and ultimately, their profits?
Mutually beneficial partnership
The relationship between pubs and football is something that BT Sport understands well. In 2017, it launched its BT Sport Pub Cup, which offers pub players the chance to grace some of the most celebrated pitches in Premier League football to represent the good name of their local.
BT Sport director of commercial customers Bruce Cuthbert, says: “In England alone, about 8m adults play football – of which nearly 2m are playing every week – so there’s a huge opportunity to align pubs with football teams.”
Cuthbert highlighted the “virtuous circle” between local clubs and pubs, stating that a natural, mutually beneficial partnership revolves around regular fixtures and visits to pubs.
“Commercially, it’s a great thing because it creates a regular event where pubs are going to sell beer and food but it also has a halo effect of having a wider impact on the community because people will bring their mates.”
Anyone over the age of 18 can enter the BT Sport Pub Cup if they are a part of an existing pub team, an established football team entering on behalf of a pub, or just a group of friends.
Cuthbert says the cup spurred pubs and clubs to pair up, something that BT Sport did not expect people to do so readily. “We found there was a lot of stuff on social media where we saw teams looking to find a pub that they could call their own and vice versa.
“To us that is a really heartening piece of traffic that we can see on social media. That just goes to show why the pub can become the heart of the community – and equally that teams are looking for that place to become their ‘home’.”
Yet in spite of the no-nonsense aesthetic, getting pub football right is a surprisingly delicate balancing act. Locating the ‘Goldilocks’ zone between having a laugh with your mates and being part of a
successful team – that sponsors and licensees can get behind – often requires real commitment.
Winnings will fund team
One team has got it down to a fine art: Liverpool’s Liver Vaults pub, whose pub team won last season’s BT Sport Pub Cup.
The side, based in the city’s Kensington area, is the real deal as far as pub teams are concerned. Founded in 1976, it has played in the area’s top divisions, has seen previous opponents depart for the semi-professional ranks, and has even had to seek international clearance from the Football Association to register a trio of Spanish players who briefly joined.
Yet the club is built on a bedrock of local players and pub fundraising.
Billy Wynne, the Liver Vaults team chairman, says: “Without the pub, there wouldn’t be a team to be quite honest.
“It’s a great base, they help us in any way they can – if we come up with any fundraising activities that we think might help the team, they’ll go along with us.”
For winning BT Sport’s inaugural pub cup, the football team received a windfall of £5,000 that Wynne believes will fund the side for up to three seasons – with running costs per campaign estimated between £1,500 and £1,800.
Trevor Mason, who has managed the Liver Vaults pub with his wife Yvonne since 1984, and whose sons play for the pub’s football team, adds: “It keeps the community together really, keeping the lads knowing each other.
“It gets the pub a little bit busier on a Saturday when they’ve come back after they’ve played, and beforehand sometimes – though they’re not drinking before the game obviously.
“When they go training sometimes in the week they’ll come back in as well – it is good for the pub.
“We always put sandwiches on for when they’ve finished their football matches and things like that. We have a lot of presentation nights, like after they won the BT Pub Cup. We sometimes have events where we make some money for the team.”
Wynne says that the pub and its side are a perfect outlet for his passion for the game: “I was manager, secretary, treasurer and player when I first started out. I don’t get as involved in it now, but the day-to-day running of the club – organising matches, referees and things – I get involved in all that. I just love the atmosphere of the place.”
The Liver Vaults’ team beat a side representing Hertfordshire’s Great Northern pub 2-0 at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in last year’s BT Sport Pub Cup final. The Great Northern’s team came into being when licensee Lauren Hawes was approached by a group of her regulars in Hatfield who asked if they could form Great Northern FC and represent the pub in local leagues. The team unfortunately folded in November, but Hawes says the side had a positive impact on the pub’s business while it existed.
“The team definitely brought a positive vibe to the pub. Each Sunday the whole team would come down with their families and children. It increased our Sunday profit and there was a great atmosphere,” she recalls.
This positive experienced is repeatedly relayed by publicans across the country who told The Morning Advertiser they spent, on average, between £500 and £1,000 per season sponsoring a local football team. They all say having a team based at their site had a positive impact on their business, irrespective of the cost.
Star Pubs & Bars licensees Tony and Michelle Grierson of the Reiver pub, in Carlisle, Cumbria, found that the increased footfall brought in by its team, Border Reiver FC, helped publicise an extensive £500,000, revamp of their pub.
The couple converted the Reiver from a “man’s pub” to somewhere people could bring their loved ones during the week. They gave team players an early sneak peek of the refurb when they invited them back for complimentary food after a match.
The team was central to helping the Griersons re-establish the Reiver as a community hub, the licensees say. It also boosted sales and eventually helped them win the Star Pubs & Bars Heart of the Community Award in November as well as being a national finalist for Star’s Best Sports pub.
The value of pub team associations is not lost on Charles Byrne, manager of Lincoln’s Nosey Parker pub. He says that the pub’s ties to two local sides helps spread its name by word of mouth: “We’ve got Nosey FC – a men’s 11-a-side team – and then the ladies team, Nettleham Ladies.
“We sponsor Nettleham Ladies’ shirts, so our logo is on the front. They got through to the second round of the ladies FA Cup – for a small, little village team that’s some going. They’re also top of their league and they’ve won the county cup three years in a row.
“They come in after games, we lay on some food. I think it’s good for Lincoln really and we get our name out there and show that we’re supporting grassroots football.”
Opportunities in sponsorship
Sponsorship of a local team is beneficial if running your own 11-a-side team isn’t possible. The Lodge in Derby has sponsored Field Lane football club for a year and general manager H De La Cour sees the partnership as a rewarding investment. “We pay for the jackets that they wear after every match - our Flaming Grill logo is printed on the back.
“The boys come to the pub most evenings, sometimes for food, sometimes with family or girlfriends and sometimes just for drinks.
“The sponsorship is worthwhile, we love having the boys at the Lodge and are proud to give something back to the community.”
How to get your team sponsored?
■ Make the most of existing contacts – Billy Wynne of Liver Vaults football team, says that its latest kit came courtesy of an ironmonger’s. The firm is run by the father of a player who was impressed by their win in the BT Pub Cup.
■ Find yourself a regular haunt – H De La Cour, of the Lodge, Derby, says she got involved with a local team who regularly came into her pub. She says: “The local lads used the Lodge after training and after their games. I introduced myself to the manager and we developed a good relationship. I wanted to support the local boys.”
■ Harness your social media following – Offering to share news and updates from a small, local business with the engaged audience that your team generates can prove useful when discussing sponsorship.
■ Host fundraising events – The Liver Vaults team relies on a bedrock of pub-based fundraising even after it collected a massive windfall for winning the Pub Cup. Wynne says: “We’ve been very lucky with the pub that we run from, they let us do spot the ball, race nights, and a predictor – that brings in quite a few bob.”
■ Investigate community schemes and projects – For example, Making a Difference Locally is a charity launched to help independently run local Nisa stores to add value to their communities through donations. Because the focus is on community groups, there are a lot of sports teams that regularly benefit.