Reprise: Something to chew on

Tuesday 12th February 2013 at 7:06PM

This week it’s time to don a chef’s hat, adopt Gregg Wallace’s scary tones, demand a ‘top class plate of food’ and complain that the burger is under-seasoned.  Boys and girls, it’s time to review the in-stadium refreshments experience in British football.

Normally I’m a ten stone stallion with a six pack so tight you could grate cheese on it, but (in the real world) three years of research have taken their toll.   In spite of a demanding warm up regime of a light breakfast of porridge (made with water) and a cup of tea, the afternoon fare we’ve consumed has turned my fantastic frame into something resembling the ‘before’ picture on a slimming advert.  But it’s not just the questionable health properties of football fare that continues to intrigue my family.  The rest of the experience has been ‘interesting’ too.

One club official recently told me they’d removed the club’s own kiosks from outside of the stadium ‘as they weren’t making a profit’.  Now I’m no business expert (well, I was once described as a ‘small business expert’ on the basis that most of the large businesses I’ve worked for became small ones within months of my arrival) but this sounded fishier than a trawlerman’s lunchbox. 

Most businesses remain open all week using all manner of marketing techniques to increase traffic and spend.  At most football clubs however, everyone turns up at once, in a fairly predictable manner, at the same time, so place your kiosk somewhere near the ground before said time and Bob’s your Uncle.

It’s hard not to sell huge quantities of food in those circumstances … unless the experience isn’t very good.  And when I asked the official what feedback he’d had from supporters, he adopted the sort of facial expression you tend to see in the audience at ‘Live Autopsy’.  Clearly the concept of asking his customers for feedback hadn’t occurred to him.

So what have we found?  Well, the typical refreshment kiosk experience is certainly better than a few years ago, but still tends to provoke looks of horror on the faces of my family.  From queues longer than the Great Wall of China (and equally visible from space) to indifferent staff, a - shall we say - ‘narrow’ range (e.g. nothing left), food that has been prepared several hours beforehand and warmed up (the burger displaying all of the lure of a tepid house brick) and, of course, the stratospheric price range.  At one ground recently my cup of Bovril cost £2.  For that you’d expect a massage from Christina Aguilera – not an insufficiently stirred plastic cup of primordial gloop.

Another interesting footballing foible is the tendency to remove bottle tops.  Fair enough, if it’s a local derby and F Troop is surrounding the food stand, you don’t want to give them any encouragement. 

However, if you’re with the kids in the family area, the chances of them propelling their Fanta at the referee are probably less likely (believe me, I often encourage mine to try).  Nevertheless clubs continue to apply this rule generically, creating spills in family areas everywhere and upsetting other fans, on the basis that it’s best to ignore what we might actually want.

Some of our experiences however have been memorable for other reasons.  I recall buying my kids a Clarks Pie half an hour before kick off, as Cardiff City entertained Brighton & Hove Albion in the first round of the Carling Cup back in August 2007.  It was so hot that we still couldn’t eat it at half time.  Other fans stood around warming their hands on it like a brazier in a builder’s yard on a cold winter’s afternoon.  Once the pie had cooled down (by the time the draw for the second round had been made) it was lovely! 

Elsewhere we’ve delighted in the introduction of the ‘Parmo’ at Middlesbrough.  This tasty treat is typical of the Italian diaspora there, being basically a chicken Parmesan – a flattened breaded chicken breast, smothered with béchamel sauce and dusted with Parmesan (I can hear Gregg shuddering with excitement as I describe it).  Unfortunately, this item is almost the size of a chessboard, so after a fan panel epiphany, the club came up with the idea of getting the local baker to reduce the size of the delicacy and put it in a nice, fresh floury bap.  Lovely.

At Shrewsbury, the national catering company deal was replaced by one with a small family business and soon fans were chewing contentedly on fresh French roast beef baguettes and cheese and onion sandwiches.  At Morecambe, the appearance of Lancashire Hotpot was greeted by my family like the return of the Prodigal Son (although my wife still insists they should provide potted shrimps with a mace-dusted butter topping).  And at Norwich, there was choice of authentic Hungarian Goulash, Valencian Paella and Italian ice cream.  Delia even makes special match day pies.  Norfolk Woodford Ale and Steak, anyone?

Last time at Ross County, we were presented with a Haggis Pie, complete with neeps and tatties in the very same short crust casing. I was so happy I nearly cried.


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