ON WALL STREET, outside of the century-old bank now home to the vast, posh Cipriani soiree space, stood a bus plastered with the names and faces of heroes—the men who make up the Manchester United squad, perhaps the best soccer club in the world but certainly the only one to have won 19 Premier League titles.
The Observer, in our required jacket, walked into the chilly hall of marble on Monday evening to find swells of light techno music filling the space to the heights of its gilded ceiling. The techno, however, did not stay light. It got louder quickly.
“The watches are nice,” said a member of an entourage of Gossip Girl star Matthew Settle. “You should get them to sponsor you.” (Mr. Settle had already been nodding.)
The watches were Hublot, and after the night ended it seemed unlikely they would need another person to sponsor. Muscular arms all over the room were encircled with the look-at-me Swiss timpieces. And this was fine—the event was a fashion show, and the chosen models of the evening were none other than the soccer (football, if you please, guvna) players themselves. Two days before taking on the best of M.L.S. in an intercontinental all-star game to be played in New Jersey, Manchester United had a catwalk to strut down.
Before the festivities, the players huddled together—not a cocktail among them—while onlookers imbibed and snacked on stale, tuna-topped crostini or fried balls of chicken paste—home-style British cooking, perhaps, but with a Cipriani inflection. With plaid ties and tailored suits, the team looked more like an Oxbridge debating society than roughian footballers. Only Wayne Rooney, the Liverpudlian golden-boy thug, peeled off for the occasional fan photo. And fans had come: 20 or more of the attendees gingerly palmed high-priced soccer balls signed by the team, and outside a crowd began to brew early, each of the devotees donning the jersey of his favorite player.
The Observer approached a scrum of Manchester United members, who cracked perhaps an inch of smile between the 10 of them. Within moments, multiple handlers came, snorting brusque phrases into headsets, to say their clients would not comment. Accordingly, the notoriously rowdy players (no WAGs in sight, mind) stayed mum. Were these men so loose-lipped as to drive a whole team of publicists to distraction?
“THEY REALLY PLAY THE GAY-ANTHEM type of music,” said the bow-tied man to our left, as we slid up to the dinner table. Omelet appetizers had been placed before us and the music rose to a deafening volume.
“It’s Euro,” said the girl with him.
“It’s Euro trash,” he responded.
At the adjacent table, willowy girls muttered in French as they fumbled with their cameras, trying to get a shot of the scene.
The players left their table to prep their looks for the runway, and soon, out of nowhere, a flash went off that bounced around the great room’s Ionic columns. Suddenly, pairs of strapping men came bounding down the catwalk in car coats, leopard-print vests, and fitted cardigans.
At one point, two of the male players stepped out into the glow of the flashbulbs that live at the end of any runway—in front of the dozens of dinner-goers clutching iPhones and capturing the moment in their palms—and stopped. One of the players stretched a hand into a pocket and pulled out his own iPhone. The other player posed for an impromptu shot by the amateur photographer and professional athlete, and froze until he got the right look.
“I played rugby, so we were never allowed to go on a catwalk, with all the young ladies,” said the British Sotheby’s auctioneer, later that night. “They knew what would happen.”
Here, the female models interspersed with the soccer stars were beautiful, as ever, but from the clapping and fanfare, it was made clear that this night was about the boys.
“If you wish to make any arrangement with the players, ladies,” the Sotheby’s auctioneer finished, “do it quick, because they have early practice tomorrow.”
They came to New York for a soccer game, no?
“Well, you never know,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, the team’s coach, though he was addressing whether the Americans would pose a threat in the following day’s match. Slouched at his table, to The Observer he sounded decidedly unworried. “We’ll improvise.”
We improvised as well, and made our way through the doors. We walked out of Cipriani, toward that bus covered in logos of victory. A lively crowd had formed. By now, it had taken over the street. Who knew where they came from? Were they hired? Or, are there really that many “football” fans stateside? Regardless, what they didn’t know was that their heroes were huddled in Cipriani’s kitchen, doffing the fashion-show clothes, deciding what to do with the remainder of their night, improvising. The whereabouts of the female models was unknown. In any case, the players had a date at Gracie Mansion in the morning.