After our marathon drive down from Skye we arrived in Manchester and checked into our accommodation at Hotel Football, a bespoke Manchester United themed hotel owned by club legends Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil & Garry Neville. The hotel was great, the TV had every sports channel imaginable, the restaurant was full of Man Utd inspired dishes and local beers and there was even a rooftop pitch overlooking the stadium. Jess was very patient and endured hours of me watching MUFC TV, adjusting my fantasy prem team for the weekend and debating who to get printed on my shirt when we headed to the megastore pre kick-off (Went with Memphis, regret it so far).
Because the demand for tickets is so strong and the stadium sells out every game the only way that we could guarantee tickets was with a Matchday hospitality package. This was a good option; we were greeted with champagne on arrival hours before kick off and taken through to the lounge where we met the rest of the table and settled in for a three course meal and a few ciders. The global following of the club was very evident with people from all over the world in attendance, our table consisted of a couple from New York, a lady from Montana and a young guy out from Thailand as well as ourselves. We had a great time getting to know each other over a few drinks and a delicious meal and even managed to take out the quiz after I correctly answered the tie break question scoring a free scarf for everybody on the table. We met Fred the Red and were also lucky enough to have a long chat with Gerry Daly, a great Irish player who player for united with the likes of Bobby Charlton and George Best. It was great to meet him and hear his thoughts on the current team and the disappointing style of play and lack of entertainment.
As kick off approached we were ushered through into the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and took our seats, there was a great atmosphere in the stadium and an expectation that it would be an easy win for the team against a struggling Newcastle side. Unfortunately it was a disappointing game, a rare 0-0 result and a very underwhelming performance, despite this it was still an amazing experience.
We started the next day with a tour of the Old Trafford stadium, it was a great tour and provided access to the change rooms, media areas, we walked out of the players tunnel to the match day music before spending some time pitch side and heading to the managers dug out. We both really enjoyed the tour and I took full advantage of the numerous photo ops as seen in the images below.
After the tour we jumped in the car and headed down to Liverpool to watch our second Premier League game in 24 hours, this time Everton vs Manchester City at Goodison Park. We had joined up as Everton members as it was the only way we could get tickets so were firmly entrenched in the members stand and definitely looking for an Everton win. On arrival at the ground and showing our tickets to stewards and being directed to our seats we got a few winks and knowing smiles, we had no idea what was going on until we arrived at our seats and found a golden ticket. We also had no idea what a golden ticket was or what it meant until one of the stewards game and let us know that I would be going out onto the ground at half time for a competition and was one of three lucky winners out of a crowd of 40,000. As half time approached it was still 0-0 as the steward came and escorted us down to near the players tunnel to prepare to go out onto the pitch. I met the other two competition winners and we were told that we were to take penalties against the Everton U18 goalkeeper Ben Pierce and that if we scored we would win a match day VIP package to a future game at Goodison. Ben had come through the academies at both Manchester United and Manchester City before winning a contract at Everton and it was his first time out on Goodison in front of a full crowd, I asked him if he would let us score so we could all win prizes and he let us know in no uncertain terms that he was going to try his best to save all three penalties so he looked good in front of the fans and his mates.
As we waited in the tunnel the three of us decided that whilst we would all like to score and win the prize we would be content with getting a shot on target and not slipping and ending up on the ground humiliated in front of 40,00 people. As we were about to head out we briefly met Duncan Ferguson, former Everton striker and currently on the coaching staff, who wished us luck before trying to put us off with some targeted banter. As we headed out we passed a few of the Everton subs warming up in the tunnel and I scored a fist bump from Gerard Deulofeu which was exciting as he has always done well for me on Football Manager over the years.
As soon as we got out on the pitch I think we were all a bit awed by the atmosphere, even at half time with lots of people out at the bars it was still really loud, the TV cameras were on us and we were beamed up onto the big screen, we were playing in front of the members stand so there was plenty of support for us. It was a wet day and the ground was really slippery so I decided rather than trying to belt it and risk ending up on my arse I would try and sent the keeper the wrong way and place it into the bottom corner. Fortunately I still had it in me after a long absence from playing and managed to dummy the keeper before slotting it. Success and the first goal Jess had seen scored on the holiday after 135+ minutes of live Premier League football. Unfortunately the next guy wasn’t successful as Ben pulled off a great save before the last guy blasted his home, you can check out the footage Jess kindly took on my phone in the video below:
Or there is the footage taken using the match day cameras for the TV broadcast:
After my half time excitement we headed back to our seats to watch Manchester City complete a fairly dominant 2-0 win, again a disappointing result but great atmosphere and an opportunity to watch some of the leagues best players in action. It was also hilarious being recognised at the pub after the match by a few of the fans who were at the game and congratulated on my penalty, unfortunately none of these congratulations translated into free drinks so we headed back to our accommodation to try and sleep through some truly horrific karaoke performances going on in the pub downstairs.
