Author Boyd Farrow Illustration Luci Gutiérrez
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – For generations, aging English soccer stars would mark their retirement from the game by opening a pub, where they would relive past glories while tending to their burgeoning waistlines. But times have changed. Witness, across from Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium, the swank new $35 million Hotel Football, bankrolled by a consortium of five former players.
Today, in its swish Stadium Suite, a hundred or so guests have assembled for the inaugural Match Day Experience, which includes watching a televised Man U game with a gourmet lunch, free drinks and a post-match “legend appearance” by Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs—though we’ve been warned that Giggs, now Man U’s assistant coach, might not show if they take a beating.
“He’ll be here,” says a balding Scotsman, making it sound like a threat.
Later, following a 3-0 victory and frequent trips to the open bar, the fans are in high spirits, and the two former players enter the crowded suite to a chorus of whooping and song. As the fans close in, brandishing shirts, menus and permanent markers, Neville wears the rictus grin of a Vegas warm-up man. Giggs looks traumatized.
Soon, it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that one small fellow, his face slightly redder than a Man U shirt, keeps rejoining the autograph line. “And who is this one for?” Neville asks, eyeing the program shoved under his nose.
“No one,” the man says. “Can you just sign it?”
Neville obliges, and the man returns to the back of the line. “A few more of those,” remarks a potbellied fan, nodding at the autograph hunter’s bulging duffel, “and the bugger’ll be able to buy a hotel of his own.”