Tuesday, 14 July 2009

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visityourclub.blogspot.com is all about sports and social clubs in the UK. They all sell very cheap beer and some go out of their way to offer a wide selection of real ales. Rick (above) is in charge of the ale at the Guiseley Factory Workers Club near Leeds. The club recently won the CAMRA Club of the Year. If you go there, you'll know why.

All the features on visityourclub.blogspot.com have already been published this year in Club Mirror magazine and all have been written by yours truly. Club Mirror is a national magazine that is all about sports and social clubs, private members' clubs, working men's clubs and political clubs.

Clubs in the UK are viewed as places where old men go to get drunk. Not true. Clubs are the focal point for many local communities in the UK and while some of them are performing well, even in recession, others are closing. I know of clubs that are turning over £1 million per year, mainly through bar sales. I also know of clubs that are so badly managed they have no right to survive.

The problem is that a lot of clubs are run by volunteers or people who work in other jobs during the day and don't really have the time run the place properly. Many clubs lack marketing know-how and that is why most people have no idea about the clubs in their locality.

It wasn't until I took on the editorship of the magazine that I started to notice clubs in my own locality. They are normally anonymous-looking and not particularly attractive buildings, but once across the threshold, it's a completely different kettle of fish. In fact, most clubs are huge and boast enormous concert halls and bars that nobody can see from the road. A lot of club managers talk about the 'Tardis effect' and the fact that while they look small and unassuming on the outside, inside they are anything but.

Clubs offer live entertainment and a variety of sports. You will normally find at least one full-size snooker table in a club and more often than not there will be more, plus pool and darts and dominoes. In the South West of England a lot of clubs offer skittles alleys.

In short, a club offers its members a great night out in a safe environment – only members are allowed in and most clubs won't let any old Tom, Dick or Harry join. In other words, no nutters, which means you can enjoy a drink with family or friends without the threat of violence. The best thing, of course, is the cheap ale. Okay, it's not as cheap as the supermarkets, but who in their right mind wants to sit in front of the telly at home drinking beer. Once in a while, maybe, but there's nothing better than going out and being part of your local community down at the club.

As for that old man image, well, yes, it's there, but most clubs are trying their level best to attract younger members. They have to in order to survive. To this end, many clubs – the clubs with money in the bank – are refurbishing their bars and their concert halls and are offering the beer and lager brands of the moment. Drinks prices are cheaper than pubs. I went to a club recently where a pint of beer was only £1.40!

Cask ale is big in some clubs too. Take the Guiseley Factory Workers Club near Leeds or the Egham United Services Club in Surrey or, for that matter, the King's Heath Cricket & Sports Club in Birmingham. In addition to offering a range of lagers and keg ales (like Tetley Smooth or John Smith's) these clubs (and many others) are offering some weird and wonderful brews from the UK's growing number of microbreweries.

Remember, cask ale is only available in the on-trade, not the off-trade. The nearest you'll get to a pint of cask ale in the supermarket is bottled-conditioned beers, of which there are plenty, but again, there's nothing better than a good real ale on draught and clubs should be taking advantage of the UK's growing micro brewery culture.

I could warble on about clubs all day and all night, but let me just say that they're great places to be and we should all get out more and pay a visit to our local club. Next time you go out, look around and see if you can find a club. If you do, go through the doors, enquire about membership and join up. You won't believe how cheap it is to join and you'll be amazed at the price of a pint of beer.

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