Unfortunately I couldn’t claim my prize due to scheduling but was given a shirt signed by the entire team instead which was nice. The match I’d won tickets to was on yesterday and as we are currently travelling around Ireland we couldn’t possibly have made it, Everton defeated Chelsea 3-1, it would have been great to be at but we are loving Ireland and you can’t have it all I guess!
Our feast of football complete we headed down to Birmingham to stay with my cousin Maura, she looked after us amazingly well, it was like being at home! We were fed delicious home cooked meals and got some precious downtime to relax and regroup after a frantic few weeks since leaving Crete. We also got to meet up with Maura’s daughter Jo who I last saw when I was thirteen and met for the first time her sons James and Matty. The boys are both gun athletes already and dominate at tennis, football and gaelic football, fortunately for us the sport of choice on that day was mini golf. Jess and I took the top two positions and Jess managed to record her first ever mini golf victory, winning by a slender one shot margin. After our stay here we left refreshed and energised for the trip over to Wales, our first stop being Chirk Castle, an amazingly well preserved castle that lets you play dress ups.
We toured the castle and I tried out a few different medieval looks before heading out and walking through the grounds. The interior of the castle was amazing with many of the rooms preserved and furnished exactly as they were hundreds of years ago, the library was particularly impressive with hundreds of first editions and rare books that would be worth a fortune and a collection that would be almost impossible to accumulate today in that sort of condition.
The next day in Wales did not start with a bang… Our first stop was a historic cottage, not exactly a show stopper on it’s best day but it was still closed at 10:20 so we moved onto the next stop on the itinerary, the first passage tomb of the holiday. Jess is very much into her history and was excited to visit a site so old, I’m not going to lie with how much it had been referred to in the tourist information we did expect it to be maybe better signposted, and that you wouldn’t need to jump a fence into someones farm and race through their sheep paddock to get to it. That said once getting out to it we were impressed by the tomb and how well constructed it was to have lasted thousands of years in such a harsh environment.
Our next stop off was at the Welsh Food Centre, a very strategic decision by Jess who knew that there was a famous garden centre around the next corner that she wanted to visit. The food centre was amazing, you can check out here how much they have on offer, I went with some delicious bakery treats and a black dragon cider for our lunchtime picnic. After our picnic lunch we headed into the gardens and Jess had a great time checking out all of the different varieties of flowers as we explored the massive grounds.
We ended the day with a tour of Conwy Castle, unlike a lot of castle sites that we have visited Conwy could not be mistaken as a big manor house, it is a proper castle that dominates the causeway into Conwy town and can be seen from miles away in every direction. Whilst the interior had been completely gutted years ago the walls and towers were all in tact and it was possible to climb to the top of all of the towers as well as explore the underground chapel and dungeons.
We climbed to the top of the highest of the towers for the obligatory selfie and to check out the view of the town and harbour before making our way down to the Celtic Market which was down at the docks. Unfortunately we got distracted at the Knight Shop and by the time we got down to the market it was being packed up, that being said we do now have contacts if anyone needs a suit of chain mail.
The next day we travelled across to Hollyhead, we had high hopes of catching the steam train up to the top of Mount Snowdon however we were late in trying to make a booking and ended up missing the train as it was sold out. This resulted in us having some time to kill in the village of Llanberis, after a walk around town we stumbled across the Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery. This eclectic little shop was packed full of local produce and after knocking back an amazing milkshake and sampling their signature fruit scones we were treated to some mead and fudge tasting by an old Welsh wizard man who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Harry Potter movie. We tasted several meads and I ended up purchasing a bottle of both the medieval and honey & ginger which are yet to be unleashed.
With the mead safely stowed next to the whiskey we continued on our way, stopping and heading down to the beach for an hour or so to break up the drive to Hollyhead where we grabbed some delicious Indian for dinner and got an early nights sleep as we had to be up early to catch the ferry and head over to Dublin the next morning to begin our Irish adventure.
Thanks for Reading!!