Your guide to the best football pubs in South London.
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It’s the circle of strife.
All week you’re given the runaround at work, shovelling e-shit from one computer to another, only to find that the weekend is loaded with all the tedious chores you can’t do at any other time because you’re at fucking work all week. Really. This isn’t the life they told you about at finishing school.
And yet you’re able to face these challenges with equanimity; bonhomie, even. How so? Because you know that come Sunday your football team (or indeed, someone else’s) is on the telly and for a couple of glorious hours you can lose yourself in the muddy bosom of the beautiful game, not to mention the pub.
That’s two hours – let’s call it three, with travel – of dreams and hopes, drama and pork scratchings. The result may not go your way, but at least you’ll have been on a little journey to you. You’ll have enjoyed, if not peace exactly, then a time-out from life, a chance to recalibrate your achy mind. And, by picking up a Chinese on the way home, you may have actually made yourself useful.
Some are tempted to stay at home and watch the football on TV, or spend the whole 90 minutes chasing the ‘X’ on advertising pop-ups via an Internet feed, but this is to turn an experience made for sharing into a diminished solo activity. As Half-life puts it: ‘Why have a wank when you can have an orgy?’ (Which, if I’m honest, does put me off a bit.)
Think of the camaraderie you’re missing, the brotherhood, the chatters, the grumblers, the nutters… No, the pub’s the place to be. But not just any pub. That you must choose carefully. Here are some pointers, followed by a list of our favourites.
- It’s local. Remember, you’re ‘slipping out’, you’re not going exploring. Not today. Not in your slippers.
- The football is on. This may sound ridiculous, but it’s no good arriving breathless at a Sky Sports-only pub to discover the game’s on BT. Proper footy pubs must have both. (And at a combined monthly cost of around £1400, they also need supporting).
- The sound is up. The very decent Rye pub on Peckham Rye recently advertised on their A-board that they were showing a game, but on arrival the sound was off ‘because of the families’. ‘Don’t advertise the fucking game then, you two bob tit,’ responded Half-life, quite reasonably, I thought.
- People are there to watch the game. If they’re there for lunch or just because they’re always there, you may be able to find a better atmosphere elsewhere.
- Decent beer. It’s a mystery why good beer and football don’t seem to mix more readily. It’s like they think we’ll drink anything, the clever buggers.
If you can get all five, you’re golden. If not, fuck it, you’ll just have to make do.
Here’s where we go:
The four screens at the Duke of Edinburgh on Ferndale Road (as well as outside, weather permitting) make it an obvious port of call for football-lovers. The beer choice and cellar is excellent too. For Half-life, though, it can sometimes get a bit ‘too Clapham’.
‘Last time I was there,’ he told me, ‘I was sat next to some City eejit who sold land mines to child dictators, or something.’
‘Ew. What did you say?’
‘Nowt. I just flicked beer at him until he fucked off.’
So if I’m meeting the big man in Brixton we tend to walk up Effra Road, either to the crack backstreet splendour of the Effra Hall Tavern, but more often than not to the louche and rootsy Hootananny.
But on the first weekend of the season we were told that Sky subs were no longer paid and the Hoot was, for the time-being, football-less. In better news, the Effra Social next door had set up a screen in its wonderful front bar. And the beer was better, too.
The Tiger shows matches (albeit with the sound down low) and The Joiners on Denmark Hill is a decent venue, but for atmosphere it’s hard to beat the Old Dispensary on Camberwell New Road. This is a pub in which sport rules, with multiple screens and an attentive audience. Last time I was in there for a game the place was rocking, and that was for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.
Newcomer, The Copper Tap (formerly The Red Cow) on Peckham eastside is an interesting beast – a place with an emphasis on new and interesting beers, but with a screen up in the corner for selected sports. Unfortunately, it only has BT Sports at the moment so doesn’t quite fulfil the criteria, but one to bear in mind for BT Sport games.
After the debacle at The Rye, we’re not sure we can trust it again so we’ll be looking in at The Gowlett – the backstreet gem with bar billiards and great pizza as well as the footy – and Bellenden Road’s Prince Albert.
When the latter underwent a refurb last year, we feared the football may not return, but now it’s back with screens front and back and it remains that delightful oddity – a proper pub in a poncey place. Also, there is sometimes a nice live surprise on Saturdays at 3pm, if you get my drift.
Talking of poncey places, football has all but disappeared from Lordship Lane, SE22. The lone bastion – somewhat surprisingly given that live sport doesn’t feature in most of their other gaffs – is the East Dulwich Tavern, the first place owned by pub pioneers par excellence, Antic.
The beer choice and quality is excellent and staff are trained to have the sound off until kick off, and then again at half time and full-time, which I appreciate. The last thing anyone needs with a hangover is Robbie Savage or Jamie Carragher at full volume.
Up the road towards Champion Hill, the Cherry Tree has reinvented itself as a football, food and fine ale bar, which will give the EDT a run for its money. For a wonderful taste of East Dulwich gone by, though, head to The Castle on Crystal Palace Road for a friendly welcome, fine Guinness and gaelic football as well as the Premier League.
