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Norwich’s Traditional Top Flight Bar

Norwich City might be the archetypal yo-yo club – in the Premier League one season, relegated the next – but Norwich city centre bar The Murderers firmly resides at the top table of sports pubs in the UK.

 

Norwich City might be the archetypal yo-yo club – in the Premier League one season, relegated the next – but Norwich city centre bar The Murderers firmly resides at the top table of sports pubs in the UK.

 

Much of that is down to the ingenuity of licensee Philip Cutter. Cutter, who began working in the pub as a glass collector 30 years ago, is a wonderful ideas man. When he noticed that his customers were using half-time of games to spend a penny rather than pounds at the bar, he hit upon the novel idea of placing TV screens into the toilets so his customers would never miss a second of the sporting action – thus not having to save that important toilet stop until half time.

 

When it comes to the major footballing tournaments, you can count on Cutter to get his grey matter working in overdrive. Drinks promotions involving competing countries and a last goalscorer raffle are both examples of how The Murderers not only separates itself from the competition, but also provide a compelling reason for punters to walk through its welcoming doors.

 

No wonder then that it was named Best Sports Pub at the 2015 Great British Pub Awards, an accolade of which Cutter is rightly proud.

 

 

Located in the heart of Norwich’s picturesque city centre, The Murderers works hard at attracting customers. Alongside its unrivalled sports coverage, the pub provides great pub grub, hosts regular beer festivals (its Camra-endorsed, and noted beer writer Pete Brown has described it as a ‘real ale shrine’) and offers live music at least two nights a week thanks to a recent renovation in the back room.

 

The pub’s unique name is another reason many visit. The pub is officially known as The Gardeners Arms, but everyone refers to it as The Murderers. That’s because in 1895, the landlady’s daughter was bludgeoned to death in the pub by her estranged husband. In 1977, the landlord at the time tried to have the name officially changed but the council resisted.

 

We paid a visit to Norfolk recently to see what all the fuss was about. Suffice to say, we weren’t disappointed.

 

 

Built: The pub freehouse dates back to 1530. The Gardeners Arms can trace its landlords back to the 1841 census.

Landlord: Philip Cutter

Screens: 14 – including two in the Gents and one in the Ladies

 

We were the first pub in Norwich – that I’m aware of – to show Premier League football. “We had this huge satellite dish outside and we had one TV in the corner. Because Norwich were in the Premier League at the time and doing really well, there was a lot of interest. Over time that has developed into more TVs being installed and more sports shown. We’ve now got a reputation as being a pub that shows sport and shows it well.”

 

We’re not a sports bar. “Although sport is a big part of our business, we don’t want to necessarily be known as a sports bar. That’s why we have the beer festivals and the live music. It’s all about appealing to as many people as possible. We don’t want to be beholden to just one group of customers.”

 

You have to be innovative. “Some of the best ideas I’ve had for this pub have been nicked from other pubs. And you adapt.”

 

It’s all about trying to be the best and making people’s experience better. “We’ve got an Ultra HD TV on order – once that’s in we’ll be looking to get some Ultra HD boxes in.”

 

All the TVs are set up in a matrix. “So we can zone areas. At this time of the year when the Six Nations is on we’ll often have the rugby on in one area, and the football in another part of the pub.”

 

“You have a lot of students here from all over the country, so there’s always a big following for the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, etcetera.”

 

The sound is high quality. “The speakers we use for showing sport run through the PA we use for the live music. It’s all part of the experience, as it helps create an atmosphere. If we have a number of people in watching a game it’s like being on a terrace. It’s a great feeling. I personally can’t think of anywhere better to watch a game – apart from being there – than in a pub.”

 

If you’re going to show sport do it properly. “Embrace it. Don’t do it half-heartedly. If someone asks if you’re showing this match or that fight and you say ‘no, we’re not showing that one’, you’ve probably missed out on a future loyal customer. We had someone come in when the America’s Cup was on three or four years ago. We weren’t planning on showing it but told him we’d happily put it on. He kept coming in and more and more people started watching it, to the point by the final night there were 20-odd people glued to the TV. Those people wouldn’t have come in if we didn’t show sport, and they certainly wouldn’t have come in if we’d turned around to that first guy and said we weren’t going to show it.”

 

 

We have some people come in every Saturday morning to watch Aussie Rules. “They come in first thing, have a bit of breakfast, have some beers and stay for a few hours. And now they’ve started coming in during the week. We can’t compete with the big pubs on price, so we’ve got to win on service. We have to go out of our way to make people come in and sport is a fundamental way we do that.”

 

It’s mostly football and rugby. “But all the other sports count too.”

 

We don’t have sport on just for the sake of sport. “That can be too much. But if someone comes in and asks to watch the cricket T20 Big Bash then why wouldn’t I show it?”

 

Carrow Road is about a 10-15 minute walk away. What we find is that we get a lot of older people and families in before a game. We’ve always been a very inclusive pub so we don’t attract that lad culture shall we say. We’ll have away supporters in too. It’s a great atmosphere in here. There’s a bit of banter between the fans and it’s great. We don’t attract the lads and subsequently we don’t get them. We’ll have older fans in here with their wives and families. It makes the pub less intimidating. It’s important to get that mix right.”

 

“We don’t attract the lads and subsequently we don’t get them. We’ll have older fans in here with their wives and families. It makes the pub less intimidating. It’s important to get that mix right.”

