As one half of the third most prolific pair of wicket takers in Test match history alongside compatriot Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad knows a thing or two about forming a successful partnership.
In 2016, a decade after making his T20 and ODI debuts for England, Broad, Nottinghamshire team-mate Harry Gurney and friend Dan Cramp – previously a general manager at the Larwood & Voce at Trent Bridge cricket ground – founded The Cat & Wickets Pub Company.
“Dan and Harry run the business really,” Broad explains. “Harry’s a very sharp, trained accountant – the sort of business partner you dream of – he’ll text you on a Monday morning and say ‘I can get Red Bull 5p cheaper here’.
“Dan’s been in the trade for 20-odd years. He’s worked all over and is our ears on the ground, the man in the trade, and guides the direction of the interior and the design of the pubs.
“My job really is: A, funding, and B, social media, promotion as well as getting the name of the Cat & Wickets out there for people to want to come and visit.”
What’s in a name?
For Nottinghamshire native Broad, after whom a tram in Nottingham was dubbed in September 2015, naming a nascent pub company came as a challenge to him.
“I said it’s got to be something that means something to us,” he explained.
“I said ‘I like taking wickets’, which is the same for Harry. Dan said ‘I like cats’, so we thought why don’t we call it the Cat & Wickets and got the ball moving from there.”
In both the Three Crowns in Wymeswold, Leicestershire – which opened roughly eight months after Broad pitched the idea of getting involved in the pub trade over a pint at Cramp’s 40th birthday – and the larger Tap & Run in Upper Broughton in Nottinghamshire, the Cat & Wickets has established a successful opening pair straight off the bat.
“We started small as if to say if we’re going to make any mistakes, let’s make them small and learn from them,” Broad adds.
“Then we opened the Tap & Run, which is a much bigger site and there’s obviously a lot more pressure involved in it but potential to have a lot more success as well.”
While the Professional Cricketers Association – not that PCA – offer professional cricketers’ advice and training to help them getting into business, Broad and pubco partner Gurney were brought up to speed on the pub industry by Cramp – reaping the benefit of his 20-year trade innings.
“I think it’s important to not be blasé about the pub trade – you need people in the know,” Broad explained. “We often get regulars saying Dan keeps his beer the best they’ve seen in any pub, which is a huge compliment to us and Dan – for people who go to pubs, locals and regulars, nothing beats a bit of personal touch and quality.
“The pub trade is, in my opinion, a trade that relies on good-quality, polite and welcoming service – I think that’s really important, when you walk into a pub and order your first pint, you want to feel like you’re walking into a homely place.
“We want kids to be very welcome and feel at home. At the Tap & Run, we’ve got 18 hidden cricket bails that represent each of the county cricket clubs, so quite often on a Sunday there will be kids looking around for these 18 bails to win a prize. It’s somewhere you feel that you can come in and have a bottle of red as a dad and a mum and know that your kids are safe and entertained with board games, colouring books and little games from the pub to keep them happy.”
Coping with pressure
“Harry and I saw the pub trade as something we have an interest in ,” Broad continued. “We like our friends and family enjoying it and try to make a difference in it. It certainly has been a trade that’s been a bit wobbly in the past and we thought there was a bit of a gap there.”
Broad says he finds valuable escapism in the communal and family aspect of eating out and trips to the pub – especially in an era when, according to research by Ofcom, we now spend an entire day every week online and check our phones once every 12 minutes.
“For me, certainly in the modern world, it’s time with your family without too much pressure of mobile phones,” he says.
“When I was a kid we would always have dinner as a family at the dinner table – we’d never eat with food on our laps in front of the telly, so conversation was always a huge part of our family growing up.
“The older you get, it’s very easy if you live alone to bang the telly on and never have a conversation with mates. I’ve always eaten out at pubs and gone to meet mates in pubs because you don’t have the distractions of mobile phones and you can actually just have a chat and play board games or whatever. It’s why I like golf as well – it’s time away from the pressures of life for me.
“Maybe the pub trade is due a bit of a rise in fortune in the fact people might say ‘I’m going to the pub for an hour, without my phone, I’m going to sit and talk to my mates.’
As expected, the Cat & Wicket’s pubs are a hot spot for local cricket sides to visit for a few post-match drinks and is “part and parcel of being pub cricketer on a Saturday”, according to Broad.
“We do focus on sporting events because, for me, watching a sporting event in the pub provides great memories if you can’t be at the ground,” he adds. “There’s much more atmosphere in your local pub than your lounge.
“One of my greatest ever days was my 30th birthday, we went to the Three Crowns pub and watched the British & Irish Lions play New Zealand – an early morning start so we had an English breakfast with a Guinness – and then went down to watch my horse run at Royal Ascot in the afternoon, which was a wonderful day that started off in the pub.
“We do make a bit of a fuss of sporting events, especially at the Three Crowns because its 200 yards into Leicestershire so we’ve got a lot of Leicester Tigers and Leicester City fans.
We did tapas nights when Leicester City played in the Champions League against Sevilla and Atletico Madrid and things like that – we try to do little theme nights that link to the sport being played.”
Chasing big numbers
It’s no surprise to hear that only the second Englishman to take 400 Test wickets – who’s delivered close to 40,000 balls and notched close to 5,000 runs in first-class cricket – plans to carefully chase big numbers in the pub game too.
“Our aim is always to expand – that’s always been our plan from ball one, to be able to get four or five pubs,” Broad explains. “But with the Tap & Run being a big investment, we’re going to sit on that for another year and see the trading levels that we think that pub can make. We’re just trying to really nail down the core basics of the pub before we move on again.
“We’re very conscious that, as a pub company, the more you get you obviously get stretched thin and the last thing we’d want is anyone to have eaten in the Tap & Run and say ‘it used to be good but since they got ‘X’ pub this has gone downhill’. at is just not an option for us.
“Until we’re fully ready to maintain every single pub at the standard we require, we won’t expand.”
The 2019 Ashes series
England’s campaign to regain the Ashes from tourists Australia couldn’t be better timed. The host’s World Cup-winning run not only built valuable momentum among the Test squad but England’s pub-going public.
Trading at the 2019 Publican Awards-winning best new bar, Arc Inspirations’ The Box in Leeds, increased by 69% during the course of the tournament, for example, with the dramatic final and the semi-final against Australia yielding respective spikes of 180% and 162%.
Having taken eight wickets for just 15 runs in his first Ashes session in 2015 at Trent Bridge, Broad – a member of the 2019 Ashes squad – is no stranger to series success against Australia. Off the back of a watershed World Cup, he’s optimistic for both England’s chances and for his burgeoning pub estate.
“The momentum the England cricket team can take out of this World Cup win into the Ashes is huge,” he explains. “Cricket’s on a high in this country and everyone will be wanting the team to do well.
“England stand a really good chance – the players are in really good form and look ready to continue the success that cricket’s had this summer.
“For our pubs, to be showing the Ashes is brilliant because you want people to be able to come in, enjoy a meal with their family and keep an eye on the cricket.
“If there are moments like the World Cup final where you can’t take your eyes off the telly you want people to be in the Three Crowns and the Tap & Run enjoying those experiences. The Tap & Run, in particular, is a cricketing type of pub.”
The Ashes schedule
1-5 August – Edgbaston, Birmingham - Sky Sports
14-18 August – Lord’s, London - Sky Sports
22-26 August – Headingley, Leeds - Sky Sports
4-8 September – Old Trafford, Manchester - Sky Sports
12-16 September – The Oval, London - Sky Sports