Heartbeat of United: Anna Fryer

Tuesday 21 November 2023 12:30

For the players involved on the pitch, it’s all about 90 fraught, action-packed minutes.

But for many members of United staff working inside the stadium, the adrenaline-fuelled rush of matchday lasts much, much longer.
For our hospitality and events delivery manager Anna Fryer and her staff, defeat is simply not an option: whether the Reds win, lose or draw, the happiness of thousands of paying punters must be delivered.

It’s a performance that requires Premier League-level preparation and execution, and the kind of problem-solving skills that could snag you a secondment in the SAS.
Anna loves engaging with all manner of visitors on matchdays, plus former players like Russell Beardsmore and Lee Martin.
“It goes from nothing to 100mph – you can never predict a matchday!” says Anna, in a statement that all United fans will be able to relate to. 
“On an average day, our briefings for all rooms will be six hours out from kick-off. I’ll tell everyone what colour wristbands people have got, what the gifting is for that day, who the former players are, whether there’s a magician in the suite!

"From then on, I’m just constantly on my phone sorting out issues, walking from suite to suite...”
While United’s forward line are trying to find secret openings to unlock the opposition defence, Anna will be grappling with her own array of puzzles.
“We get some strange requests,” she marvels. "Like ‘Do we have a baby’s crib?’ Last game, we had a guy that put ‘Yorkshire puddings’ on his dietary requirements – that’s all he wanted! And Bisto gravy! We drew a line at Bisto, though... we told him he could have our normal Manchester United house gravy.

“You can get calls about ticketing issues, people arriving in wheelchairs that you weren’t expecting... Obviously a lot of our Ability Suite and disability platforms are already full, so we might have to find space elsewhere. Then you might have to meet someone who has an issue with the service. Or you need to make sure someone has an unbelievable day because it’s their dying wish.

“It can be chaotic when you have three games in eight days, like we had recently, but I just love being busy and seeing fans with smiles on their faces when they’ve come and enjoyed the hospitality, regardless of what’s happened on the pitch.”
Wayne Rooney provided one of Anna's more memorable experiences from the annual Player of the Year ceremony.
Anna started out as a volunteer in 2001, after her job application for a hospitality sales job was knocked back. Her earliest memory? Photocopying flyers for a European away trip. Soon after, came her first forays into the maelstrom of matchdays. 
“The players used to eat before the games in the Directors’ Box, so you’d see them on the corridors. I remember saying hello to Roy Keane like I knew him... [and then going] ‘Oh my God, what am I saying hiya to him for?!’"

While considering a career switch to teaching, Fryer arrived at a ‘crossroads’ moment when offered a semi-permanent job at United, covering a colleague’s maternity leave. 
“I came here and I’ve not looked back,” she smiles. “It’s such a special club. The people, they’re just amazing. I’ve got a new manager and he says he’s never met better people at any of the clubs he’s worked at – Spurs, Arsenal, at Wembley.
"The people at the heart of this club just want it to succeed and do well; we’re just trying our best to make sure we deliver our area as best as possible. I know it sounds cringey, but we are like one big family. I think that’s why a lot of us have been here quite a long time; it’s a bit like a mini cult once you get sucked in!”
Fryer briefs the former players before a busy matchday.
There’s been loads of memorable encounters since that brush with Keane – helping Wayne Rooney get chewing gum off his trousers at the Player of the Year awards, meeting Cristiano Ronaldo on the day he signed as a teenager – but it’s a love of the ordinary people that make United great that means the most to Anna. And, of course, our supporters.
“The loyalty is unbelievable,” she enthuses. “Obviously, I deal with hospitality, and even when we’re not playing well, we still sell out. It’s because of this crest, this badge... it does something to people. They want to come here because it is such a special place. I don’t know what it is; but it is amazing the draw that it has for people.
“I probably wasn’t into football that much when I started. I lived in Oldham, and Oldham Athletic were quite successful when I was growing up. But coming to United, working here, you just naturally become a fan.”