Pubs in the shadow of Anfield ‘nervous’ about their future
It’s early afternoon and the majority of pubs in Anfield still have their shutters down.
In the midst of an international football break and with no midweek European action this isn’t such an unusual sight.
Many of the locally owned pubs do the lion’s share of their business when Liverpool FC are playing at home. When they’re not, many operate on shorter evening hours or hibernate through to the weekend.
As it slips further into the afternoon the first few raise their shutters and let in a blast of autumnal sun.
Some regulars have found their seats in a smattering of pubs but the scene is a million miles away from the electricity of a match day.
In previous years, the sleepier days through the week would be offset by Liverpool’s home and European matches. But this season has been different. There is a growing concern among some landlords and managers about the future of their businesses.
Since the beginning of the 21/22 season, Liverpool has introduced a new paperless ticketing system.
Teething issues have led to significant queues forming outside the stadium, with some fans even missing kick-off on some occasions.
To ensure fans make it in on time, for the Manchester City game, fans were advised to join a turnstile queue 90 minutes prior to kick off. Some are leaving earlier all together.
The changes have seen some match day rituals become more regimented, in turn leaving pubs quieter than ever before in the hour leading up to kick off - what would normally be their most busy time.
Sean Dunne, manager of the Flat Iron on Walton Breck Road told the ECHO: “On game day, everyone is leaving earlier.
“Instead of leaving here at quarter to three, people are leaving around 10 past two.”
He says that the thinning of his pub’s crowd at such a critical time for the business is having a significant effect on their takings.
“Without a doubt this would have a big hit on our takings if this was to continue.
“We're talking about 4% per match. That over the course of the whole season could leave us 23, 24% worse off across the year.”
These potential losses only add to the significant strains put on businesses emerging from three lockdowns.
“It was very bad over the periods of lockdown,” adds Mr Dunne. “I even had to go back on the building sites to get a few quid in.”
The Twelfth Man on Breck Road is one of the most well-established and popular pubs for an LFC matchday.
Its landlord, Robert Rogers, told The ECHO: “[The Twelfth Man] is a matchday pub. We rely on football.
“[But this season] we've been very quiet. Especially the last hour and a half before the match because everyone is trying to get into the ground. It's affecting us badly.
“We could easily be looking at being 20% worse off by the end of the season. Plus we haven't got the crowds back that we had before Covid. I don't know whether people can't afford to go the match, or if it's down to Covid.
“We're not getting busy until late on.”
The worry is echoed by Linda Akrari, manger of The Stadium on Townsend Lane, about a 15 minute walk from Anfield stadium.
She said: “Whether you’re losing an hour or half an hour, it's trade, isn't it?
“Where people would be staying and having extra pints, they're rushing because they need to be [at the ground earlier].”
Linda points to today’s quiet afternoon in the pub she manages, underlying the make or break importance of match day revenue for The Stadium and so many others within a close radius of Anfield.
Despite these concerns, a number of establishments in the area did note that the issue of fans leaving earlier has settled down since the first home games of the season, with hopes things are improving on this front.
One in particular highlighted that since the first two games their loyal customers have returned and are leaving at times not too dissimilar to years before.
A trade off
With fans now expected to arrive at the ground earlier, Liverpool FC has dropped its prices for a Carlsberg down to £2.90.
There is no argument that the stadium prices for a pint are anything other than reasonable, and a just reward for those arriving earlier.
However there is a feeling that this incentive is a contributing factor to the quieter match days in some of the pubs the ECHO spoke to.
Mr Rogers, landlord at the Twelfth Man outlined his concerns: “It's a bad sign that the prices have dropped."
“[The Twelfth Man] is very well known and well established, and [the current trend] is affecting us. We don't know whether it's down to covid, down to tickets, or people have got out of their habits. Or they're getting into the ground for the cheap prices."
He also questioned whether the club will quickly move put the prices back up once fans are in the habit of attending the ground earlier.
Mr Rogers admits he is nervous about the current trend, adding: “I'm a bit spooked by it all to tell you the truth.”
Expansion and contraction
Towards the rear of Anfield stadium work is continuing at a pace for the new Anfield Road end expansion.
Just over a week ago Jurgen Klopp braved the rain to carry out the honour of ground breaking duties.
Under today’s beating sun it’s the most active part of an otherwise quiet scene around the north side of the ground.
On the opposing side, formal lines are beginning to emerge from the vaccination hub situated underneath The Kop.
The vaccination centre is probably the most telling metaphor of Liverpool FC being a core part of its community and a lifeline to so many within its close radius.
