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5 of Britain's best football boozers – and the stories behind them

Best football pubs

Andy Hoyle, The Gunners (Arsenal)

Photography: Leon Csernohlavek

We had an oil-on-canvas of Robin van Persie celebrating a goal, but as soon as he left for Manchester United we put it away and his name was never mentioned again

“This pub was one of the places where Tony Adams, Paul Merson and Ray Parlour drank 
on a Tuesday during the George Graham era. Arsene Wenger put a swift stop to that!

“I’ve been landlord since 2011. This was the closest pub to Highbury – literally 30 seconds’ walk to the old East Stand – so traditionally fans would get their last pint in here before heading to the game. In 2006 when the club moved to the Emirates, slightly further away, it became a bit more difficult to make the pub work on the 330 days of the year when there wasn’t a match on. It needed a re-think.

“We have a lot of memorabilia now, some of which we inherited. We’ve got a lot of stuff in the cellar, so we rotate things. It’s a bit like an old communist regime: when a player falls out of favour, we remove all of their stuff and wipe them from history. We had an oil-on-canvas of Robin van Persie celebrating a goal, but as soon as he left for Manchester United we put it away and his name was never mentioned again.

“I’ve lived in the area for about 15 years, but I didn’t really drink in here before I became landlord. It didn’t have the best reputation as it was a bit rough and ready, and not the most welcoming place – very male and very white. When we came here we had a lot of clearing out to do; we had to make it more welcoming to the broader church of Arsenal supporters, and frankly we’ve lost an element of our support that we needed to lose. You don’t want guys handing out EDL leaflets in your pub or the police showing up every night.”

The Gunners (Arsenal) • The Strawberry (Newcastle)Louden Tavern (Rangers)Neptune Arms (Derby)Winslow Hotel (Everton)

Michael Hill, The Strawberry (Newcastle United)

Photography: Garrod Kirkwood

If the game was going badly and people started filing out, we’d leave, because the pub would be getting busy with fans drowning their sorrows

“When me and my partner, Caroline, bought the pub back in 2002, there was nothing else around – we were surrounded by car parks. There were no other bars nearby, either, so we were the standalone pub, right next to the stadium. It was great when there were matches on, but not so much during the summer when there were about 13 weeks of absolutely nothing happening.

“There are more offices around us these days, so we’re a bit busier during the week, but now we’re twice as busy on matchdays. We pride ourselves on our service – even if it’s three or four people deep at the bar, we will make sure you get a pint very quickly.

“We don’t really run any special events or activities to get the punters in – we just open the doors! We’re established, as one of the oldest football pubs in the country, and we let in away supporters, too – well, maybe not Sunderland, but fans of every other club have been made very welcome, and when you do that to people, they’ll keep coming back and they’ll help spread the word.

“We used to have season tickets and leave here five minutes before kick-off to run over to the ground – the stewards would leave a door open for us because they knew us. If the game was going badly and people started filing out, we’d leave, because the pub would be getting busy with fans drowning their sorrows.

“The pub was here way before the stadium. It was an old building owned by the church 100 yards down the road, and they used to make strawberry wine because there were strawberry fields. Eventually that stopped and the building was supposedly left to someone in a will with the stipulation that it was used ‘for the good of mankind’. Then it became a pub.”

The Gunners (Arsenal) • The Strawberry (Newcastle) • Louden Tavern (Rangers) • Neptune Arms (Derby) • Winslow Hotel (Everton)

Robert Marshall, The Louden Tavern (Rangers)

Photography: Martin Hunter

We have a lot of memorabilia, particularly flags, but the thing I’m proudest of is the Jim Baxter stained-glass window

“If it’s a three o’clock kick-off, we’ve usually got to close the doors at about 1.15pm and operate on a one-in-one-out basis – that’s how busy it gets here on matchdays. The atmosphere is a different class, too. If I could bottle that, I wouldn’t need to work in a pub.

“I’ve been running The Louden Tavern for 22 years, although we’ve only been in our current location – opposite Ibrox underground station and just around the corner from the stadium – for five. Owning a pub in this spot had been my dream for all of my adult life, so it’s fair to say this is my dream job – I wasn’t really good enough to play for Rangers, after all!

