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The beautiful break: finding football in Manchester

Our deputy editor heads to Manchester for a football-themed escape to thrill all fans of the beautiful game

There is something magical about opening the curtains, looking out of the window and seeing Old Trafford, the famous football stadium, right in front of you — even if you’re not a Manchester United fan. Or at least that’s how my son and I felt when we spent a couple of nights at Hotel Football, located next to the ground.

We are, in case you’re wondering, Spurs fans, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the whole experience.

The hotel — owned by former United players Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs — is perfectly set up for football fans, from its Panini sticker-themed wallpaper, to the seemingly endless array of televisions, all showing the beautiful game.

There’s even a magnificent AstroTurf pitch on the top floor — although it tends to be kept for corporate events or functions — and of course we appreciated a picture of Harry Kane in the restaurant.

The hotel is full of lovely little touches, from the shampoo and shower gel packaged up to look like football shirts, to the slogans on the pillows (“dreaming of victory”) and on the Do Not Disturb sign (“talking tactics”). However anyone who doesn’t appreciate football-themed duvets or carpets will be happy to know that the décor in the rooms themselves is low-key, smart but not ostentatious.

The hotel’s restaurant — rather unimaginatively called Café Football — also boasts a wonderful view of the stadium and offers a delicious breakfast.

However, we were surprised by the lack of healthy options on the evening menu, which is basically burgers although there are no veggie burgers, and surprisingly few veggie options (I had a falafel wrap).

We wondered if ex-United players are secretly huge sweet lovers, as there were sweets in the mini-bar (all complimentary, and re-filled each day), and a special ice-cream and sweet kiosk in the cafe. Café Football’s desserts (as you might expect) are delicious too, as are the milk shakes.

But you don’t go to Manchester just to see a hotel. Or at least, we didn’t. Instead we took a tour of Old Trafford, which was absolutely brilliant.

Starting in the United Museum, the displays were full of stories of the club’s successes — and failures, with an entire section on their relegation to, and then promotion from, the old Second Division.

There were interactive exhibits and great mementos, from Peter Schmeichel’s treble winning medals, to the letter ending George Best’s employment with the club, while the section about the Munich Air disaster was very moving.

And there’s also the opportunity all football fans surely secretly long for — having your photograph taken with a trophy, although the Premier League trophy would surely be more appealing than the EFL one (I know, at least they have one...).

The tour itself, run by the marvellous Joanne, was terrific too. We saw the changing rooms — shirts all hanging up ready to be worn — walked through the tunnel, admired the pitch and were basically overwhelmed by its magnificence. The whole thing really is well done.

Old Trafford is in the part of Manchester (actually, Trafford, as Mancunians will tell you) which has seen quite a change in recent years, due largely to Media City and the development of the quay area.

Both BBC and ITV have studios here, just a 10 minute drive from the stadium and the area is full of upmarket apartments, restaurants and some splendid museums, including the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind, and the Lowry Gallery.

The Alchemist restaurant here does have a number of veggie options, as well as amazing drinks, including a bubblegum mocktail which frothed fabulously over the glass just like a magic potion.

But as Manchester City fans will be quick to point out, there’s more to discover in Manchester than the area around Old Trafford, so for our football-inspired break, we had to pay a trip to the Etihad too.

Otherwise known as the City of Manchester Stadium, it’s a tram ride across the city, and worth doing, although (apologies for offending anyone), it’s nowhere near as impressive as Old Trafford.

The ground itself is far smaller and the tour has no museum full of offerings, although there is a small display which includes the ball with which Sergio Aguero won the Premier League back in 2012.

We did learn lots of nuggets of information, however, not least about how the away dressing room is specifically kept at a warm temperature (gamesmanship which might affect City’s opponents) and that while Pep Guardiola and his companions have heated seats on match days, the away team’s manager and entourage do not.

City’s own dressing room is spectacular, with all sorts of mod cons, and a shower area which wouldn’t be out of place at a top luxury hotel.

If you’re not a City or United fan and find the idea of choosing to tour their grounds rather unsettling, then, fear not, you will still find much to tempt you at the National Football Museum.

This brilliant place in the centre of town has something for fans of all ages, and of all teams.

There are old-fashioned table football games (all to be used with pre-decimal one penny pieces), the chance to join Gary Lineker in commentating on a match, and all sorts of interactive offerings, from a timed game where you have to put the right international shirts onto maps of the right country, to computers where you can pull up statistics about your team going back 100 years or more.

Although it is free to enter, credits do need to be purchased for some of the games.

My son loved taking penalties, while I was taken by some of the memorabilia, from an extremely sweet letter written by George Best the day after his debut, to the declaration of Stanley Matthews’ knighthood.

The top floor of the museum is given over to different exhibitions, and currently celebrates Pele. We marvelled at his skills and enjoyed the art and photographs contained within.

All in all, Manchester is a must-visit for football fans, whoever you support.

Of course there are so many other things to discover in the city, from history to culture and more. But if it’s the beautiful game you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.

 

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