YOU could argue it’s tucked away, but as The Seagulls played home games here as recently as seven years ago it’s hardly off grid.

But even approaching the Sportsman in Withdean you could be forgiven for thinking you were walking into the back of the pub. It just feels like the front will be on the other side – which is explained when you get in.

The pub’s got some history to it, so even though it’s essentially a bar attached to a sports centre this doesn’t really do it justice.

Looking out through the beautiful stained-glass windows you have the most marvellous view of the pitch once populated by some real Albion heroes. It must have been manic with 5,000 odd people about. The restaurant, with its clear glass, really would have provided perfect viewing.

For a moment I felt quite sporty myself – even from outside I could hear the thwacks as the squash balls smashed into the court walls and there were beautiful bodies in Lycra and similar sporty outfits all around me.

So, having exercised by walking in, I rewarded myself with a pint. I sampled the 3.8 per cent Marston’s 61 Deep pale ale which was pretty good. But in the end, I opted for the slightly heavier Sharp’s Doom Bar.

The place is now a Stonehouse Restaurant so has all the good and bad traits such chain ownership brings. The Doom Bar, for example, only cost £2.95, but on the downside the menu looked very uniform.

Now I know it one of my pet subjects, but Christmas continues to be allowed to invade the rest of the year. I understand the need to get early bookings but as if by way of justification for a board offering a three-course meal on Christmas Day for £42.95 they’ve stuck a solitary reindeer decoration in the false fireplace. Xmas decs before Halloween just isn’t on. Incidentally if you waited a further 24 hours to visit on Boxing Day it is only £16.99 and you can breakfast with Santa on his big day for £4.99.

The whole place is set up to offer dining families a warm welcome, but the large bar area also attracts sporting folk who feel they’ve earned a drink as well as a selection of old stalwarts who look as if they’re unaware Albion have a new ground.

The old boys on the table next me, discussing the merits of Specsavers hearing aids, certainly looked as if they’ve been coming in for years.

The music, like the décor, is middle of the road in the extreme, Love Hurts by Rod Stewart was immediately followed by Buble inviting everyone to dance with him.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Rod, Michael or the furnishings, it’s just that they are what they are – bland and serviceable.

There are two fruit machines and a Toy Box grabbing machine for the kids desperate to spend mum and dad’s cash. I don’t need another Spiderman doll or any more Minions, so I gave it a miss.

Mind you, I might have had more luck with the grabber than I did with the ATM – I got nothing from that. First it rejected my card and the staff suggested it might not agree with my bank. Then, when it went completely doolally they admitted it breaks down every week.

Before moving across to a pint of wife beater at £3.80 I paid a visit to the little boys’ room. The signs on the doors read Gorgeous Girls and Brilliant Boys – I wasn’t sure why until I stepped inside.

I haven’t visited more pleasant toilets since I reviewed The Grand Hotel. Beautifully tiled, they looked and smelt more like a scented spa than a gents in a pub.

It’s all too easy to be snobby and disregard some chain pubs but this one does what it does extremely well and appears to be well thought of in the area. Online it’s taken a fair hammering recently, but I always report it as I find it.


Decor: *** 
For a chain pub I found it very presentable and the toilets were a revelation

Drink: ***
Not a particularly wide choice but the beer was well kept and well served

Price: ****
I didn’t discover the price of the IPA but the Doom Bar was just £2.95 and the Stella £3.80.

Atmosphere: ***
The various groups of people in all seemed to be getting along just fine

Staff: *** 
I found the guys behind the bar efficient and friendly enough