“We have a lot of memorabilia, particularly flags, but the thing I’m proudest of is the Jim Baxter stained-glass window. It’s the real deal, too, not a cheap fake – a lad at one of the colleges in Glasgow made it. I’ve also got Alfie Conn’s jersey from when Rangers won the Cup Winners’ Cup in Barcelona in 1972.

“We do Q&A nights with people like Alex McLeish, Walter Smith, Jorg Albertz and even Graeme Souness, who’s a really lovely guy.

“Celtic fans aren’t allowed in here, obviously – the Old Firm is still the feistiest derby in the game. To be honest, because of the troubles Rangers have had, in the past four years I’ve hardly watched a game not involving them. We’re still hurt by what happened to the club.

“Rangers playing in the Third Division meant that all the businesses around here took a big hit, and they’ve done well to survive. We’ve been lucky we’ve got a loyal clientele.”

The Gunners (Arsenal) • The Strawberry (Newcastle) • Louden Tavern (Rangers) • Neptune Arms (Derby) • Winslow Hotel (Everton)

Steve Kirk, Neptune Arms (Derby County)

Photography: Fabio De Paola

At first it wasn’t my plan to make this into a shrine to Derby County, but when the club moved from the Baseball Ground to Pride Park, I started picking up unique bits of memorabilia

“I’ve been landlord here for over 20 years, but before that I worked as a painter for British Rail. I knew the guy who ran the pub before; he’d failed miserably with it, and he asked me if I fancied a go. Everybody at one stage has dreams of running a pub, so I went for it.

“At first it wasn’t my plan to make this into a shrine to Derby County, but when the club moved from the Baseball Ground to Pride Park, I started picking up unique bits of memorabilia. The best thing we’ve got is probably an old turnstile. I made a few enquiries when the old stadium was being knocked down, and managed to get my hands on one for £250. It’s out in the garden now and always gets quite a lot of attention. I have since been offered more than double what I paid for it, but I would never sell it.

“We’ve also got a mural outside with Brian Clough and Peter Taylor lifting up the league trophy. Originally we had a painting of England players before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but their performance out there was so abysmal, we decided we needed something better. It’s become quite a feature: we get a lot of people coming in for a pint and having their photo taken with it. And occasionally we’ll get a visit from one of the former players, such as Roger Davies, Roy McFarland or Archie Gemmill.

“We run a double-decker bus to the stadium before every home game, and one bringing people back here afterwards, too. It’s usually full, although we don’t always bring the same numbers back that we see leave here before the game. It depends whether it’s a midweek match – and on the result, of course!”

The Gunners (Arsenal) • The Strawberry (Newcastle) • Louden Tavern (Rangers) • Neptune Arms (Derby) • Winslow Hotel (Everton)

Dave Bond, The Winslow Hotel (Everton)

Photography: Jon Shard

When Dixie Dean joined Everton from Tranmere, he moved into a house within walking distance of Goodison, so this pub was his local and he used to come here regularly

“This pub is enshrined in Everton folklore. It was here before Goodison Park was built 
in 1892. In fact, the landlord of the pub at the time was a member of a consortium that helped to raise the money used to buy the land over the road and build the stadium.

“When Dixie Dean joined Everton from Tranmere, he moved into a house within walking distance of Goodison, so this pub was his local and he used to come here regularly. I’m told there’s a photo of him behind the bar here somewhere, but I have not been able to locate it yet. Legend has it, he was known to pop over the road at half-time for a quick half. Everybody I’ve spoken to – including Dixie’s granddaughter – insists that it’s true.

“We took over the pub in 2014 and called it The People’s Pub, although fans still know it as The Winslow Hotel. As an Everton supporter since the ’70s, I was well aware of the history before I started working here. Even the older generation of fans we get here – those in their seventies and eighties – have been drinking in here since they were teenagers. Now they’re here every other weekend with their kids, grandkids – maybe even great-grandkids.

“It gets pretty hectic here on matchdays because we’re so close to the stadium. We open at 10am and it fills up quickly. The rest of the week there isn’t much footfall, so we don’t open unless we have a private function.

“Away from matches, we work quite a lot with Everton and create events together. We often have former players such as Graeme Sharp and Ian Snodin over to do Q&A nights on the Friday before a home match.”

The Gunners (Arsenal) • The Strawberry (Newcastle) • Louden Tavern (Rangers) • Neptune Arms (Derby) • Winslow Hotel (Everton)

This feature first appeared in the October 2016 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe! 

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