With the demise of the Queens Tavern a while ago, The Sportsman must be the nearest pub for quite a big part of Bedford – almost all of Goldington and about half of Putnoe too. It’s sited on the end of a small cul-de-sac row of local shops, squarely in a residential area. As we approach along The Boundary, there are neat detached houses on one side of the road, and terraced houses with football shirts hung in front windows on the other.
This is a Charles Wells pub, so there’s that familiar signage, with that gold lettering on that red background – fairly new signage, as with almost all the other CW pubs too. The front of the building is a cream colour, with white doors and windows and some brown wooden windowsills, some of which are showing their age. A few hanging baskets add a splash of interest.
The front door takes us into a hallway with loos left and right, and a choice of two bars. We choose wisely, insofar as we chose to go left – more about the other bar later.
So, business first. There’s no real ale here, so for £6.60 we get two pints of Eagle Smooth on tap (even though it was badged as plain Eagle). Other taps provided Stella, Fosters, Coors Light, Guinness, Carlsberg, Strongbow, and Guinness Extra Cold. There is one handle here, but it’s empty, and in fact hidden well enough behind a box of straws and napkins that I didn’t notice it at first; I’m guessing it isn’t used much.
The bar itself is in one corner of the room, which is L-shaped; beyond the bar, the room opens out to accommodate a pool table, plenty of windows, and the door out to the beer garden. On the chalk boards above the bar, the messages look like they’re in permanent residence: “Like us on Facebook”; “Live sports”; “Live music”; “Functions catered for”. So far, so generic.
Behind the bar, a corkscrew in a lewd design, and signs about the “Meat raffle”, as well as posters for “Help for Heroes” and one promoting the upcoming live sports on TV. Next to the end of the bar, a fireplace with a log burner; mounted on the wall above, in a patch of stonework appearance (compared to the rest of the terra-cotta-painted wall), a TV, which is turned off. At the bar, half a dozen bar stools of assorted designs; opposite, a couple of tables and chairs, with Coors Light beermats.
On the wall next to these tables, there’s a large map, 12 feet or so across, showing the north of Bedford. It’s quite a recent map, it seems – new enough to include the bypass, and the Asgard / Thor Drive area, but not new enough to include that new road round the back of Waitrose (“Perkins Road”, apparently; I had to look that one up). For a moment we think the map is painted, but then RealAleRocks comments on how neat and accurate the wallpapering has been done – it’s in good nick.
We sit; music starts playing, quietly. It’s a weekday, just about half past five.
The carpet here is obviously a few years old, but not tired yet; plenty serviceable enough. There are two wooden flooring areas, one right at the bar, and the other centrally, for the pool table. The pool table’s in good condition, and rather unusually, in a pale wood – maybe beech? Round the corner to the left, next to the pool cues and a rest, there’s another TV – also turned off, with its accompanying satellite box on a little shelf above the window. Next to this, two signs bearing the messages “If only common sense were more common” and “I’m not arguing, I’m just telling you why you’re wrong”.
Immediately to the left of the bar, there’s a mirror with ornate silver edging, which seems rather out-of-place here. Then (rather more in-keeping), a fruit machine, a juke box, the door out to the beer garden (replete with Jägermeister branding on the glass). Finally, filling the remaining wall space, bench seating covered in a red fabric, going around two sides of the edge of the room. There are a few cushions, one smaller table and one larger, and some chairs and stools, again in a pale-coloured wood.
The music started shortly after we arrived, but now it stops again, after just one song.
Sat in a group by the window, around the larger of the tables next to the bench seating, is a group of 7 or 8 people, ranging in age from 20s upwards; a family group, I think. A man in his 70s, the eldest of the group, reads The Sun. The rest chat, play cards, then later dominoes; they drink Magners, Fosters, Koppaberg cider. One of the men calls over to the woman behind the bar: “Carol, could I have a Fosters please when you’ve got a minute? I’m not being demanding”. She pours it, and leaves it on the bar for when he’s ready to come over and get it.
First names get used a lot in this pub, while we’re there – and also several locals in quick succession offer to buy a drink for the woman serving. A man in his 50s arrives, sits at the bar, and orders a Fosters; now, two men and a woman in their 50s and 60s come in from the beer garden. Speaking of which, we didn’t actually go out to the beer garden, but it seemed to be a walled, concrete-tiled affair with a table or two, and a gazebo-like structure, decorated with miniature St George flags.
Before we leave, I quickly pop next door to the deserted Public Bar. It’s a similar style to the first bar, but a more formal feeling: no pool table, no bench seating, but with more tables and chairs, and an area with a couple of leather sofas. Round the corner, next to the bar, there’s a side room containing a dartboard, a scoreboard, and enough space for several people to stand around and play or watch.
The corner of the bar itself, in this room, is of an old exposed timber style. There’s another TV here, and a mirror with a small shelf underneath, including coat hooks in the style of anchors. A series of photos from the 1900s or so hang on the wall facing the bar.
So, to summarise: this pub is in a working class part of town; it serves no real ale; nitro-keg lager, The Sun, and England flags feature strongly here. Combined with its geographic location, I think I’m struggling to see a reason why we’d make any effort to go there. But if you live in the area, why not? It’s a friendly enough place.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0