Observations with Richard Beecham: Beer we go again, drink up for the World Cup

TENSE VIEWING Fans watch England.
TENSE VIEWING Fans watch England.

What were you doing with your hands when you watched England play Italy?

Easy now – the chances are you were using at least one of them to hold a drink. Perhaps even two, if you were contributing to the beer stein craze – though I imagine a German drinking measure would not have cut it, such was the patriotic zeal with which you were watching the three lions.

However proud you were of England’s performance that night, there is no doubt at the part alcohol now seems to play in the consumption of sport.

All bar two of last season’s Premier League clubs – Cardiff and Hull – had alcohol companies as major sponsors, while alcohol-related football violence once again seems to be on the rise.

For a start, I am not suggesting the two are inextricably linked - far from it – as from this, a strange consensus emerges that sports fans can’t make their own minds up when it comes to behaving responsibly when faced with glitzy advertising.

Call me an optimist, but I don’t think people are that stupid.

But one thing that can’t be denied is the fact that, when alcohol is readily available, people will usually find an excuse to drink it. And there’s no excuse like a World Cup.

Authorities have tried to combat football drinking and, in some cases, been successful. You may have read about Kirklees Council’s lollipop experiment in last week’s paper and, from what I have heard, it didn’t go too badly.

But giving fans lollipops on their way out of pubs is seen by some as nothing more than a drop in the pint pot if the industry is allowed to carry on serving through the night.

The government was pilloried this month after backing down to the British Beer and Pub Associations calls to relax licensing laws for the World Cup.

The laws in England and Wales were changed for the duration of the tournament to allow pubs to open for longer hours when England matches were on.

In an article in the British Medical Journal this week, Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, savaged the plans, claiming alcohol-related injuries and health problems will increase, creating another burden on the NHS.

He added: “A government move that was originally rejected by the Home Office, this is seen as a ‘victory for common sense’ by the drinks industry. Popular, it may be, but sensible? I beg to differ.

“Firstly, I don’t accept that the first round, pool stage matches of any competition can be deemed to be of “national importance.” Would the same actions have been taken if Wales had qualified and England had not?

“The consequences of alcohol abuse are seen daily in the country’s emergency departments and manifest themselves as injuries, as well as acute and chronic illnesses.”

Since the announcement, however, The BBPA, which represents brewers and pub companies, estimates that around three million will enjoy the World Cup in the pub this Saturday, with six million extra pints of beer sold, and around £20 million in extra turnover generated.

Another problem is the issue of alcohol-related workplace sickies, which are expected to cost the economy more than £4bn during the tournament.

As with many issues like this – it is a double-edged sword. Nobody wants pubs to shut down, but can people really be trusted to look after themselves after ingesting 12 pints worth of Doom Bar?

The message here seems to be – as always – to drink sensibly on Tuesday. And try to avoid throwing the glass at the screen.