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A day the life of a great British sports bar: Martin Whelan and the Tollington

With the Euros in full swing, the Olympics around the corner and the new Premier League season looming, read how the great sports bars prepare themselves for a big match.

It takes a brave man to disagree with Roy Keane. So far be it from us to take issue with one of Keano’s many memorable utterances. In any case, the former Manchester United talisman was clearly on the money when he said: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.

It’s a life lesson that Martin Whelan, owner of north London pub The Tollington, has certainly taken to heart. When quizzed about how he gets ready for screening a big game in his award-winning bar he explains that the planning that takes place in the days leading up to a top sporting event is key.

“It’s all about the preparation,” he confirms. “I literally scream this at my staff sometimes! There are only two things you do on the day of the game: bring the ice up and open the doors. All the prep should have been done the day and night before.”

So with Euro 2016 in full swing, we got the low down on how to ensure screening all the big games in a busy pub goes off without a hitch.

Don’t Leave it to the Last Minute

“The night before we’ll start preparations for the next day. On the day of the game all I want to be focusing on is the people coming through the door.”

Start in the Cellar

“I check that all the beer pumps are working properly – you really don’t want to be messing about with these on the day of the game. You’re wasting so much time when you should be being commercial.”

“Make sure all the stock is replenished and all the next-to-use stock is where it should be and to hand.”


Check, Check, and Check Again

“Ensure all the tills have the correct change. And that there are enough till rolls and rolls for the PDQ machine.”

“We cut the lemon and limes the night before. You don’t have a chance to cut more lemons or limes in the second half – that’s just wasting time. Anything that takes you away from serving the customers is eating into the time when you should be making your profit.”

“Check all the toilets ..Fill up the soap dispensers in the toilets. It’s tedious but it’s a necessity.”

Remind the Staff

“The day before we’ll send out an email to all staff who are down to work just to make sure they’re coming in. My biggest worry is that staff might let you down. For a big game we’ll have 27 people working, including the door staff. You need them here to make it go like clockwork.”

“We stagger staff coming in — we don’t get everyone to come in at the same time, otherwise everyone will want their break at the same time.”

Get Your Plastics Ready

“Because we have an outside area we have to use plastic glasses. If it’s an early game on a Sunday we will change the glasses on the Saturday night after closing (and that’s 1am). For an evening match we have to ensure all plastic glasses are in operation four hours before kick-off.”

The Set Up

“Rearrange the furniture so we can get as many people in as possible. Check all the TVs, the audio set up and the sight lines.”

“One of the biggest things you need to check are the TV boxes. We have three different boxes that allow us to screen different games in different areas of the pub. The worst thing that could happen is one of them going down just before a match. You never stop checking. Your eyes are everywhere.”


Social Media

“Send out opening times on social media. Note any food or drink specials and what time the games are actually on.”

The Proof is in the Pudding

“We pride ourselves in the number of repeat customers we have. We’ve been named Arsenal Pub of the Year for the last two years. We must be doing something right.”

“It’s all in the preparation. The more organised you are the less stressful the next day is. That’s when you should be just doing what you’re meant to do, which is serving the customers. If you do it right you get your rewards.”

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