 

It’s not just Norwich supporters. “Norwich is a very diverse city. You have a lot of students here from all over the country, so there’s always a big following for the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal etcetera. There’s a lot of interest in those games. We have a lot of Spurs fans coming in at the moment. They know that other Spurs fans will come in and watch the games here too. It becomes self-perpetuating.”

 

Midweek European nights can often be busy. “The UEA has a lot of foreign students, so we’ll have Spaniards coming in to watch Barcelona, Real Madrid and what have you. For last season’s Champions League final (Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid) we had the Norfolk Spanish Society in.  The Europa League final (Sevilla vs Liverpool) was busy too. We find that not many of our customers have BT Sport at home, so showing those games becomes something of a USP.”

 

We’re never knowingly understaffed. “No one wants to be kept waiting at the bar. So I know when all the big sporting events are – the Champions League games, the Six Nations and so on.”

 

We have doormen on when we’re really busy and I say to them don’t let us get too packed. Because people can’t get to the bar. You need a good flow of people. You have to understand that you can have fewer people in but make more at the bar.

 

Preparation is key. “Know what you’re showing in what part of the bar. Get the sound set up. Get all the screens ready. So that when people come in and ask what game is on where, or what sport we’re showing in what part of the pub we can tell them. Nobody wants to have to leave their seat at kick-off because the game they want to watch is being screened downstairs or in the main bar.”

 

At the last Euros we held a bottled beer festival alongside the football. “Spain was San Miguel, France was Kronenburg, England was Carling, and so on. We handed out cards to be stamped each time a customer drank a different bottle. If customers collected all the beers they got a T-shirt – it’s just about making it a little bit more interesting. We had a group of Greek guys that came in every day and drank a case of Mythos. They loved it, as they hadn’t seen it in many pubs in the UK. It’s just trying to be a bit quirky.”

 

“The first 90 people through the door get a raffle ticket.”

 

We do the last goalscorer raffle tickets for the big tournaments and some one-off big games. “It’s quite simple to do. The first 90 people through the door get a raffle ticket. The customer holding the ticket denoting the minute the last goal is scored wins a prize. Sometimes some of the brewers sponsor it. It’s just another fun thing to add into the mix. It ensures people hang around until the last minute – or it gives them a reason to stay anyway.”

 

TVs in the toilets. “People would wait until half-time to go to the toilet. And when you have 100 men queuing to go to the toilet you don’t make any money at the bar. We inserted the TVs for the 2006 World Cup, and the actual set up and installation paid for itself by the end of the tournament. People can go to the toilet whenever they want to, knowing they won’t miss any action. It means more people come to the bar at half-time. There are no bottlenecks at half-time. It works really, really well.”

 

I think we’re the first pub in England to do it. “I went to a pub in Ipswich and they had the speakers in the toilet, so you could hear the commentary. However, I was in the toilet when a goal was scored and it was frustrating because I hadn’t actually seen it. I just thought we could do something better. I spoke to my builder and the guy that does all our tech and they both said it was something we could do.”

 

They’ve paid for themselves hundreds of times over. “In fact a couple of years ago when Norwich played Ipswich in the Championship playoff semi-finals I had one fellow who watched the entire game in the toilet.”

 

When there’s no sport on we show adverts on the screens in the toilet. “I’m making something up for the forthcoming Anthony Joshua fight. So it also works as an advertising tool.”

 

The snacky things seem to work best when we’re showing sport. “At the last World Cup we got the local Nando’s in and it sold its burgers in the pub. It was a win-win. They were quiet when the football was on. And it meant that people didn’t leave here to get food. It didn’t cost us anything, and it didn’t cost Nando’s anything.”

 

Twitter is such a fantastic tool. “I’m not an expert by any means, but it works. Those that follow us tend to be regular customers so it’s a great way of reminding them what is coming up. What games we’re showing, what bands are playing and any other events, like the beer festival. We’ll retweet a lot of the BT Sport stuff because the graphics are so good.”

Real ale is important. “We like to use really good local brewers. Again that gives us a niche – and I think you have to have those unique points of difference to get people through the door. Once they’re through the door we’re optimistic that we can make them stay.”

 

“We have people coming in because they’re real ale enthusiasts and they want to find a good independent, family-run, pub. And then there is the sport and the music”

 

We keep a close eye on the trends within the pub industry. “Craft beer and, more recently, the explosion in gin have been really interesting. We sell about 12 different gins at the moment. You’ve got know what is happening. People will always want the regular drinks – the Carlings and what have you – but others want to try new and exciting drinks.”

 

We offer a lot of reasons for people to come in. We get a lot of people coming in because of the history of the pub. We have a lot of regulars. We have people coming in because they’re real ale enthusiasts and they want to find a good independent, family-run, pub. And then there is the sport and the music.”

 

It’s about having the right atmosphere. “As my business partner often says it’s not about how much money you take, it’s about how you take it. As a pub you can be packed, but if you’ve got the wrong people in and it’s creating the wrong atmosphere, it won’t last. It’s about getting the right people in.”

 

When I first started working in pubs 30 years ago, all you had to do was open your doors and watch the people come in. “It’s not like that anymore.”

 

I think you could lift up this pub and move it to any part of the country and it would work just as well. “We’re not trying to be anything that we’re not. We’re not a bells and whistles, swanky wine bar, or a high class eaterie, we’re just a good, old-fashioned boozer.”

 

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