Feature

The maddest things that happened in Manchester in 2021

We look back at the most bizarre moments of a truly strange year that featured giant pigeons, penis enlargement adverts and ‘Julie’s I Pad’. 

The Manc The Manc - 1st January 2022

So, that’s it. 2021 is over, and we can all take a breath. Even by the insane standards of recent history, this was a year that managed to leave a trail of eye-rubbingly implausible stories in its wake.

After a deadly pandemic put Blighty’s famous ‘Blitz Spirit’ to the test in 2020, we’d have all settled for a simple 12 months with some normality. But what we got instead was another unpredictable, topsy-turvy chapter that seemed to crawl and fly by simultaneously. 

Bookended by the grim spread of COVID variants with some light in the middle of the tunnel, 2021 has turned out to be as much of a rollercoaster as its predecessor. It all began with a winter of discontent as everyone hid indoors, and it looks set to finish in a similar way. But en route there was plenty to talk about. And some of the strangest stuff happened right on our doorstep. 

Here, we look back at the most peculiar episodes during another wild year in Manchester. The result is a list that features giant pigeons, penis enlargement adverts and ‘Julie’s I Pad’…

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Flying for a beef sandwich

This fella flew from Salford to Preston for a beef butty in lockdown / Image: Chipping Farm Shop

In March 2021, lockdown was in full force, but there was hope on the horizon. The government’s ‘roadmap to freedom’ had been unveiled, COVID cases were falling, and businesses were finally preparing to reopen their doors to customers. Within a matter of days, we’d be able to head to pubs and restaurants and dine outdoors. 

But one helicopter pilot didn’t feel like waiting until the restrictions eased. He was hungry now, and what he really fancied was a beef butty.

So, he hopped in his chopper, took off from Salford, whizzed 80 miles across to the Chipping Farm Shop in Preston, and collected his sandwich before flying back home.  

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Pictures of the man receiving his order were posted on social media and the story made quite the splash, but authority figures didn’t see the funny side.

One councillor labelled it a “fragrant abuse of lockdown rules”, and police forces said they opened an investigation into the matter. 

Must have been a bloody good butty. 

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Read more: themanc.com/news/helicopter-pilot-flies-from-salford-to-preston-and-back-for-beef-sandwich/

The fugitives found hiding in Robinsons Brewery 

Two thieves took refuge in Robinsons Brewery / Image: David Pickersgill

Picture this: You’re in Stockport, you’re on the run, and you need a place to hide. Where do you go?

Two suspected burglars faced this conundrum in March 2021. And they chose badly. 

Having already been identified as fugitives by police and with sirens hot on their heels, the duo decided to dive into Robinsons Brewery. 

At the time, it might have seemed like a decent spot to stay until the heat died down. The famous building on Lower Hillgate is big, dark, and best of all, full of beer. 

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So, that’s what the pair did, proceeding to clamber inside some beer barrels and cross their fingers. 

It didn’t work. 

GMP officers quickly found the pair and apprehended them on suspicion of burglary, car theft and dangerous driving. 

“Hoptimistic if they thought they were going to stay hidden there,” the force quipped on Twitter. 

As far as local police stories go, this wasn’t exactly The Detectives. But it was certainly one of the more baffling chases seen in recent years…

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Read more: themanc.com/news/suspected-stockport-thieves-found-hiding-in-beer-barrels

The Old Trafford break-in

In April 2021, a press release sent Gary Neville into meltdown. 

“I’m disgusted,” he snarled, his gnashing teeth obscured by a padded Sky Sports microphone. 

“Absolutely disgusted. I’m disgusted with Manchester United and Liverpool most.”

The former England footballer was delivering an emotional on-screen response to the published plans for the European Super League (ESL) – a new breakaway division featuring 12 of the continent’s biggest football teams (including Premier League sides Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea). 

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The contest effectively amounted to an elite members’ club where the same sides would play one another over and over again and the rich owners would get richer. It was foul. 

Neville was one of the first to start frothing at the mouth in response, but he would not be the last. Within days, the vitriolic backlash against the ESL saw panicked clubs pull out and the competition folded like a house of cards. But fan power’s fight continued – with supporters using the victory over the ESL as a springboard to battle back against the club owners who had signed up to join the division in the first place. 

On May 2, with the world watching, Manchester United fans held a demonstration against the Glazer family at Old Trafford before their match with old rivals Liverpool. The barriers were breached and several hundred people broke into the stadium before kick-off. 

The match was abandoned – and the passionate scenes made headlines across the globe. 

The incident prompted the Premier League to bring in a new owners’ charter designed to stop any future attempts to join a breakaway league. It also led to the Glazers briefly opening a dialogue with supporters via a fans forum – the first communication of its kind during nearly 16 years of ownership. 

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Fans had won the battle, but not the war. Ringleaders over at Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona still want to revive the ESL project when the time is right. And the vilified American Glazer family remain at the helm at Old Trafford. 

This one isn’t over. 

The chaotic parish council meeting in Handforth

Handforth Parish Council’s emergency meeting was an unlikely global hit / Image: ma0sm

A year ago this month, a council meeting was taking place in Handforth – a little town just outside of Greater Manchester – that would end up shooting its participants to stardom. 

The group had arranged an emergency online forum to talk politics, with question marks hovering over the conduct of certain members.

The whole thing was a typical Zoom huddle of blurry faces, scrambled audio and people talking over one another. But when a recording of it was posted to social media in February 2021, everything changed. 

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The footage revealed a council meeting so jaw-droppingly chaotic it proved a monster hit online – generating thousands of views in a matter of minutes. 

