The food and drink across the football pyramid has never been so good

There’s a food and drink revolution happening across our region but it’s not happening where you might think.

We’re not talking about foodhalls or restaurants. Nor markets or pubs. Instead, this revolution is happening at a place that for decades has been void of decent food and drink. This is the footy scran revolution and it’s happening inside and surrounding football stadiums across the region.

Going to a football match these days is about the whole experience, it’s not just about the game.

Best read in the voice of the Saturday afternoon classifieds, a sample of the menu reads like this.

Great North Pie Co meat pie, mash, mushy peas and gravy, Stockport County. Balti pie and a samosa with mint and chilli sauces in a roll, Oldham Athletic. Sausage, bacon, egg, hash brown and cheese breakfast wrap, Avro FC. Steak and chips in peppercorn sauce, Manchester City. Chicken tikka dirty fries, Bolton Wanderers. Salt and pepper chicken and chips, spring rolls, curry sauce and egg fried rice, also known as a ‘munch box’, Hyde United.

The footy scran revolution is one happening up and down the football pyramid. Spurred on by a viral Twitter phenomenon and the realisation that the matchday experience is more than just watching people kick a ball about.

We chatted to Manchester’s footy scran league leaders to get to the bottom of the ultimate question. Scran or no scran?

The Footy Curry Chicken Tikka Biryani At Fc United In Manchester
Matchday biryani at FC United Image: The Footie Curry

Out with the two pound pies, in with the carveries and vegan kebabs

FC United Commercial Manager, Frances Fielding, can’t vouch for the years before her appointment but she can tell you what’s happened in the three months since. “The majority of the food when I came in was Holland’s pies, sausage rolls and chips and that was it. There was no variety.” Frances says.

Spend per head was low. Less than a pound. The quality of the food was poor and with no expectations for anything better, fans had stopped buying food at the ground. Frances, having previously worked at Blackburn Rovers, wanted to change this.

“Going to a football match these days is about the whole experience, it’s not just about the game. Clubs are doing pre-match entertainment and fan zones. It’s about food as well. People look forward to coming and having something different to eat.” Frances says.

The results are better than Holland’s pies, and as most of the people I speak to politely point out, that’s no offence to Holland’s pies. The Footy Curry, a catering company who Frances previously worked with at Blackburn Rovers, were brought in regularly on the food front, having already built up a reputation across the region for their matchday biryani.

Joseph Holt meanwhile, operates a craft ale bar at the stadium with tap takeovers promoting local microbreweries, and the beer regularly sells out. Lancashire Hospitality, who also cater at Rochdale and Bolton Wanderers, have since come in offering the likes of Yorkshire pudding wraps, fish and chips and calzones on a matchday.

The matchday catering income has almost trebled. “It’s unbelievable,” Frances says.

There was a worry at FC United that putting the prices up might put people off. The club used to sell some of the cheapest pies in the country with a matchday price of £2. Bumping the price to £3.50 for a bigger, better quality pie from a local bakery was a risk, but it’s one that has paid off.

The Joseph Holt Bar At Fc United In Mancheser
Joseph Holt on the taps at FC United with room for guests, in this case locals Blackjack Image: FC United

“The fans are happy to pay and they’re delighted with the food. There’s vegan options now too. We’ve done vegan sausage rolls and vegan kebabs.” Frances says.

“There’s no end to it. We’ve been offered everything. We’re thinking about doing a carvery on Tuesday night. The fans are saying they’re looking forward to coming earlier now because they want to come and get the food.”

Birria Brisket Quesadilla At Grimsby Town Blundell Park Footy Scran
Birria brisket quesadilla with homemade guacamole and salsa at Grimsby Town Image: Social Box / Slipway Group

The viral rise of Footy Scran

One Shakespearean question underpins football’s long awaited embrace of improved food on the terraces. Scran or no scran? A question made famous by viral Twitter account Footy Scran.

Launched in October 2020 by Wolverhampton Wanderers fan Tom Sibley, Footy Scran has been documenting football’s food revolution with the help of fan submissions sent from the account’s 480.6k Twitter following. Tom was inspired to start Footy Scran after seeing a picture posted by Welsh semi-pro side Merthyr Town who play in the seventh tier of the English football league.

The club were serving sausage, chips and curry sauce in a hollowed out cob. Tom has since featured thousands of submissions from football fans nationally and now internationally. All subtweeted with the all-important poll underneath, 'scran or no scran?'. There’s also a drinks platform spin-off called Footy Bevs.

A quick glance across the UK reveals a cornucopia of options. Butter chicken with chips and rice at Birmingham City (£10). Jerk chicken and rice or jerk pork belly with rice at Bristol Rovers (£11 and £10). Nutella donuts at Chelmsford City (6 for £6). German doner kebabs at Ebbsfleet United (£8). Double Wagyu lamb bacon smashed burger with caramelised onions at Arsenal (£11).

It’s food that has burger van familiarity, food that'll fill you up and go well with a pint, but it's also food that goes beyond the traditional Styrofoam tray fodder.

A league table of footy scran wouldn’t necessarily match that of the British football pyramid. Grimsby Town would be battling for a Champions League spot. Gourmet scotch eggs, Grimsby haddock and salsa tacos or a French stick packed with soy and honey beef brisket are on the menu at Blundell Park. Hotdogs at Manchester United and burgers at Leeds United meanwhile would be enough to get them relegated.

