"You base everything around Sheffield Wednesday": iconic pub 'heading towards dire straits' without crowds

“Football is the most important part of our business,” says pub landlord Kevin Woods while settling into a seat in his noticeably quiet beer garden just a 10-minute walk from Hillsborough stadium.

By Alex Miller
Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 5:00 pm

“The money we take on a matchday keeps up going. The rest of the week is OK but when you take that huge chunk of our potential turnover away, it's hard to replace.”

The pub in question is the New Barrack Tavern and the time has just gone half-past five on July 22, just an hour-and-a-half before Sheffield Wednesday kick off their final match of the 2019/20 season.

Usually the place would be teeming with hundreds of bustling Wednesdayites and away fans alike, the cash register ticking over and the buzz of a football match building with every passing pint. But as Kevin, for 17 years the face of the popular Wednesday boozer alongside his wife Steph, takes a sip of lager, only a group of students chatter in the garden’s covered area while regulars come and go indoors.

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New Barrack Tavern landlord Kevin Woods says local businesses are battling on despite the lack of matchday crowd at Sheffield Wednesday's nearby Hillsborough stadium.

The nature of the coronavirus pandemic has meant supporters have been unable to attend football stadiums since early March. It’s been 153 days since Wednesday fans were able to descend on S6 in their thousands and the swell of business that comes with a matchday crowd, Kevin says, is something you simply cannot replace.

He wears a famously cheery complexion that drops from time to time when describing to The Star the scale of the issues facing businesses situated in the shadow of Hillsborough.

“You base your entire year around Sheffield Wednesday,” he says ruefully. “It's the one day you’re guaranteed to take good money.

“The nature of Wednesday and the fans mean you're not even that reliant on results in terms of business at least, some of the best days we've had over the years are the bad ones for the club. One of the best days we've ever had is when we got relegated against Palace.

Steph and Kevin Woods have run the New Barrack Tavern for almost 18 years and are firm fixtures in the Wednesday family.

“We always have an end-of-season party but there was something about that one. We went through it together. You go through the good and the bad with the club.

“That matchday trade is a vital part of our business and it's a vital part of an awful lot of businesses around this area. It's shops, food takeaways too. We've all felt a massive impact from it.

“The worry is whether we can ever get back to somewhere near normal but we'll never make up what we've lost.

“We've written off the financial year completely just by missing three months of a football season.”

The strains of the coronavirus pandemic are not limited to those situated close to major football stadiums of course, but having set up a financial plan around the Sheffield Wednesday fixture list, it’s a strain that has been accelerated, with two popular watering holes in close proximity to the stadium already having called it quits.

Kevin’s face drops further when he tells The Star that three regulars he considers friends have been lost to Covid-19, a crisis he knows there is no easy answer for. Despite projections having claimed spectators will be allowed back into grounds in September or October, a second spike, he believes, is inevitable.

It’s this uncertainty that is causing local business owners the most stress.

“People's lifestyles and the way people go about living their lives will change completely,” Kevin says with the air of a man ready to continue battling the world. “If that lasting effect is to the detriment of the amount of money we take to keep the business viable, we don't know. It is that critical.

“They're talking about later this year with crowds going back, but from our point of view we will still have social distancing then at the very least.

“Things have been rushed back on a business footing rather than a safety footing. The economy can only take so much. The country doesn't have infinite resources to throw at businesses to keep them going, there has to be a point where they say 'we've got to try to make this work'.

“If we do get crowds going back on a limited basis and we still have social distancing measures in place, we'll still only be able to get perhaps a quarter of the amount of people in on a matchday that we normally would do. It’s not going to be easy for us.”

The pub’s place in the Wednesday family is unquestionable. Of the many former Owls players to have enjoyed a pint or eight in the Penistone Road pub, Nigel Pearson has been the most regular. Kevin himself is an away day regular and his daughter Rebecca, who works behind the bar, is a former season ticket holder.

Early in lockdown regulars organised a fundraising scheme to sponsor a bar stool, a gesture that has allowed the family to pay the pub’s energy bills and one that Kevin hopes to be able to thank them for on a matchday in person as soon as it is safe enough to do so.

“It's worrying,” he said. “If it doesn't improve greatly fairly soon then we're getting towards dire straits. We've done as much as we can to try to secure a bit of financial stability.

“We were made to feel at home immediately and we've sort of grown into it over the years. It's been fantastic. There's something about the place, the people that come here and the atmosphere that comes with it.

“Everybody, almost without exception, are both customers and friends. And we will continue to do everything in our power to make sure all that isn’t lost.”

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