I first persuaded my dad to take me to Old Trafford with him when I was four. We’d leave Bury around 11am, then have pie and chips at Marina’s Grill – a traditional northern cafe near the ground. We’d be in K- Stand around 1pm, for a 3pm kickoff. Dad would be off having pints with his mates but I enjoyed sitting on my own.
My earliest memory is of my nan’s bacon hotpot. I ate that every Monday for 20 years. Also her pea and ham soup, on Thursdays. Nan still brings round pea and ham soup each Thursday. I wanted a broth on our menu at Cafe Football [his London restaurant with Ryan Giggs], but I got overruled.
For most of my teens I was going to chippies four or five times a week. Stephen Street Chippy, Haymarket Street Chippy, Tompsons Chicken on The Rock … they’re important landmarks in Bury. In those days we’d have our tea at 4.30pm, so by 7pm, hungry again, go for 28p chips and gravy at least.
I remember the days of chicken, mash and beans for our pre-match meal. Then the nutritionist Trevor moved in and everything changed overnight – what we ate, when we ate, how much we ate, how we ate – chewing 15 to 20 times.
I roomed with David Beckham and when I had my house in Bolton, David would stay when Victoria was away, and he’d make food for me all the time. Stir-fries with noodles and vegetables and pasta dishes with sauces – a lot of pasta.
My food routine was strictly replicated whether a match was in Southampton or Ukraine. The day before a game – cereal and orange juice at 8am; fish, potato and veg at noon, on long canteen table, Wagamama-style; cereal and toast at 3.30pm; pasta with soup at 7pm; strictly no prawns and shellfish; lights out at 9.15pm. Day of game – cereal and orange juice at 8am; then spaghetti with sauce, yoghurt and Ribena at the ground at noon. Potentially mashed potato.
The other players liked to tease me about travelling with my own bowl, spoon and Weetabix. I didn’t eat Weetabix as a child; I didn’t really like any cereals. But as a professional footballer, Weetabix became my thing. Jaffa cakes were also important. They keep you going. There’s one gram of fat in each jaffa cake so three or four was a good snack.
My brother Phil can’t do anything in the kitchen. I don’t even think he’s been near a kitchen. He takes after our dad. My wife Emma grew up with her dad, who spoiled her and cooked everything. And when I go away he comes round and cooks for her, I think. She does a good spaghetti bolognese. But neither of us are slow-cooking casseroles, or marinading fish for 24 hours like [goalkeeper] Ben Foster, or hanging meat in the garage. When you’re from Lancashire you just stick it in and when it comes out dry you eat it. You don’t bloody marinade. It’s as simple as that.
As a United player I had to stay in shape, but now I’m out of shape. I like a glass of wine now too. Red wine’s come into my life more. And because I’m down in London all the time, there are hundreds of stunning restaurants. We had a different wine with each of seven courses at Gordon Ramsay’s in Chelsea. I thought afterwards: “Was that a food experience, or an absolute all-dayer?”
At home now, I live in the kitchen, which we knocked through. I sit at the breakfast bar all the time. I like it. I never move, unless the kids want something. And I’ll look in the fridge 10 or more times a day, and in food cupboards. It’s an obsession I’ve got. It’s disappointing when nothing’s in there.
We had food fights at United at the Christmas lunch. The older players would throw mince pies at the young ones. It was stopped a few years ago, I think