Fans Eating Hip Hop Chip Shop At Manchester City
Hip Hop Chip Shop at Manchester City Image: Confidentials

Scran publicity and the integration of street food

One club that knows about the power of Footy Scran is AVRO FC, an Oldham-based club playing in the ninth tier of the English football league.

“It’s massive from a publicity point of view.” Liam Bambridge, Director of Media & Public Relations at AVRO FC, tells me. Whilst the income from food at AVRO isn’t as crucial as it might be for other clubs, the food is still an important way of enticing people through the gates and building an awareness of the club.

“Pretty much everyone that comes to the games wants to have it. There are quite a few ground hoppers at this level, people looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon, and the publicity from the food does get people through the door who otherwise wouldn’t come to see ninth-tier football.”

AVRO FC are regulars on Footy Scran. Breakfast wraps, chicken and halloumi wraps with salt and pepper chips and steak and chips have all appeared on the FS timeline, the subtweets unequivocally agreeing: scran.

The club were picked as part of Footy Scran’s World Cup poll, which pitted food from football clubs around the world against each other. Despite being the lowest-ranked team in the poll, AVRO were able to make it through a few rounds with American club LA Galaxy ultimately coming out on top.

The rise of street food is undoubtedly a central element of football scran’s new appeal. Clubs like Manchester City are making use of popular local operators like Hip Hop Chip Shop, H.M.Pasties and Northern Soul. Brands that are already known in Manchester and have somewhat of a cult following. 

The operator meanwhile, depending on which club they work with, has access to potentially hundreds or thousands of customers. A level of custom that might not otherwise come with food festivals and other events.

Lower down the league, catering operators like The Football Curry and Lancashire Hospitality work across multiple clubs, corresponding with home and away games. The viral phenomenon of Footy Scran has not only managed to elevate small clubs making an effort to provide better value food options, but also highlights the rip-off food options at larger clubs that are taking their fan’s custom for granted.

In recent weeks Hyde United has been featured on Footy Scran for its impressive salt and pepper munch box and Yorkshire pudding wraps. 

The bio of its match day caterer, Big Al’s, is telling: ‘Serving quality food at decent prices and trying to get the rest of the clubs to follow suit and stop selling shite and charging ridiculous prices for it.'

Burton Road Brewing At Stockport County
Burton Road Brewing away at Stockport County Image: Burton Road Brewing

Drinking on the terraces, non-league appeal and putting fans first

It’s difficult to talk about this move towards a more fan-centric matchday experience without mentioning West Didsbury & Chorlton FC.

Along with Dulwich Hamlet down south, “West” as the club is affectionately known by its fans, is a prime example of the non-league matchday experience teasing fans away from larger clubs.

The terrace culture at West is lively. The self-confessed Krombacher Ultras, whose name originates from the fan's penchant for the German lager of the same name, have created a progressive political atmosphere at the club. Supporters in the shed end are able to speak in self-deprecating terms, many happy to refer to themselves as 'football hipsters'. 

Many are also disillusioned with clubs at the top of the football pyramid taking advantage of them on match days. 

Local brewery Burton Road Brewing also has a close relationship with West and the owner of the brewery is a fan. Cans of Burton Road can be seen perched on the fence that runs around the perimeter of the pitch on matchdays, retailing at less than a fiver each. The brewery teamed up with the club last year for a special edition beer and is also on bars at Stockport County.

You can drink in the stands at non-league level by the way. That’s part of the tantalising pull of a matchday. At West you can watch a game, can in hand, with your dog by your side (yes, they’re allowed in too), with a passionate group of fans, flags promoting progressive political stances, and so-called ultras ironically singing about quinoa and letting off flares.

The National League is the current cut-off for drinking in the stands, a division currently inhabited by the likes of Oldham Athletic and Altrincham. A whole other article could be written on Tracy Crouch’s attempts at alcohol reform at football stadiums, mirroring countries like Spain and Germany with drinking in seats facing the pitch.

The Hatch Of The Stalybridge Celtic Bier Hut
The Celtic Bier Hut hatch is at the back of the picture, perfect boozing distance from the pitch Image: Celtic Bier Hut / Stalybridge Celtic

Alcohol sales are an important part of a club’s income at a time when most are struggling, and whilst promotion is always a goal for any team, rising above the pints in seats league threshold is somewhat bittersweet.

The beer side of things is not limited to clubs like FC United and West Didsbury & Chorlton. The Celtic Bier Hut at Stalybridge Celtic is an independent pop-up beer bar run by the same husband and wife team as nearby Ol’s Bier & more. The bar serves a selection of German and local beers, including Dortmunder Pils and Glossop brewery Distance Hills, and is another example of the symbiotic relationships forming between clubs and local hospitality.

The New County Courtyard At Stockport County
Visions of the new Stockport County fanzone Image: Stockport County

If the Footy Scran revolution tells us anything, it's that clubs should ignore fans and the matchday experience at their peril. At the time of writing, Stockport County have just announced a new fan zone with Ate Days A Week set to be one of the food vendors, adding to the club’s already impressive pie form with Great North Pie Co represented in the kiosks. Stockport CEO Jonathan Vaughan said of the announcement: 

“We know that creating a fantastic matchday experience goes beyond what happens on the pitch and we need to do everything we can to welcome fans into Edgeley Park and keep them coming back. This planning approval allows further investment into the ground which not only adds to the fan experience, but brings new jobs and helps drive Stockport County’s progress on the pitch.”

When it comes to the question of food and drink at the football in Manchester, the answer is simple: scran.

Follow Davey on Twitter and Instagram: @dbretteats

Cover image: H.M Pasties

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