It doesn’t matter where in the world you come from, alcohol and sports seem to go hand in hand. Where one goes, you will likely find the other. Is this long-standing marriage a healthy one? Or is it a toxic, co-dependent relationship where both parties need to make a clean break?
An American Tradition
Now it must be pointed out that the way alcohol is paired with sporting events can differ by region. As our writer is American (he does apologise), he can’t help but inject the influence of our lost colonies into every article it seems. (If this upsets you, please send all feedback and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Across the pond, you will be hard-pressed to find a single bar–craft, upscale or otherwise– that doesn’t have at least one flatscreen TV tuned into the local sports team or ESPN Sportscenter.
Kendon and some mates ‘celebrating’ after US Men’s National Team loss to Spain 0-4 in Foxboro, Massachusetts
It doesn’t end there. Bar & grills and popular chain restaurants will typically have a section armed with a fleet of TVs. On National Football League (NFL) Sundays all of these venues will be packed with men, women and children in modern gatherings of worship.
Believe it or not, on nights out clubbing in America you may find yourself starting at strategically placed sportscasting LED TVs. Imagine this, you’re on holiday in Hawaii at a rum bar in Waikiki. It’s 1 am on Saturday morning as you roll up to the bar. As you wait to order you are greeted by a pleasant surprise: your beloved club has a noon fixture back in England! And it’s just getting started.
In American sports, drinking alcohol is a massive component of the spectator experience. Things like tailgating and ‘pre-gaming’ have become increasingly popular over the past decades. Much beer, whiskey, and other libations are consumed before, during, and after the event.
This is England
On our small island, most of the tabloid and media attention is focused on football hooliganism and the laddish culture of the sport. And for good reason. Decades ago, alcohol (among other substances) was a primary driver of huge amounts of violent and antisocial behaviour.
This of course, (like much of Europe), has led to a ban on drinking alcohol during football matches. This type of restriction may have a correlation with the amount of binge drinking that takes place before a match; further study is required. It’s safe to say that fans feel they ‘get it all in’ beforehand and show up at the game completely trashed.
This means there is a significant proportion of supporters who pay for and attend football matches they likely won’t remember much about! Sounds fun, right?
Football aside, the more ‘gentlemanly’ sports of rugby and cricket do tolerate drinking during the action taking place on the pitch. Many will agree that one can’t enjoy the ‘action’ taking place in a cricket match without litres of the good stuff but we digress… [as confirmed by our Founder Matty]
One certain difference between American and British sporting cultures is who actually is allowed to watch those sports; also, possibly-related, where sports can be viewed in public. If you ever find yourself attending an NFL or National Basketball Association (NBA) game, you might be surprised as you look out in the crowd. You will see a lot of women and children, and they are all intently enjoying the complete spectacle.
Contrast that with the UK where stadiums are much more dominated by adult males angrily screaming “ref-fer-reeeee!’. This is changing, and anecdotally, Kendon has noticed the difference in the past decade as a Fulham FC supporter. (Do Fulham fans even really count?).
Why Beer and Sports?
Drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages while watching or participating in sporting activities is a global favourite pastime. Many of the reasons for this may seem obvious; however, let’s have a bit of a refresher.
Calm the Nerves
Call it a coping mechanism or call it ‘Dutch Courage’. We may not be out there on the pitch, but for many of us invested supporters, we can barely stomach the great unknown. Unless you support one of the traditional giants, you always expect the worst. When the pressure is on, many of us can’t bear to watch.
That’s where a few pints of your favourite session-able brew step in to help remind ourselves it’s just a game. We can’t affect what’s happening so we should enjoy ourselves.
We’re Social Animals
With a few exceptions, most of us like sports as a way to bond with others. There’s a camaraderie in shared joy and suffering. Being part of the throng at the ground or in the sports pub helps to amplify the highs and soften the lows. And like many things, alcohol always makes it easier for most of us to let our guard down around large groups of strangers.
Sometimes the Product on the Pitch Ain’t so Great
You may be off to Yeovil Town for some fifth-tier football. You’re expecting a beautiful 0-0 with plenty of cautions and hopefully a sending off or two. Or perhaps someone is joining a group of mates to watch the Cricket at Twickenham. On the way to the match, they ask themselves, “What's a wicket?”.
In these types of situations, smashing a few bevvies can ease the suffering of boredom. At the end of the day, is it really about the game, or is it about the joys of being part of the group?