The Irish theme is continued in the Pyrotechnists Arms at Nunhead, another of Half-life’s favourites and where he once ate himself sick on free boiled bacon and cabbage during the Cheltenham Festival. Points off for lack of cask ale, though.
Also of note is the Man of Kent opposite. The Coral next door is long gone, sadly, but it’s all about the in-play now. Let’s get right on it.
As Dirty South discovered on a tour of duty in New Cross, the place is teeming with students, which makes for a good big match atmosphere in the Marquis of Granby as the young’uns get excited and jump about while the old boys growl at them from the bar.
Another Dirty South tip is Lewisham’s Jolly Farmers, a no frills boozer tucked onto the end of a terrace of shops on Lewisham High Street. But our local favourite, despite the lack of cask beer, is The Holly Tree – go for the football, stay for the live music, wake up in a skip.
At Greenwich the Admiral Hardy in the market does a good job with big screens and great sightlines but it’s hard to look past the nocturnal vibe of Hardy’s Freehouse down the road, heading east. In this windowless beauty, it’s always midnight, even for the early games, which is reassuring when you’re ordering your first pint before midday.
It’s only right that the fancy Dial Arch, housed in a converted munitions factory, shows the football – a plaque outside commemorates the birth thereabouts of South London giants, Arsenal, as Dial Square FC. Unfortunately, it only shows BT Sports games which is a bit mean, unlike the Arsenal defence.
The Anglesea Arms, on the earthier side of town, has BT and Sky and is doing a grand job of making an old rough-house boozer into something more palatable, without losing its local character.
At Rose’s though, you not only get the chance to watch the game in a beautiful room but also in the company of Ronnie and Reggie, the house bearded dragons, which tips it for us. Plus, like many pubs in the area now, they serve delicious local ale from Hopstuff.
Nobody knows for sure if God’s a drinker, but if she is, then she’ll certainly have a tankard behind the bar at the Blythe Hill Tavern. The place is poetry in motion with friendly, welcoming staff, exceptional ales (and ciders) and an interior decor to swoon over. Plus the football’s on the box. There may not actually be a God, but the experience is religious.
At Tulse Hill we tend to abjure the hit and miss nature of the football experiences at the Railway Tavern (also known to turn the sound down) in favour of the traditional delights of The White Hart, now it’s back to normal.
For a non-pub experience, try Carlos’s cafe up by the station – intimate, friendly… and licensed.
The brown wood elegance of The Ship, on Borough borders, makes this one a favourite, while at the northern tip of the Walworth Road the Six Yard Box, in the Artworks boxpark, is a bar in a shipping container that is not only dedicated to football, but serves some fine keg and bottled ales, too.
Half-life, we think, is still barred for snapping the back of an opposing goalkeeper during a football match there last winter. Fortunately, it was only Subbuteo, but still a shock to all those involved.
The Roxy Bar & Screen offers football on their four metre screen, which is hard to argue with, but check ahead as they don’t show every game. This is our Roxy’s favourite as the old manager used to give her free shots whenever she went in, just for having the same name as his bar. He got fired in the end.
The Sheaf is an underground lair beneath the Hop Exchange, perfect for holing up in for winter matches. It’s packed in the week, but quieter at weekends.
But the ultimate Borough football experience is surely to be found down the cobbles of King’s Head Yard at the Old King’s Head. Lots of hub-bub, decent beer and a proper air of menace, like everyone in the place fucking means it, whatever it is they’re so cross about. Spectacles tolerated, laptops inadvisable.
Zeitgeist is a fine football viewing venue with a number of screens and good beers. As a German bar, the Bundesliga takes precedence over the Premier League in the event of a clash, though the latter will still be shown on a smaller screen.
But for something out of the ordinary, head to Tamesis Dock, a boat moored between Vauxhall and Lambeth bridges. Need to call ahead for this one though as they don’t show every game.
The Crown & Cushion is a nice mixture of locals and tourists if you’re around Waterloo and as well as having screens for the football, offers the enticing prospect of Thai food upstairs. But (and I suspect regular readers know where we’re going here) the area’s jewel is The Hole In The Wall.
What can we say about this SE1 institution that we haven’t already gushed? It is legend. It is epic. It is, somehow, paradise. The food’s awful, the toilets are a disgrace and the beer is average at best, but for watching the game, it can’t be bettered. The sound’s up loud in the main bar beneath a railway arch, the punters are enthusiastic and, in a lovely touch, they’ve even put a TV from the ’80s out in the backyard, beneath a corrugated iron awning.
Bench tables mean you get talking to people from all over the south west who’ve stopped off to catch the game before heading home to Yeovil or Pompey.
‘Why are you going there?’ Half-life sometimes asks them.
‘Because I live there,’ they reply.
‘Why don’t you just live here,’ says Half-life. ‘It’s much better.’ And you can see them having a good think about it.
So them’s our picks. Of course, we’ll have missed a load of crackers, there’s no doubt about that, so do help us fill in the gaps in the Comments or on Twitter/Facebook and together we can get through the week, to kick-off.
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