Having been to around 200 non-league grounds over the past 20-odd years it is fair to say that very few would pass the litmus test when it comes to food and drink. I once thought about compiling a Good Food and Beer guide for the non-league traveller, but frankly, it would have been a very thin pamphlet.
Those groundhoppers who salivate over the burgers at East Finchley & Golders Green Athletic or the chips at Postlethwaite Albion clearly need to get out more often. The quality of food at most clubs is dire, not to mention possibly unhygienic.
If you see a huge chest freezer in the burger bar or kitchen at a club, you know damn well that firstly the bread rolls will be frozen a la cardboard and the burgers will probably be budget price patties from the local discount store.
Then look at the kitchen/cooking area. In some cases, you won’t want to look too hard as you might see something you don’t like the look of. As for chips, arguably the most simple of all offerings. Pound to a penny, they will be frozen.
And hot dogs? Well, they are debatable even when they are decent, let alone the tubular rubber that is served up in the name of sausage. Fear the wurst, I say. And there’s nothing to match the congealed tomato sauce bottle that has been through several campaigns…and rainstorms.
Why people try to serve up such appalling food is beyond me. Keep it simple, cheese and ham rolls and fresh at that. You know where you are.
Fear the wurst
Amazingly, people still queue for food that can induce an attack of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in their droves, so the [captive] audience is there. But a little more effort would make that experience much better. Some clubs do it very well – Faggots at Evesham were always memorable – but too many are paying lip service to the word “food”.
Tea and coffee, now there’s a question. Tea, our national drink. “One dip or two,” referring to how long the tea bag is kept in the cup. And coffee, well if you’ve ever tasted a cup of the brown, instant , blow-torch hot liquid then your taste buds are better than mine. They make vending machine coffee taste like the finest estate-grown Java.
As for beer, well, the average clubhouse is invariably a real ale desert. Button-pressed popularist lager and ersatz bitter. It’s understandable as real ale needs to moved on and at a lot of football clubs, the audience doesn’t justify the investment.
The real ale cognoscenti usually seek better alternatives outside the football ground. Following a Southern League Premier club can be a much more pleasant experience if it can be accompanied by local brew from a local pub for local people. And when it could also lead to a local delicacy like black pudding and cheddar rolls (Stourbridge), how can a football ground compare?
Food at football matches hasn’t really come a long way, although those that remember the infamous Westlers burgers, served by vendors out of boiling water, may disagree with that sentiment. Just go to any London club and see what they are offering. Better packaged – yes, better quality – scarcely. Higher prices – ridiculously so. A small bottle of water (cap off to remove potential use as a missile), £ 2.20. A carton of scorching hot, stale Safari Nuts – £3. Disgusting.
Football is not alone, though. Generally event catering in Britain is one huge rip-off. I have a solution to the problem. Bring your own, but if you’re going to a Football League game, forget the flask, it may be mistaken for a weapon of mass destruction. And if you go to any FIFA or UEFA major event, don’t take anything with you that you’re not prepared to lose – these organisations run a tight, dictatorial ship when it comes to allowing food and drink into a venue. The world we live in…