Gunning for big nights of European football
We visit Islington to find out how The Gunners Pub is adapting to life without Arsenal in the Champions League
As you would expect from a venue called The Gunners, located just a 10-minute walk from The Emirates stadium, everything about the place screams Arsenal.
The staff are dressed in red and white, so is the pub. Photos of legends from across the eras stare back at you from every wall and corner. In fact, there’s only one place in here where you can’t see anything related to that famous old North London club, and that’s the TV.
It’s a Champions League Wednesday and the action is live on BT Sport, but for the first time in 21 years Arsenal haven’t qualified.
We headed to The Gunners to see what they are doing to encourage fans in for other Champions League games and how they plan to make the most of those Thursdays in the Europa League.
When we get there the games are already underway. There are plenty of options for pubs with Liverpool, Man City and Spurs all in action, not to mention every other group game being played across the continent. Spurs fans are likely to feel as comfortable in here as a sports reporter on the receiving end of a Roy Keane death stare, so it is no surprise that Liverpool top the bill tonight.
There are big screens at either end of the spacious pub, but tonight they are pulled up. One projector mounted to the ceiling sadly points to wall dedicated to ‘Memories of Arsenal’.
A few fans stand to watch the game on the telly behind the bar or on another small screen in the back section of the pub.
The commentary is turned down and instead we hear Paul Weller, and a handful of customers, singing ‘That’s Entertainment’.
It’s pretty apt too because the game is good. Liverpool are 2-1 up and look to be cruising.
He’s hit the post.
That could be costly.
Those watching are enjoying the match but nobody seems overly concerned by the miss. A couple of lads who had paused their game of darts turn back to the board. A big band takes over the stage and starts to warm up. They play brilliantly and create an atmosphere that spreads throughout the pub… but you suspect most people in here wish it was the Champions League tune they could hear.
A few miles away at Wembley Spurs have just got a great result against Dortmund. Nobody is talking about that one in here.
We head home and later catch up with general manager Ant Buck who joined The Gunners recently, around the time that Alexandre Lacazette was signing for Arsenal for £52m from Lyon.
Ant tells us: “It isn’t great not being in the Champions League but the band are brilliant and that really creates some atmosphere for us in here.”
“It’s early days this season so we are going to work on ways that we can get more people in for the football when Arsenal aren’t playing because while they are Arsenal fans they are also just football fans.”
The next day is Thursday and Arsenal are in action. Due to strange set up circumstances we had not been expecting, we find ourselves back in London, along with 20,000 Cologne fans. Most of those have nowhere to go, but we know a decent pub around here, so we head back to The Gunners.
It’s a different story in here tonight. It’s not rammed, but it’s steady. The match is being projected on both big screens, the commentary is on so everyone can hear it, the lights are low and fans in Arsenal shirts are huddled in front of the screens. It has the feel of a decent midweek night in Europe.
The game isn’t bad either, far better than perhaps Arsenal fans would have anticipated. Backed by their vociferous travelling support, Cologne take the lead but Arsenal warm to their task and eventually run out 3-1 winners.
Not a bad result for Gooners or The Gunners Pub but Ant Buck has his eye on a bigger prize.
“It was OK,” he says. “But it was down on what we would expect on a Champions League night. But it is early in the season and Wenger’s lack of enthusiasm about the competition hasn’t helped. Once it gets going it should pick up. It’s about momentum.
“There’s a lot more we can do to get people in the pub and we will try different things throughout the season.”
And as Arsenal progress, we’ll keep an eye on how The Gunners Pub is getting on too.
For while Thursday night football might not have been what they were hoping for it can lead to some great nights and an even bigger prize.
Just ask Man United fans.