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The Friendship Inn, Fallowfield

Dave Bishop sings the Blues but loves the booze

Published on October 14th 2008.

The Friendship Inn, Fallowfield

Before I go any further, I don’t know what you do at Old Trafford when you’re not eating prawn sandwiches, and frankly I don’t care, but this was how the match day routine used to go when City were at Maine Road.

Park up near a pub, then have a couple of pints. Go to the ground and buy some Bovril and maybe a Wagon Wheel. At half time grab a pie and a cup of tea. After the match go to the pub again – usually a different one – or a local curry house and talk about the match.

And being a City fan, that often meant analysing another defeat.But since City have moved east, and football generally has moved upmarket, a lot of that has disappeared.

After all, where do you go for a decent pint near Eastlands? As far as I’m aware the nearest really good pub is Bar Fringe, and that’s over a mile away. And do Wagon Wheels still exist?

So before the Liverpool match, we decided to take a trip down memory lane and visit a pub that used to be a pre-match favourite.

There have been many contenders over the years – The Fallowfield, which got knocked down, the Welcome, which was nice but served crappy Wilson’s beer, and the Whitworth, which was small and got too packed.

But far and away our pub of choice was the colossal Victorian four-square Friendship Inn on Wilmslow Road, which always seemed to do exactly what it said on the tin – being friendly, relaxed and serving decent beer. That was then, though, so what about now?

Well the fans still go there – in their hundreds by kick-off time – but now they stay to watch the match on the wide-screen TVs, rather than make a dash to the ground at a quarter to three on a Saturday.

Luckily we arrived two hours earlier on the Sunday (it’s never going to be like a Saturday, is it?) and were therefore able to find a nice table in the restaurant area at the back, next to the big side window with the sun streaming in and views of the Wilmslow Road hubbub and the ruddy McDonalds. At this point it seemed as far removed from the pre-match pint as it was possible to get, especially when we then looked at the menu. Pies, Wagon Wheels, Bovril?

You’ve got to be kidding.

The menu, titled Sayuri Noodle and Rice Bar, offering Oriental and English favourites, would have had fictional soccer boss Mike Bassett spluttering expletives by the dozen. But these days maybe the beautiful game deserves beautiful food, and what we got was pretty damn gorgeous, not just for its quality, but also the price.

For just £5.50, I had the beef fried udon with noodles, peppers, bean sprouts, onions and sauce, with a starter of two spring rolls, prawn crackers and Chinese pickled veg thrown in for free. My wife had a rice dish with mixed meat and prawns for the same price.

And that, in our book, represented a result before the match had even begun. Of course some things never change. The pub serves Hydes beers, which have been around as long as Association Football, probably, and we duly stuck to tradition and had some Jekyll’s Gold at £2.22 a throw.

However the Friendship – and this is where it really scores – serves guest ales, too, so later we tried the Hidden Potential and Olde Trip. Actually, I would rather the Hidden Potential has stayed hidden (not to my taste at all) and I’d stuck with the Hydes.

I almost choked on my first pint, though. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but gazing round the walls of this ‘City’ pub, the first picture I saw was of Matt Busby with the European Cup. OK, so there were pictures next to it of City’s championship winning team, but I ask you…

The dining room generally is new school, despite the old photographs, with sleek furniture, wooden floors and clean white walls, with lots of glass overlooking modern decking to rear and side and a sign saying free wi-fi.

After our lunch, because we’d got hot next to the window (honestly, there was a hiatus in the appalling weekend weather), we decided to decamp to the main bar area. This was much more like we remembered the pub. Our table – nothing ‘blond’ or ‘contemporary’ about it – was on a raised level, close to a grand wooden fireplace (one of many) and with a good view of the rest of the pub.

A great position generally, but once the match started we felt like the centre of attention as one of the big TVs was perched right over our heads.

And there was a double whammy – a girl close to me wasn’t only a student, she was a Liverpool fan, something Paul Calf would never have tolerated. But because The Friendship really is friendly, there was no animosity from the many Blues around her. Then again, we are a civilised bunch us Blues, are we not? Morrissey didn’t know what he was talking about when he referred to us as Rusholme Ruffians.

Music is unobtrusive and eclectic, ranging from The Feeling to Dave Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s erstwhile guitarist, belting out tunes from his On An Island album. Where else would you hear that?

The manager of the pub, Chris Batty, is a Blue, too, and he told us that, as a season ticket holder, he’s often missing from the pub on match days, although he’s only been once this season. But bless – he’s bought another season ticket, which his staff share. Now that’s friendly and civilised.

He’s been at the pub 10 years now and he’s rightly proud of it, catering as he does for not only the student masses of Fallowfield but also his loyal locals, who have stuck through all the changes because the Friendship is still the Friendship.

There may be lots of brown leather chairs in the beautiful bay window and nice couples reading their Guardians, but if City were still at Maine Road, this would still be the aperitif.

Coming up at the pub – a Boogie Nights fancy dress Halloween party and a beer festival in January, when, along with Hydes, Chris will be serving up beers from local breweries. Back of the net.

Some things never ever change though, do they? City still bloody lost!

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Ralph MilneOctober 14th 2008.

You poor thing. Did you nearly choke on your bitter, blue?Maybe Sir Matt was up there because its the nearest any City player has ever got to the European Cup. Shame it was 32 years after he'd left you.Agree with the rest though. The Friendship's the only decent pub left in Fallowfield and Jekyll's Gold is the best pint around.

AnonymousOctober 14th 2008.

the last time i went in this pub, I picked up someone's ear off the floor. luckily the perp was later arrested and the fine staff, plus an on off-duty nurse helpfully saved the mans ear. otherwise its good to watch the footy here but get there early.

HIFI GeoffOctober 14th 2008.

I used to blutak Sven's head over Sir Matt's on the said picture, but I don't bother now that we've got Les.The Frenny is a great place to watch footie - even when the match is a non-league affair you'll always find a few people in strange shirts shouting the names of players you've never heard of. Still a blue pub, but there's a large red contingent and there's always lots of friendly banter. There's never any trouble and the Frenny got 2nd in CAMRA's South Manchester pub if the year - a great achievement for a pub more noted for students than for bearded men in Aran sweaters drinking mild. I'm either an alky or just lucky, as my other favourite pub, The Crown in Stockport won!

AnonymousOctober 14th 2008.

the salt and pepper chips with pint of harp!! really a fantastic matched... after worked.

Blue PeterOctober 14th 2008.

Oh dear Ralphy, you just don't get it do you? Same old routine. Accuse City fans of bitterness just before spewing the usual bile. Lighten up fella. Why not develop a sense of humour? It works for us Blues.

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