This week I paid a visit to Manchester to take in the City v Borussia Monchengladbach European Champions League match. Borussia play domestically in Germany’s Bundesliga.
As Manchester has made Lonely Planet’s top ten cities to visit in 2016, I decided to break my normal routine of hotel-pub-match-pub-hotel and get there earlier than normal to see what the city has to offer apart from football.
As normal I stayed in the excellent value central Mercure Hotel in Portland Street, but unusually started by taking pictures from my 8th floor window of Piccadilly Gardens, the tram hub that links the city centre with Greater Manchester towns such as Eccles, Rochdale, Salford and Bury.
My first thought was that this was like many a Central European city, only this was only two hours from London on the seasonally named Virgin penguinlino train (£65 return booked three weeks prior to travel).
Manchester is blessed with lots of squares and on the occasion of my visit they were crammed full of kriskindlmarkt (Christmas markets). The largest was in Albert Square by the town hall and it was here that I partook of bratwurst und gluwein. Slightly pricier than in Salzburg or Berlin, but very nice all the same.
Next up it was time for an exchange. Two in fact as I toured around both the Royal Exchange, which now houses a theatre venue and cafe, and the even more historic Corn Exchange, the venue for commodities dealing in Manchester’s post Industrial Revolution heyday.
Wonderful glass domes were definitely the order of the day. Very impressive.
I also had a peek inside the architecturally pleasing Barton Arcade, completed in 1871 and now stuffed with cafes, shops and a traditional barbers. More glass in abundance!
I also remembered the advice of my very good friend Gregory Edwards (see Art Deco for details of his superb architecture books) by looking upwards to notice details on buildings such as these worker bees depicted on the picture below (Manchester being known as the hive of industry of course).
Just around the corner from Manchester Cathedral, Exchange Square is the home of England’s national football museum where famous players such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sun Jihai (who, I hear you ask – you will need to google it) are inducted into the Hall of Fame as players that have graced the English league.
The museum traces the sport from its invention in the shires of England right up to the mega bucks present days of the Premier League.
The square was the area where the majority of the Borussia fans had congregated to drink in the historic pubs there, such as The Old Wellington Inn, Manchester’s oldest built in 1552.
They must have felt like it was a real home from home, apart from the beer being served in lesser sized glasses to what they would have perhaps preferred.
I drank amongst them and there was plenty of good-natured banter flowing between the rival sets of fans, who were clearly well on their way to a skinful!
I made do with a pint of locally brewed stout, before heading up past the Arndale shopping centre to catch a tram to the Etihad Campus, home of Manchester City, now one of the leading clubs in Europe (see my book on Amazon called ‘This is How it Feels to be City’ for details on that particular rags to riches tale).
I had decided to book the pre-match stadium tour a decade after doing it before, just after City moved into the venue built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
A few Borussia fans joined us too, nice chaps as it turned out. We went into the deserted stands and pitch side to see the ground as I had never seen it before, sparingly but atmospherically lit. I took the opportunity to have my picture taken in the spot where players and managers undertake their post match interview duties.
After that just a couple of hours to kill eating and drinking and taking in the free entertainment provided by City (big screen highlights, live bands and interviews with ex-players).
The match turned out to be a stormer too. City were 2-1 down with eleven minutes remaining only to score three times to win 4-2 and top the group that had included the previous years’ finalists Juventus.
This meant that City will avoid Europe’s biggest guns like Barcelona who they had been unfortunate enough to draw at the first knock-out stage in the previous two seasons.
Whoever City play, I intend to go to the away leg in February – watch this space!
As for Manchester, I have only scratched the surface despite visiting dozens of times for football. I will try and get there earlier in future and take in more of what the place has to offer – on the face of it there is lots to keep me occupied.