Handforth Parish Council became its very own soap opera: Introducing us to a rich mix of four dimensional comedy characters that ranged from the tooting Brian Tolver to the enigmatic Julie’s iPad. 

The breakout star, of course, was Jackie Weaver – a member of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils who’d seemingly been drafted in to get the Handforth house in order. Weaver gained worldwide fame for remaining stoic in the face of disruptive members during the meeting, responding to an onslaught of cries and accusations by coolly kicking complainers out of the call.

The endlessly quotable (“You have no authority here Jackie Weaver!”; “Read the standing orders! Read them and understand them!”) footage has done the rounds all year – and even led to the council changing its name to “move away from the toxic side of Handforth”.

Weaver, meanwhile, has published a book titled You Do Have The Authority Here! and become one of Handforth’s most famous associates, even being invited to switch on the town’s Christmas lights in 2021.

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Giant pigeon parades through Piccadilly Gardens

“These pests at Piccadilly are really getting out of hand now” / Image: LeafyLeg via Reddit

You can usually find something peculiar happening in Piccadilly Gardens at any time of day. It’s a part of Manchester where seemingly anything goes. Even human-sized pigeons.

Pigeons are so populous in Piccadilly Gardens they ought to be paying rent. Walking down the paths here involves tiptoeing around dozens of pests all fluttering and cooing by the fountains, whilst dozens more swoop in to feed on scraps left behind by commuters, shoppers and loiterers. They’re everywhere. Which might explain why a mammoth bird almost managed to get across the gardens unnoticed in 2021. 

It was a piping hot August day, and everyone was simply minding their own business, when someone dressed in a huge pigeon suit began plodding through Manchester’s central square.

One person nearby managed to capture a snippet of video, but few others seemed to bat an eye.

We’re apparently so used to pigeons round these parts, even the gigantic ones can blend in…

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Piccadilly Gardens’ giant pigeon: facebook.com/watch/?v=263760428641074

Disqualified driver takes family for Asda shop in ambulance 

Shopping in a second-hand ambulance… during lockdown / Image: GMP

One of the most extraordinary stories of 2021 unfolded against the most ordinary of backdrops: Asda in Harpurhey. 

On a cold, dark January evening, supermarket staff working the late shift were stunned to witness an ambulance rock up in the car park with its blue lights flashing, before an entire family spilled out of the vehicle to do some shopping. 

Puzzled police turned up and proceeded to pull the driver aside, discovering they had no insurance and were wanted by the court.

It was later revealed that the ambulance had been purchased second hand, and that the driver had been taken into custody for the incident. 

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So, just to recap: An uninsured, wanted driver bought an emergency services vehicle and used it to take his family shopping, turning on the lights in the process. During lockdown. 

Ridiculous. 

Swarms of bees descend on the city

Bee-MW… / Image: The Manc Group

Something miraculous happened in Manchester this summer. For a magical moment, it seemed like the bee symbols dotted right around the city had all sprung to life. 

On at least three separate occasions during June, thousands of bees were found swarming to specific spots of Mancunia. First, they took over the back window of a BMW, before settling on a sign for Manchester International Festival on Peter Street. Later in the month, a few thousand more were spotted around the corner as they engulfed a canopy outside of Albert’s Schloss bar. 

The sudden appearance of these pulsing gold and black blankets was a sight to behold – but it also invited many questions. Why had these insects apparently decided to reclaim Manchester? 

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According to the British Beekeepers Association, it’s not unusual for honeybee colonies to swarm on warm days between May and July – ordinarily after a queen departs. Scout bees search for a suitable new spot to make a nest, whilst the other bees wait together until a home is chosen. 

That’s apparently what we were seeing back in summer. And it was pretty amazing. 

Watch the bees taking over Manchester here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=325385542517969

Couple caught red-faced in Gorton Park 

Sunny Brow Park made the headlines in 2021… for a very strange reason / Image: Wikimedia Commons

Lots of Gorton residents head into Sunny Brow Park when the weather is good, either to enjoy a leisurely stroll with river views or take the kids to the playground. 

In many ways, it’s a park like any other. But in June 2021, this unassuming little green space on Knutsford Road made the headlines for a very strange reason. 

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A couple were spotted – and pictured – engaging in some frisky activity in broad daylight below a tree. 

First at around midday. Then again at 2pm. 

The incident(s) resulted in stunned by-passers calling the police, and the duo were arrested on suspicion of outraging public decency. 

Yikes. 

Posters for penis enlargement pop up in shop windows

The peculiar posters appeared on Market Street in autumn / Image: The Manc Group / TikTok

Head-turning artworks have a habit of appearing overnight in Manchester. Throughout 2021, we’ve woken up to huge posters lambasting Boris Johnson for his failures in government, and a stencilled spray painting of a boy flying a kite in Stockport (which was initially rumoured as a Banksy before Salford artist Mr Eggs took credit). But the most bizarre of the bunch was an ‘advert’ for free penis enlargement. 

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In November, an image materialised in a shop window on Market Street joking that drivers of specific vehicles could be eligible for the enhancing treatment. 

The caption read: “Do you drive a 4×4, Jeep or Range Rover in the city? You could be entitled to FREE penis enlargement therapy on the NHS.

A phone number was displayed below images of the vehicles, alongside a logo for a company called Megacorp.

This prank, promotional device, or political stunt – whatever it might be – has apparently been done before, with the Metro reporting that a similar poster was seen three years ago in the Midlands, albeit with a different contact number listed.  

The Manchester Evening News believed the latest posters had been put together by an anonymous designer working under the alias Foka Wolf. 

The real purpose remains unclear. But it definitely raised a few smirks at the time. 

View it here: https://www.tiktok.com/@the.manc/video/7032213155170340101

Featured image: Dunk/Flickr