Wind-down After a Match
After an intense match as a spectator, a few beers with mates can be an easy way to blow off steam and come back down to earth. It’s a great way to exasperate unused energy, win, lose, or draw. It helps encourage a group therapy of sorts between mates.
When participating in sports, we don’t recommend drinking before or during the match; nevertheless, it is rather common these days in amateur leagues. But it’s when playing sports that a post-match pint can really shine. It facilitates a coming together of the team for a full debrief on the game.
A few beers after a match also promotes open discussion and team bonding. It also allows players to make sure all is forgiven for whatever happened on the pitch. “I’m sorry I called you a ****” or “I’m sorry I missed that pen”.
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to beat the combo of smashing a few beers while enjoying some sport with your mates.
Alcohol and Sports
When listing the reasons why alcohol and sports seem joined together, one may draw parallels between the signs of a toxic relationship with booze. In other words, it almost sounds as if we need beer and other forms of alcohol to enjoy watching and participating in sports.
That’s not exactly what we are trying to assert; however, alcohol is at least partially responsible for fuelling many of the bad actors that ruin sports for the rest of us. Football may hold most of the negative spotlight but supporters of other sports aren’t innocent by any means. Even a day at the Ascot Racetrack can result in violence from “Stella-fuelled cokeheads”
In the past year, the Principality Stadium in Cardiff has been deemed “the world’s biggest pub”. Recent incidents during matches for the national team include a boy having a beer spilt on him; a less ‘lucky’ child was completely vomited over. Not to mention two unrelated pitch invasions in as many weeks!
After considering a ban on alcohol for the 2022 Six Nations, the Welsh Rugby Union, also known as the WRU, opted to lower the strength of draught beers. Heineken International was asked to bring Amstel Bier (4.1% ABV) to replace Heineken (5.0% ABV).
Alcohol and Domestic Abuse
A recently published paper entitled Football, alcohol and domestic abuse found some uncomfortable truths. The study combined eight years' worth of crime data from Greater Manchester Police. This data was weighed against the timing of over 800 football matches played by Manchester United and Manchester City between 2012 and 2019.
What they found was quite disturbing. Firstly, they found a correlation between a spike in reported domestic abuse and the ending of early football matches. But what is the relationship to a match’s start time?
According to lecturer and research economist Ria Ivandic, “Games scheduled at midday or afternoon enable perpetrators to start drinking early and continue throughout the day, leading to a peak in domestic abuse in the late evening by perpetrators who have been drinking.”
We don’t even need to get into the health risks like alcohol causing at least seven types of cancer. A recent and more related study by the University of California, San Francisco found that excessive drinking during sporting events increases your risk of atrial fibrillation.
It is time for a moment of truth: we sports fans and supporters as a collective group need to cut back on our alcohol intake. How do we get there?
Dial it Back from Ten
Barring a full-on ban, alcohol and sports need to find a compromise within their dysfunctional relationship. Here at SiWC, we have a simple suggestion for world peace: why does Ross, the largest friend, not simply eat the other five? We jest, but why not give people options that encourage responsibility and promote sobriety?
Most of us that comprise the über niche of craft beer nerd and sports enthusiast already would like to see a more fulfilling beer selection at sporting events. No- and low-alcohol brewers can provide a solution that is essentially two birds with one stone.
Firstly, many breweries like yours truly are pushing the boundaries of what no/ low brewing can be. Whether it’s a beer that tastes like blueberry pancakes or a whisky-barrel-aged 2.8 black lager, these beers are brimming with flavour that destroys the tasteless, industrial swill on offer on most grounds.
We applaud the action of the WRU; however, while 5% to 4% is a significant alcohol cutback of 20%, we can do better. Until there are deeper cultural changes, many groups attending matches will continue to get several pints in before they get to the stadium. All serving staff at every on-premise venue should prevent over-serving and not tolerate any drunken behaviours or abuse.
With that being said, we also want to encourage and educate alcohol moderation. Focusing on low- and no-alcohol beers give supporters two viable options for a clearer head and a better overall experience. What’s the point of getting so pissed you can’t remember the match anyway?
Furthermore, when it comes to having a post-match pint with the team, those who are driving or wish to abstain for other reasons should have the tasty alternatives. In fact, non-alcoholic beer is an isotonic beverage that is up to the standard of German Olympians. It is the perfect way to refuel after a hard-fought battle on the pitch.
Head to our online shop to get a taste of what no- and low-alcohol beers can do. And think about that next time you head to a match: “How much of this match do I hope to remember?”.