Pictured on the pitch at Old Trafford six-and-a-half years ago, Roberts was more than a tourist at a game. The American actress is a United fan and watched the team train twice in both 2017 and 2018 – when she also went to watch them play.
How did it come about?
Roberts’ son Finn is also a United supporter. The Erin Brockovich star is also represented by the same agents as the club’s then manager Jose Mourinho. Words were taken and introductions made.
Roberts was in London for Thanksgiving in 2016 and saw United at home to West Ham that Sunday, so her family traveled up to Manchester and happened to be staying at the same hotel, the Lowry, as the team the night before the game.
Roberts and her husband met Michael Carrick and John Murtough after the 1-1 draw, plus other club staff. One described her as: “One of the nicest people I have ever met. She gave everyone a hug. She was grateful, polite and asked a lot of questions about the club” – which was also what United fans did that autumn when Mourinho had a difficult start to his new job.
She and Finn then sent handwritten notes to people at Old Trafford as a token of their appreciation. Roberts also kept in touch with the club and traveled to Santa Clara, California to watch United train during their summer 2017 pre-season tour.
“Taking the kids to training was one of the more magical experiences of my life,” Roberts told Gemma Thompson of United’s club media. “We talked to Jose and spent personal time even though they were working. My kids play soccer and train a lot and it was great for them to see how hard they worked and how fast they are.”
Roberts nodded as she was described as a close friend of Paul Pogba, saying: “He warms my heart, he’s a great person. I was so happy to see him and so were the kids. He gave Finn advice, was sweet and inspiring and talked about believing in yourself.”
Roberts had clearly got the bug and although she’s never been seen with a carrier bag of cans waiting for a midweek train to Newcastle away, she came back for more. In 2018, Mourinho was in a bad mood on tour, so it helped that Roberts, actor Gary Oldman and director Sam Mendes came to training on the UCLA campus twice and took part in a friendly.
Englishman Oldman later wore a United shirt with ‘Rashford’ on the back and posed with the best actor Oscar he won for playing Winston Churchill in 2019’s Darkest Hour.
United stayed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (as seen in Roberts’ film Pretty Woman) in Los Angeles on that trip, and many of the players were delighted to see Game of Thrones cast members also staying there, and the feeling was mutual. Pogba, David de Gea, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw were big fans of the series, while lead actor Kit Harington (Jon Snow) is a United supporter and came to the draw with Liverpool at Old Trafford in 2019, where he met another supporter of the show, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There’s a lot going on in Los Angeles; This is where United are likely to play again in July on what will be their first US tour in five years. A scene from James Corden’s Late Late Show featured Mourinho with Juan Mata, Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera playing a game against 100 children in Tinseltown – Herrera only receiving one yellow card.
The last 10 years have seen a surge of celebrities being spotted at games.
Sprinter Usain Bolt is a United fan. Also the singer Harry Styles. Harry’s father, Des, goes to games as a regular fan with his mates from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire. Cricketers Carlos Brathwaite and Sam Billings are both match-going Reds (when not playing cricket), as are Ian Brown and Mani of The Stone Roses, most of the Happy Mondays, Ed O’Brien of Radiohead and Ed Simons of The Chemical Brothers. Lord of the Rings and Lost actor Dominic Monaghan co-presented an ‘I love United’ event in LA last week with Andy Cole and Diego Forlan.
Music impresario Anthony H Wilson hung on to his season ticket at Old Trafford, while the night before Alex Ferguson’s side played Barcelona at Camp Nou in 1994, Simply Red frontman and Mancunian United fan Mick Hucknall was invited to train on the pitch with the players. United lost 4-0 and a friend of mine still won’t listen to Simply Red because of that.
It wasn’t the first time the red-haired international pop star was in the company of United players.
After the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final victory over Barcelona in Rotterdam, Hucknall found his way to the post-match party where he struck up a conversation with Brian McClair.
“I spoke to Mick about his music, which I wasn’t a fan of,” McClair said. “I told him I liked The Pogues and he told me he’d just recorded a new album and it was the best thing he’d ever done. I told him it would be rubbish that he had reached its peak.(the album) Stars came out months later and was the best selling album in the UK in both 1991 and 1992. Mick either had the good grace not to mention it or he had forgotten about it when we next met. ”
United love celebrities coming to their games. Top NFL quarterback Tom Brady, then playing for the Glazer family-owned Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was at the Tottenham game at Old Trafford this time last year with his children and was delighted to meet Cristiano Ronaldo, while actor and one-time singer David Hasselhoff made an interview for MUTV from a United match in Los Angeles. He was definitely more excited than YouTuber IShowSpeed when he entered this season.
Guardiola will be delighted to know that City have their own celebrity fans.
Kevin Kennedy, who played Curly Watts in the soap opera Coronation Street is a blue in Manchester, as was Nick Leeson who helped with the collapse of Barings Bank. If only he had listened to the tips of his fellow followers, money saving expert Martin Lewis or Howard Davies, former deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Former world champion boxer Ricky Hatton is also on the list of famous City fans, as are musicians Noel and Liam Gallagher, Johnny Marr, Doves, Badly Drawn Boy and the late Mark E Smith, who all knew their Kippax Street from the Platt Lane End. Alan Carr and Jason Manford are also blues, as were their fellow comedians Bernard Manning and Eddie Large.
The latter once gave a half-time team speech at Maine Road when City led 3-0, offering individual advice to each of the players using his well-known repertoire of celebrity impersonations.
City draw 3-3.
(Top photo: Manchester United)