The building was of modern construction, dating to the 1960’s or early 1970’s, and was built by West Country Breweries when the licenses of the nearby Swindon Arms and Swindon Inn were relinquished. The name changed from the Railway Inn to the Sportsman, and then in February 2004 to the Best Mate Inn (named after the racehorse that won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on three successive occasions).
Gloucestershire Echo: 11th July 1997 – Shaun is on track: Cheltenham landlord Shaun Ballantine has bought the Railway Inn in Swindon Road. Mr Ballantine, who already owns the Russell Arms, paid £80,000 for the Railway. He said: “It had a bad reputation so it was cheap. I want to improve its reputation. It’s already got better. I want to make it a happy local pub.”
After redecorating the pub, he plans to run it on a sports theme with pool and darts teams. Mr Ballantine will also sponsor cricket, football and rugby teams to play in local leagues. He hopes to get students to sign up.
Gloucestershire Echo, 26th December 2002 – Pub Damaged: A window was smashed at The Sportsman Inn in Cheltenham. The Swindon Road pub had its glass pane smashed at 8.45pm on Thursday.
Gloucestershire Echo, 14th August 2003 – ‘I’ll drink in jail’ says attacker: A man who gets violent when drunk told a judge he will still be able to drink alcohol in prison. The man, 28, had admitted assaults on two men at the Sportsman Bar in Swindon Road, Cheltenham. A letter handed to the court by his girlfriend outlined how he had turned to drink after giving up hard drugs.
Judge Jamie Tabor QC told him: “At the time of this incident you were banned from this public house and on bail for another offence. This is a very serious offence and when you lose your temper through drink you can get very angry.”
At this point the man, who has already already served four months on remand at Gloucester Prison interjected: “But they are making hooch in prison, your honour.” Ignoring him Judge Tabor ordered the man to serve 12 months for each of the offences of assault which will run concurrently.
The Citizen: 12th November 2003 – Landlady took off with £4k: A County pub manageress who disappeared with almost £4,000 from the till, and subsequently used it as a deposit on a new home, avoided a jail sentence yesterday. During her trail at Gloucester Crown Court, a jury heard how the woman, aged 45, deserted the Sportsman pub in Cheltenham, overnight, and fled to Devon, where she now lives. Prosecutor Alan Fuller told how the owners of the Sportsman pub had since had a £3,000 insurance payout to cover al but £976.02 of the amount stolen.
The woman was unable to return any of the stolen funds as she had put the cash down as a deposit on a new home, the court heard. After hearing from Paul Grumbar, defending, who described his client as a “complete mess”, Judge Jamie Tabor QC gave her 180 hours’ community service – despite stating that the offence deserved a prison sentence.
The woman, of Ilfracombe, Devon, initially pleaded not guilty to the theft of £3,976 from Peninsula Inns in October 2001. But when the trial was underway she changed her plea to guilty. In addition to her community service she was ordered to pay £100 costs.
Gloucestershire Echo, Monday February 16th 2004 – Cheers! New pub venture is a safe bet for punters: Best Mate hopes to enter racing legend next month – but the horse is already immortalised in Cheltenham. The winner of the last two Gold Cups at Cheltenham’s National Hunt Festival has had the former Sportsman pub in Swindon Road named in his honour.
Pub owner, Patrick Lewis, a former British Army and England ABA boxer, said he chose the name to complement his other Cheltenham pubs – The Gold Cup and the Golden Miller.
Gloucestershire Echo, 29th February 2012 – Developers given work extension: Developers turning a derelict pub into seven flats have been given more time to carry out the work. Planning bosses extended the time limit for building work at Best Mate Inn in Swindon Road, Cheltenham. The pub was left derelict for three years before being demolished in August 2009. Cornerstone Developers Ltd are behind the plans for the flats. The Swindon Road pub has been boarded up since closing in 2006.
It started life as the Railway Inn in the 1960’s becoming The Sportsman and more recently Best Mate. The application includes plans for three-storey block of flats.
The Gloucestershire Echo asked their readers to give their recollections of the pub. Here are two of the responses:
“I remember the Railway when George Pockett ran it. It was a good pub with the odd skirmish which would soon be settled. But George would not put up with any trouble and a bar [from the pub] was a bar – not let back in after a week. I had many a laugh in there. When George retired it went to pot and turned into a dive; nothing but trouble and it always looked dirty. How times have changed. The locals had a lot of time for George. A lot of them didn’t bother with the pub again when he left.”
“I remember Mr and Mrs Pockett. the pub had a good atmosphere, no trouble, just like a good pub should be. Lots of laughter came from that pub. There are hardly any good pubs left now.”
? Jim Pockett
1997 Shaun Ballantine
1999 David Urquhart
2002 Elizabeth Ruck
2003 Sara Baker and Andrew Johnstone
2004 Patrick Lewis
2005 Owner Punch Taverns