Perhaps it's appropriate that a pub that goes by two names is adept at pulling in two different types of crowds.

Officially, the pub that Kevin McGhee has run for the last 10 years is known as The Athletic Arms. But to many in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh it is better known as The Diggers.

This is due to its proximity to a couple of graveyards and the number of gravediggers who used it for refreshment after a hard day's graft.

Its name and history are celebrated on the pub's spade and pick-axe logo, its own pump clip and official t-shirts, which are just some of the ways it connects with a loyal customer base.

 

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Another is through sport and, unlike some pubs, it manages to attract fans of both the round ball and the oval-shaped one. This is partly down to taking advantage of its proximity to both Murrayfield and Heart of Midlothian's Tynecastle home.

This is bittersweet for Kevin, who is actually a fan of Hearts' city rivals Hibernian.

He explains: "It's a Hearts pub but I am a Hibs fan. There's never any issues though and the banter is good."

The link with Hearts is evident with posters and memorabilia displayed throughout and with Kevin sponsoring players at the club. It helps ensure match days are lively affairs with both home and away fans attracted to The Diggers.

 

 

"It's the same set of rules for all," explains Kevin.

"There's no singing and we get a mature crowd, which is the reputation of the pub. The regulars pay my bills and the football is the profit. There are a few pubs that have shut because they relied so heavily on the football and they suffered when Hearts were relegated and the attendances dropped."

Spreading the word online

Reputation and quality are key drivers of trade but Kevin also uses social media to connect with new customers. This helps the pub attract rugby fans, particularly when Scotland are playing at home in the Six Nations.

"A lot of it is through tradition and word of mouth but I also go onto rugby forums to provide information about places to go for a drink before games and not just here. I talk about where I would go if I was watching the game."

Customers respond to the helpful and no-nonsense approach by visiting a pub with the same values.

Kevin again adds that the quality of the drinks is essential to his offer — beer accounts for around three-quarters of his volume and the remainder is largely spirits.

 

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"Traditionally rugby fans like their beer and their whisky. They like quality and they are not afraid to pay for it. Some pubs put their prices up for internationals but we don't do that."

That ethos extends to the TV sport offer, which includes subscriptions to both Sky TV and BT Sport. The pub maintains its traditional Victorian feel but has three high-quality screens discreetly positioned around the pub.

Kevin believes that you have to offer a great experience to get people out of their homes. "Why would you pay money for a drink in a pub to have a worse picture than you have in your house?" he says. "You want at least the same or a better picture."

At times football and rugby fans mix in the pub, with the coverage split across the screens but there is never trouble between the various sets of supporters.

One of the challenges ahead of big event days is staffing and Kevin believes the best thing to do with new members of the team is to throw them in at the deep end.

"They shadow someone beforehand but you just have to get on with it. We have seven or eight staff on, so there's always someone to talk to but it's five or six deep at the bar."

Capacity is an issue, particularly now that Hearts are looking to build a new stand to accommodate a further 4,000 supporters.

Kevin is working with landlord Star pubs to redevelop the pub's snug and toilet areas to create more space. Star is also helping the pub to expand its food offer as part of its philosophy of helping its pubs appeal to different customer types.

The redevelopment is not going to be ready in time for next year's Six Nations fixtures but you can be sure the Diggers will be packed for those and for many more in the years to come.