As a Liverpool fan, a trip to Manchester is usually filled with hope and expectation. The trip back – full of disappointment and what might have been. That, of course, is if you’re heading to the red half of Manchester. So when I was invited to the blue half by our partners at the Etihad stadium, I had no such reservations. My enemy’s enemy and all that.
The overwhelming first impression upon approach is that the Etihad is more of a small town than a stadium; it’s a seriously impressive complex. Originally constructed as part of the 2002 commonwealth games bid, the Sportcity complex itself houses the football stadium, Manchester Velodrome, the National Squash Centre and the National BMX arena.
We met in the City Store surrounded by City souvenirs and merchandise; sky blue everywhere. The check in process (first floor, upstairs) was easy and the staff were all very helpful and happy. If it was an act it was a convincing one as everyone seemed genuinely happy to be part of the club! Our guide soon arrived and took a quick register confirming that everyone was in attendance; we then headed back out into the biting Manchester air and headed across to the stadium.
Our guide first introduced himself and quickly asked each member of the group where they had come from and any reasons behind the visit. The group included tourists from Australia, Dubai and Ireland as well as some more local fans. Conscious of the temperature our guide quickly ushered us into the main entrance and upstairs to the opulent Chairman’s Club.
The Chairman’s club is THE place to watch a game if money is no object. It’s here that the players and directors meet after games to unwind. Continuing the theme of City being a fan-centric club, the new owners tore down barriers inside the suite to make sure that paying fans mingle with the directors of both clubs.
Heading out into the stands via the Chairman’s Club private exit, you’re greeted with the best view in the stadium. Right on the half way line, high in the stand with heated seats – this is the way to watch a game of football if you can afford it.
We headed back inside and wound our way down through the innards of the stadium past the Mica Richards Youth Development wall (a permanent pictorial fixture showing his progress from youth academy to Premier League winner) and into the press area to take part in a simulated press conference in front of the sponsors boards, just like on match day. Here we learnt about the hierarchy of the various media outlets as well as some of the more bizarre sponsors demands on Champions League nights (no non sponsor logos are allowed anywhere – including the brand name on the TV sets on the wall).
On to the dressing rooms, away team first. Away changing rooms tend to be designed to give subtle (or not so subtle – http://bit.ly/20viNRN ) advantages to the home team. No such obvious signs in this away dressing room, everything seems to be functional with plenty of room for the opponents to prepare. The only distinct ploy, or the only one admitted, is that the changing rooms sit right underneath the loudest section of the home fans – the constant chants to remind them exactly where they are.
Onwards to the home dressing room, past a room dedicated to the 2011-2012 title winning season, complete with a replica Premier League trophy. Instead of hard wooden benches, there is soft car racing seats for each player. A tactics board with video to allow half time reviews of key incidents, first class medical facilities and lots of sky blue make the home dressing room a much more comfortable place to be. Individual lockers also help protect the players’ valuables from Mario Balotelli (apparently there was no need before the enigmatic Italian arrived).
The tour finale arrives as we took the players route from dressing room through the tunnel and out onto the pitch. Or, at least to pitch-side, since the turf is protected like hallowed ground before match days. A final reminder of the fan focused message of the team sees fan names line the sides of the tunnel to inspire the team.
The Manchester City tour of the Etihad is a must for any Sky Blue fan, or for football fans in general. It’s a great insight into the inner workings of a football club and stadium. The tour itself is just about the right length to keep it interesting and our guide made it all the more entertaining.
You can also give an extra special tour to your loved ones, with an extra special guide! Check out our Manchester City Stadium Legend Tour for the ultimate Manchester City Stadium Tour experience.