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.
This week, we’ve been lucky enough to speak with Kelly from Manchester City’s Stadium Tours! They offer the ultimate experience for any MCFC fan; a personal and fully guided tour of the Etihad Stadium. Have a read to find out more about these incredible experiences…
Please could you tell us a bit about the history of your stadium tour experiences and how they began?
When we first moved to the Etihad Stadium (or City of Manchester Stadium as it was named previously) in 2003, we began conducting tours of the stadium for Manchester City fans who wanted to get a behind-the-scenes look at our fantastic new home.
However, as proud as we are of the stadium, we're also incredibly proud of our history, our future plans, the work we do in the community, and our youth development. It was for this reason that we launched the Stadium & Club Tour in 2012 to provide visitors with an all-encompassing experience showcasing all aspects of the Club.
What encouraged your passion for these tours?
Football fans want to feel a part of their Club and to feel valued. This Club is incredibly passionate about giving fans an experience that they'll never forget. Despite our recent success on the pitch, it is important to continue the family-friendly rapport that we have always had with our supporters.
What would you say is the best thing about the experience you offer?
It's incredibly rewarding for us that visitors of all ages, fans of every Club, and even non-football fans can have a fantastic experience with us!
What makes your tours different to other stadium tours?
For many guests, it may be their first visit to the Etihad Stadium. So it's vital to ensure they're left with a positive first impression of Manchester City Football Club. Similarly, for City fans it's equally important to make them feel a part of their Club. It's encouraging to see all our guests leaving the stadium visibly pleased at the conclusion of their experience.
We cover all aspects of the Club on the Stadium & Club Tour. The team are successful on the pitch, but with outstanding community work and world-leading academy facilities, it's important to focus on all aspects of the Club. We share not just our past and present with visitors, but also our future.
Our Tour Guides are also extremely personable. They provide a warm welcome, interesting facts, humour and anecdotes to ensure that all visitors leave the stadium with an experience they will never forget.
Are the stadium tours suitable for everyone?
We're proud to say that our tour is suitable for all ages. All areas of the stadium are fully accessible for every visitor, with lift access to all points on the tour. We also have a Club wheelchair, which users may borrow for the duration of the tour. Assistance dogs are welcome and we have an induction loop available on request.
Even if you aren't a Manchester City supporter or a fan of football in general, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy your visit to the Etihad Stadium! With insights into the Club's community work, youth development, seeing some significant pieces of silverware in-person in addition to an insight into hospitality, media and player areas - our Stadium & Club Tour is an all-encompassing experience for all.
Have you got any new exciting news to share with us?
The recent growth of the Club has been extraordinary, and the City Football Academy is a facility that fans have been eager to see since it opened in 2014. There may be an opportunity to take visitors around the facility in the future, so watch this space!
Lastly, is there anything else you'd like to add?
We offer a variety of packages in addition to our Stadium & Club Tour. We also offer visitors the opportunity to experience our Legends Stadium & Club Tour, involving a tour with an ex-City player, a Q&A session with the legend and a three-course meal in one of our Platinum boxes.
It's also great to see families choosing our Stadium & Club Tour as an ideal birthday gift. We have now taken that a step further, with our new City Kids Birthday Parties. You can enhance your experience with optional extras including the presence of Club mascots Moonchester and Moonbeam, City party bags, personalised home, away or third shirt or a first team coach ride to and from the Etihad Stadium.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us!
Legend Stadium Tour
Group Size & Spectators:
This voucher is valid for one person only, however other guests will join you on the tour.
This Stadium tour runs on selected dates, around twice a month.
Please note, this tour may not run every month due to refurbishments.
The entire experience will last approximately three and a half hours.
This is not a weather dependant activity, however if a cancellation is made, the tour will be rescheduled for another date.
Please wear weather appropriate clothing and sensible shoes.
Minimum age: 18