Good news for pub landlords. New research shows that watching football in the pub is just as exciting as going to a match.
In theory, going to a live match is the ‘real thing’ while watching the game on TV in a pub is an inferior experience. However, Professor Mike Weed from Canterbury Christ Church University in England believes that the thrill of watching football is more about sharing the experience with friends than about physical proximity to the pitch. ‘The pub provides a place where the male holy trinity of alcohol, football and male bonding come together’, Weed explains in an article published in the journal Soccer and Society. ‘In recent years there has been a change in the role played by the pub. Its centrality in football culture certainly hasn’t changed, but it is increasingly becoming clear that the pub itself is now a venue in which to watch live football.’ (1)
That strikes a chord with me but did we really need a piece of academic research to tell us that men like drinking and watching football? My first taste of big screen football was in a Huddersfield student bar during Italia ‘90. It was a revelation; the first time I’d been able to watch live football in a public space and drink at the same time. Back then it was a fairly unusual thing to do. I don’t recall watching another game in a pub until Ireland v Italy in the 1994 World Cup. Today, however, watching football in pubs is commonplace. In 2002, more people watched televised sport in a bar or a pub (9.1million) than attended live sporting events (8.7million).
I asked Mike Weed how he conducted his research. I had visions of university boffins attempting to interview drunken fans and using whizzy electronic gizmos to measure ‘atmosphere’ levels inside pubs. ‘We didn’t fill in questionnaires in pubs’, he laughs. His research team did, however, spend the 2002 World Cup in Sheffield pubs observing and talking to fans watching the England games. Nice work if you can get it!
So why did watching football in pubs take off in the 1990s? Weed puts it down to three factors. Firstly, the availability of affordable big-screen technology. Secondly, the advent of pay television and the Premiership. Weed estimates that in 1993 only 8 to 10 per cent of households had access to non-terrestrial channels compared with 47 per cent today. So, if you wanted to watch live Premiership football and didn’t have a Sky dish, your only option was to go down the pub. During the 2002 World Cup England fans opted for the pub even though the matches were being shown on terrestrial TV because they enjoyed the ‘shared communal experience’.