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A pub at the Hearts of the community

Kevin McGhee of Edinburgh institution The Diggers is December’s BT Sport Manager of the Month

The Edinburgh derby can be something of a bittersweet occasion for Kevin McGhee.

Take Hearts’ recent 1-0 victory over rivals Hibernian in the cup. His pub, The Athletic Arms – or The Diggers as it is known locally, due to its proximity to two graveyards – was packed before the game with expectant fans.

After the match, the Hearts faithful returned from the nearby Tynecastle Park stadium to celebrate and provide Kevin and the team with the best trading day of the year so far.

But Kevin, licensee at The Diggers for eight years, is a Hibs fan.

He said: “It’s always an interesting one for me. It was fantastic for the pub, but I was on the receiving end of some good-natured ribbing from the regulars.”

No doubt the banter continued when Kevin was presented with his BT Sport Manager of the Month award for December from Hearts skipper Christophe Berra and BT Sport pundit John Hartson. He was nominated by customers for running a brilliant pub and for forging such a close bond with the football club.

Kevin continued: “I am so delighted to win this. It is great for the pub and the team because we are used to seeing the style bars in town get the awards rather than a traditional pub with sport, like ours.”

Kevin’s support of Hibernian runs deep. His uncle Alex McGhee played for the cub in the 1970s and his great uncle Mick McGhee was such a super fan – travelling home and away to watch the first team, reserves and youth sides – that Hibernian FC paid for his funeral when he died, seven years ago.

Despite this, Kevin has created close ties with Heart of Midlothian. Photos and memorabilia decorate the walls of the Victorian pub and it is crammed with fans on matchdays.

When Hearts faced financial difficulties a few years back, The Diggers bought shares in the club and held various fundraising events. They continue to sponsor players at the club.

“We get so much from Hearts that we want to give something back to them,” continues Kevin. “Last season we sponsored eight players and we have added to that by sponsoring new signing Steven Naismith’s shirt as well.”

Fans forum Jambo’s Kickback also recently helped to fund a defibrillator which has been positioned behind the bar. Kevin and his team have all been trained to use it in event of an emergency.

As you would expect, matchdays are buzzing with fans coming before matches and returning afterwards, but the pub is first and foremost a local.

“We are busy from early afternoon until after the game,” says Kevin. “We have pool of 18 staff to have on match days. One of my pet hates is going to a pub and having to wait for ages to get served. It is heaving in here but if you get in you will get served.

“I always say the regulars pay my bills and the football is for profit.”

And it isn’t just football. Murrayfield is also just a dropkick away from the pub, so rugby fans are becoming more frequent visitors as well.

“International days are big for us. We will have football fans and rugby fans in here together and there is never any trouble,” he adds.

Providing a great sports experience is high on Kevin’s list. He recently replaced the pub’s five screens to ensure customers get a viewing experience they are unlikely to get at home. As part of his Manager of the Month prize he has also won a new 4K screen.

Customers enjoy a fine all-round experience with the pub boasting a wide-range of whiskies and impeccably kept cask beer. Recent improvement works have seen a new snug bar – The Dugout – introduced and work is underway on providing a commercial kitchen to complement the toasties and pies that are already hugely popular.

It all combines to ensure that The Diggers continues to keep customers of all kinds coming back for more.

 

Kevin is the latest BT Sport Manager of the Month, following in the footsteps of Simon Delaney of the Firbank in Manchester and Vicky Martin of the Sup & Chow in Cheltenham.

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