Watching sport: The Terrace
For those who can’t make the game, don’t worry. Your club will likely be on the television anyway.
On Monday 20th November, I followed Stoke City fans as they watched SkySports’ Monday Night Football, as the Potters took on Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.
The Terrace, on Leek Road, Stoke-on-Trent, is the official away pub for Stoke City’s home games at the Bet365 stadium. However, it also becomes the ideal host when Stoke City are away from their Potteries’ home. Serving a variety of beers and spirits, The Terrace has six television screens decorating the walls and a snooker-come-dining table for those who become disinterested with the televised sport.
Football and how it is consumed has changed notably since the introduction of pay-per-view sport, in the form for example of SkySports and BTSport. Sport has been televised since as early as 1937, with that year’s Wimbledon tennis championship being publically broadcast for the first time.
Football has become something of a long-weekend event due to this television revolution, beginning on a Friday evening and ending on a Monday night. Domestic club games are shown at all intervals inbetween and as a result, there is now time to socialise away from solely the match-day of your supported club.
This is a catch-twenty-two, however. The desire of broadcasters to meet the needs of public demand, whilst also the contractual requirements between the club/s and themselves, means matches can become something that only the devoted can commit towards. Stoke City being sent on a 440-mile round-trip on a Monday night is somewhat off-putting to anyone, yet those who can’t travel still have the privilege of watching their team live — albeit via the medium that has caused them to not be able to make the match in the first place!
Friendly fans and loyal locals have already begun pouring in with fifteen minutes until kick-off, and all of the SkySports’ punditry is wasted breath on the pub-folk who prefer a catch-up with companions and pub-staff instead. Kick-off is at 8pm precisely, and a little cheer goes up as the game eventually gets underway.
Even though the game is already several minutes in, people are still arriving and for all occasions too. One group has brought a supper of fish and chips, and this is swiftly dished out on the snooker table, which becomes a dining table with the addition of a black piece of plywood to cover the green velvet.
Gradually the game gets going and as a result so do the fans. Nervous tension still tends to reign as Stoke City look to catch Premier League new-comers Brighton & Hove Albion in the top flight’s points standings.
The play is generally well spread across the field before Stoke City become the first team to really test the opposition’s defence.
Almost 30 minutes into the game and finally Stoke City have the goal that they have deserved. A constant pressure against Brighton’s defence eventually allowed Xherdan Shaqiri to play a fantastic ball across the face of goal for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to poke home and into the back of the net.
Thus the pub erupts with cheers as the Potters fans applaud what was a well-worked goal. The cheers die down and a sense of relief settles in. Stoke City and their fans have seen the entire Premier League weekend fixtures played apart from their’s, and now they will be able to place exactly where they will sit in the league from the evening’s result, without worrying about other fixtures being played.
As half-time approaches, so do the pressing moves from Brighton & Hove Albion as they seek an equaliser. There are a few more nerves now, as fans know the importance of maintaining a lead into the half-time break. But the pressure finally gives as Brighton’s Pascal Gross finds the net with an equaliser in the 44th minute.
Sarcastic jeers meet the goal as it nestles in the back of the night. Pints are very firmly placed onto the bar with a loud thud with each contact, more out of frustration than the will to give up drinking. In fact, its time to get another round in anyway with half-time approaching.
However, this first 45 minutes still has more to give. An added couple of minutes of extra time are applied by the match officials. This is enough for Stoke City as they break into Brighton’s half and win themselves a corner.
This quickly regains the attention of the Potters fans, because this is a very good opportunity late into the first half to snatch back a one goal lead and take it into the break. The corner is whipped into the box and Kurt Zouma heads the ball home. Relief… again.
Half-time offers the chance to have a snack break and order more drink to help the football go down. The chatter returns to a more increased volume as the football pundits are drowned out giving their expert analysis.
Meanwhile, the fish & chip supper in the far corner of the pub has become more of a drinking session rather than an extension to the local chippy. There is also a share of birthday being passed round between them, although each bite is taken with a quick swig of lager too.
Half-time also gives a chance to look further around the pub and discuss the demographic amongst those watching the game. There is only one female in the bar area, and the rest of around 40 or so are men. There is also a mixed dress-code amongst those attending.
Some of those present are dressed for the occasion — warm coat with a Stoke City shirt underneath. However, it is clear that some have arrived straight from work. The snooker-come-dining table in the corner is surrounded by a mix of casual clothes and paint-stained working trousers, whilst over on the tables by the front door, a man is dressed in a shirt & tie with a jumper over the top.
At this point, the hockey club arrive with their kit in tow and park themselves at the bar. They are in shorts and sports jackets, with their hockey sticks poking out from against the tables and the side of the bar. Football, when it is broadcast in such a way as this, is clearly more than just a means to watch the game.
It is a social experience, it is a meeting point and it is a chance to reflect on the day, whether that is with the intense football commentary, or with a beer and mates. Everyone is here for a different reason, but a common universal reason. They have all come to see the game, but they are all here for their own unique, individual reasons.
Perhaps that is what makes football a powerful tool in bringing people together, regardless of their personal reason and the environment. Supporters of Stoke City have come to see their team play, supporters of other clubs have come to enjoy an extra night of football which is passed over from the weekend, and non-football supporters have come for a drink with the addition of background sport and a talking point.
The second half resumes and its Stoke City who have the advantage from the break. They continue to press but Brighton & Hove Albion are well drilled and they are having a good share of possession on the ball. This eventually shows when they start pressing the Stoke City defence a little bit harder.
In the 60th minute, the ball crosses through the box and is met by José Izquierdo Mena, who stabs home with a shot that beats Stoke City goalkeeper Lee Grant.
The reaction amongst the Stoke fans is frustration, again, that their team has let a lead in the match slip away not just once, but twice.
As the game comes towards its conclusion, concentration levels tend to slip away as the inevitable 2–2 draw comes closer to a reality. Neither team can find a winner, and neither team can really find any opening in either’s defence. Stoke City have to survive a couple of late scares in the final minutes on the match, but with a few punts of the ball upfield, any danger is cleared.
The final whistle blows and the speakers throughout the pub echo the referees signal. Immediately, the remainders of pints of drunk by those who won’t be staying any longer. The Stoke fans generally feel satisfied with a point but know that it was two further points lost twice during the game. But with the eyes of the Premier League on them, it wasn’t a bad showing and a point away from the AMEX Stadium in Brighton is a good result overall.
And as those who will be staying until last orders start getting their next round of drinks in, those who have seen enough up-sticks and decide it is the time to leave. Until the next time…