Hotel Football and its new sibling Cafe Football are a marketing executive’s dream: a hospitality project backed by real life legendary Manchester footballers with football in the title and football memorabilia.
The GG Hospitality group isn’t exactly a hard sell, either. The brainchild of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, the company goes from strength to strength. And why wouldn’t it? Cafe Football, housed in Manchester”s National Football Museum, is the latest corporate endeavour by best friends who met playing football in the 1990s. When I say playing in the 90s, I mean winning everything and famously proving Alan Hansen wrong – you can win things with kids. The notable five are of course brothers Philip and Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Giggs, all part of Fergie’s famous class of ‘92.
When I met Philip at the recent launch for Cafe Football, he recalled watching the redevelopment of the city centre from his apartment in Beetham Tower. “I watched that side of town grow. I think, as a city, it’s probably growing faster than any other.”
The boys have been busy since retiring from the field – opening a hotel right on the doorstep of Man United’s ground in Old Trafford and a cafe in Westfield Stratford City. Meanwhile, the building work is ongoing for the Old Manchester Stock Exchange, and they somehow squeeze in managing Salford FC.
Neville admits that the idea for Cafe Football was simple – they wanted to serve “the food we all got brought up on, proper food”. It was also important that the food offering was affordable to regular families. Both cafes have links with local catering colleges (Newham in London, Trafford in Manchester) where students compete to provide a reasonably priced addition to the menu, another way they strive to give back.
Philip, or Phil (we’ve bonded now, I think) is an interesting character. He left United in 2005 having won an astonishing six Premier Leagues, six FA Cups and a Champions League. He then moved to Everton where he stayed for eight years before following the then manager, David Moyes, back to Man Utd as first team coach. He is the younger brother of Gary and has worked hard in his retirement as a TV pundit and assistant coach.
While we’re chatting, he informs me that Salford FC will shortly start training for the new season, and that they are turning professional. “It’s a hell of a lot of work but I’m so excited. It’s probably one of the best things we’ve ever done as a project.” The boys purposely went for grassroots football as they wanted to give back to a city which had adored them for so long.
Phil is hoping that the Champions League away fans visiting Manchester will make the pilgrimage to the National Football Museum. “You think about it. We’ve got two Premier League teams in Manchester, the amount of football fans in the Champions League that we’re going to attract and who will visit the football museum and therefore have Cafe Football on their list of places to visit.”In the meantime, the boys will all be adding to the treasure trove of football memorabilia at the museum by including their collective medal haul (we’re gonna need a bigger museum…).
The day before the launch of Cafe Football, Phil flew in from Valencia where he now lives. After the opening night, he was travelling with the others to Asia to further spread the word of both Cafe and Hotel Football. Living in Valencia, Phil tells me that he felt distanced from his home city when the news came through of a bomb. Not surprisingly, a planned trip to participate in the testimonial of Michael Carrick that Sunday took on a much deeper significance.
“I think in times of real desperation you see the real character of people, I think since what happened at the Arena – you saw it with the flowers in St Ann’s Square and the amount that people did for those who were affected. It made you feel proud.”
When the National Football Museum moved into the Urbis building, it gave the iconic glass landmark a new lease of life. The addition of the imaginatively named restaurant The Rabbit In The Moon six months ago on the fifth and sixth floors, and now Cafe Football on the ground floor, have turned the building into a real foodie destination. I can’t wait to see what these busy retirees do next.
By Michelle Nicholson, Sports Correspondent