Ryan Giggs and other ex-Manchester United stars mingle with fans at their hotel

Hotel Football next to Manchester United's home ground is co-owned by five former Red Devils and you can mingle with them there

With a name like Hotel Football - co-owned by five former Manchester United players - one would have expected the place to be a branch of the Old Trafford temple full of cheesy references to the Red Devils.

But be prepared to be surprised. While there is still the odd mural to Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and brothers Gary and Phil Neville, the 133-room property next to United's home ground is, at its core, a good hotel for fans, families, businessmen and tourists.

The quintet have a special place in United folklore. Billed as part of the Class of 92, they form an extraordinary crop of youth academy graduates who helped their club dominate English football for two decades.

Now all retired from playing, they joined forces with Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim to open this £20-million (S$41.3-million) venture in February.

Yes, its clients are predominantly United fans and the prime location in Salford, just a corner kick away from United's stadium next door, makes it the perfect base for Old Trafford excursions, but it is also a hotel that gets its basics right.

Guests arriving from long-haul flights are ensured a good sleep on the soft and fluffy king-sized handmade Hypnos bed and pillows. The rooms are quiet. The hot rainforest showers work in an instant without having to fiddle and experiment with the taps and Wi-Fi is fast and reliable.

As Giggs tells SundayLife! matter of factly, he and his management team have personally made sure that everything in Hotel Football (www.hotelfootball.com) works, and works well.

To achieve that service excellence, that commitment to get things right the first time and to set the bar high, he looked no further than his mentor, former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, for influence.

The 41-year-old says: "Sir Alex is the benchmark for hard work. He taught us to never really settle for second best or think that you have made it."

As hotel managing director Stuart Proctor vouches, Giggs and Gary are up at 6.30am almost daily to exchange text messages with him on hotel matters.

The ex-footballers often check TripAdvisor to read reviews of their hotel and Gary and Phil, who have a combined Twitter following of 3.9 million followers, actively respond to messages from guests.

"When they were still playing, Gary and Ryan would meet after training at 1pm to discuss even details like crockery," says Proctor.

"They would go down to shops in London just to sit on and decide what chairs to buy. Down to the last word in the brochure, they worked tirelessly hard on it."

Giggs adds: "It was a lot of hard work to do groundwork like picking the colour of a door.

"But we have got the right team and now, it's about making sure we get to the top. We are all young and ambitious and we want to be the best."

The Hotel Football concept is simple - to create an inviting, surprising and playful facility for the ultimate match day experience.

Although prices are not cheap with rooms on match day against a top opponent costing from £250, fans are allowed entry into the Old Trafford Supporters Club, which has space for 750 people, located in the basement for a nominal £1 which will go to local charities.

On non-match days, a single room without breakfast costs £79. And while bookings for the home matches against Manchester City and Arsenal are full, you can still get a room for the May 3 game against lowly West Bromwich Albion for £99.

There are two floors of banquet space which can seat a further 490 and on the roof, which Giggs and company have dubbed Heaven, is an astroturf pitch for five-a-side games. On match days, it is converted into a rooftop bar and grill.

But for Giggs, his special little corner is Cafe Football located on the ground floor. A restaurant with a similar name was launched in London 18 months ago.

"I have a soft spot for Cafe Football," Giggs says with a smile.

"It has a great atmosphere on match days. I like to drop by in the early morning for breakfast. The staff is really good, it serves quality food and there is a good buzz about the place."

Even though the cafe offers casual dining, it has a menu designed by English chef Michael Wignall, who has two Michelin stars and sources ingredients such as sausages and other produce from local farms to give the food a distinctive flavour.

The meals are all given playful names, such as The Treble Pies (three small pies of beef and onion, curry chicken and cheese and vegetable - a reference to the three major trophies won by the Class of 92 in 1999) and The Boss (a beef burger named after Ferguson).

The hotel's "killer app", though, is the regular sight of the Class of 92 mingling with guests and happily obliging autograph and selfie requests.

Last Saturday, when United beat Aston Villa 3-1 at Old Trafford, the Neville brothers were at Heaven to banter with fans before the game. Phil was later seen talking to customers at Cafe Football.

After the game, Giggs met diners to give his take on the match as well as bring out the laughs with an Eric Cantona story.

When Manchester United beat Tottenham 3-0 last month, the hotel hosted 5,320 fans and guests and the early signs are that the four-star Hotel Football is a real championship contender.

But Giggs is taking things slow rather than talking up big expansion plans.

"We've not been open long," the Welshman says.

"But we have tremendous backing from Peter, who is the right business partner, and we have always had a good rapport with the fans.

"The boys still feel gutted, along with the supporters, when the team lose. We feel just like a part of them. We have aspirations to take Hotel Football to Europe and other parts of the world but I've always been taught to walk before I could run.

"But we are ambitious."

Looking around Hotel Football, the cleanliness and how things work properly make it seem as if the whole property is constantly on high alert, awaiting Sir Alex's inspection.

The knighted Scotsman would approve.


The writer was a guest of Hotel Football.

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