The ban on booze in football stadiums during a match is being challenged. This week, nine Football League clubs have begun a campaign to overturn it. But if it is scrapped, how would this impact pubs?
It is worth reminding ourselves exactly what the current rules are. The Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act 1985 means a person cannot have "alcohol at any time during the period of a designated sporting event when he is in any area of a designated sports ground from which the event may be directly viewed". This would appear to be a rule about stopping binge drinking during any sports event – but this isn't the case in 2018.
Rugby, cricket, horse racing and many other sports allow alcohol to be consumed during events. But this is still not the case for football – and that is what campaigners are upset about.
Bizarrely, this Dickensian law had a fantastic impact on pubs near grounds before games. I drink in the pubs around White Hart Lane in north London before seeing my own team, Tottenham Hotspur (not at the moment, the stadium is being rebuilt). The atmosphere is electric before kick-off. A pint in the Bricklayers is like being in the stands as fans spontaneously burst into club songs.
And there it is - a pint literally in the stands could be a future option. Speaking on TalkRadio, the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Brigid Simmonds, said if the ban was overturned, it would lead to closures of fan pubs near grounds. Even though I believe the Act should be scrapped, I agree with Brigid. It could be devastating for supporter pubs, who are already struggling outside of matchdays.
At the same time, the Football Supporters Federation argues rightly that a politician in 1985 "didn't foresee in 2018 we would be talking about football fans being singled out from the rest of society." I also agree wholeheartedly with that statement – and I think a lot of publicans would too.
I adore fan pubs and see them as the lifeblood of the community part of the game. It's a conundrum – a wrong being righted, but it could cause some of my favourite pubs to close. How do you circle the square?
It's pretty simple really, keep going to the pub. If the ban is rightly overturned, I will keep going to the pub before matches, and encourage the people I am with to do the same. Where else would a fan rather be than in an independent local boozer, run by publicans passionate about their football team? I may well have a pint in the ground too, at half time probably - a beer from the new onsite Beavertown brewery, hopefully, or a cold Heineken. Then afterwards to avoid the crowds of fans down the Seven Sisters Road, I will pop over to the Antwerp Arms to grab a pint and some food - maybe even watch the evening game on the big screen.
If this campaign does gain traction, I hope fans around the country begin a conversation about how much they love their supporter pubs. We all have them - and we all love them.
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