However, the plans for the new 7,000 seat expansion have added to concerns among the community pubs who’ve spoken to the ECHO.
With competitive prices, an improved concourse within the new stand and requests that fans arrive earlier than in previous years, there is a feeling that the match-day experience could become more streamlined and stadium-centric.
With many of the pubs and businesses still feeling the financial bite of lockdown and a season with close to no spectators, any move which could inadvertently take emphasis away from the community offer on game day may well worsen the loss projections previously noted.
Mr Rogers, landlord of The Twelfth Man, isn’t coy in his reading of the expansion and other factors affecting his business at the moment, he said: “I think they want a bigger slice of the pie.
“Maybe even the whole pie,” he adds, with a sense of humour.
Sean Dunne, manager of the Flatiron, outlined some of his suspicions of the bigger picture of the expansion: "In America, if you have a look at their grounds, what they want is everyone within a mile vicinity of the ground where they have their own bars, own food and everything is catered for on-site and that's where they want them - spending money in there.
“They don't want them coming out to the likes of the Flatiron - they want them in the ground.”
Ms Akrari, manager of The Stadium takes a more optimistic, albeit realistic view on the matter: “I hope it won't be that fans aren’t funnelled into the stadium.
“We will still have our regulars, but I worry about getting new people in if you can get a drink in the ground for that price - you'd probably think to yourself 'I'll just go to the ground' than walk down here.”
Responding to the ECHO when asked about some of these worries pub landlords and managers raised, Liverpool FC pointed towards the positive impact the club has on the local economy. They also noted that the reduction in drinks prices is only a temporary measure.
An Liverpool FC spokesperson said: “We are really proud of the positive impact LFC has on the city from supporting the local and wider business community with the matchday custom to supporting the local community with our work from the LFC Foundation and Red Neighbours.
“An independent report published in 2019 stated that our matchdays generate around £500m in GVA to the local economy and supports over 5,000 local jobs.
“The expansion of our Main Stand brought an additional 8,500 people to Anfield and the Anfield Road Stand expansion will increase this by a further 7,000 – which means around 61,000 people will visit Anfield every game. This latest expansion will directly create 400 additional jobs, growing the average matchday workforce to 2,800 people with 95% of those directly employed locally.
“As with a lot of experiences post pandemic, there have had to be some adjustments made to our matchday operations. We have less food and drink on offer around the stadium and our fan park remains closed which could have a positive impact on local businesses. The reduction in the price of drinks within the stadium is temporary as a thank you and a welcome back to supporters for arriving early while we introduce a new stadium entry process.
“The Kop Bar is also closed on match days so we can continue to use it as a vaccination centre as part of our commitment to supporting Liverpool’s public health department.
“We thank our supporters, residents and local businesses while we implement these changes to our operations and continue to work through the changes to all our lives as a result of the pandemic.”
A stark contrast
The Anfield matchday experience is undoubtedly the biggest, recurring tourist attraction across the city region.
A quick look at how many houses are now hotels on Anfield Road is just one indicator of how lucrative an in-the-flesh sighting of Klopp, Salah and Van Dijk has become.
According to Liverpool FC, the ripple effect of its activity boosts the local economy by £108m. This feeds its way into accommodation, restaurants, cafes and bars, travel, the region’s retail, groceries and other items
But there is a stark contrast between the lucrative potential of an expanding Anfield and the tourism sector when compared to the neighbourhood itself.
In terms of regeneration, Anfield has undergone substantial change since 2004 to overhaul its housing.
Speaking at a council event on Tuesday, the City Council’s new director of regeneration, Mark Bousfield, highlighted Anfield as one of the most successful examples of regeneration the city has witnessed.
With 900 refurbished and newly built homes in the area there are clear signs of where extensive work has gone into improving the residential aspects of the neighbourhood.
But the regeneration of Anfield is far from complete. A short walk in the roads snaking around the stadium shows where new projects and help are needed for the community. And many of the pubs form the core of local businesses of the area.
Grassroots start ups such Homebaked CLT and Kitty’s Launderette are shining examples of the neighbourhood taking control of its own narrative to create a more thriving community.
But should the pubs in the area fall on hard times as the years go on, what picture of Anfield will tourists and people living outside of the postcode see?
One of workers huddled in the warm hues of Homebaked at lunchtime, with bustling local pubs offering an authentic flavour of the city of an evening and on game day.
Or will tourists see a peerless, gleaming stadium up on the hill, but in its shadow, local businesses permanently trapped under their shutters.
It’s certainly a future the pub landlords in the area are worried about - and you can see why.