A tour of the home ground of the English champion
For a follower of football, the city of Manchester has great significance as it is home to one of the most successful clubs in the world, Manchester United and their bitter rival Manchester City, who have evolved to become one of the best teams in Europe in recent years.
I had the chance to visit the Etihad Stadium, the home ground of the current Premier League champion, for a tour of the stadium and did so without any hesitation.
The stadium has a beautiful structure with modern training facilities along with several academies in adjacent areas.
The stadium tour started from the city store where all the souvenirs and merchandise are sold for fans.
A short video of the club history was shown that describes how the club started and their journey up until last season.
Then, we entered the city square. The place livens up two hours prior to every home game like clockwork where fans - both home and away - hang out together with food and live music.
Popular bands from Manchester usually perform in the City Square during match day and gathering of fans creates a different atmosphere altogether.
As we entered the main gate where players get down from the team bus, we headed towards the dressing room.
There is an interesting story about Sergio Agüero as the Argentine striker is always the last person to leave the dressing room since he is superstitious.
On match day, players go down through a dining room which is a great area to enjoy football.
Fans can enjoy football from there along with food and can also watch players very closely as they enter the pitch.
Fans generally stand beside the designated line when players go past them along with an opportunity to high five or shake their hands.
While walking down the stairs when heading towards the dressing room, the tour guide jokingly said, “Be careful on the stairs and hold on since Kevin de Bruyne once slipped from here and suffered an injury.”
The away dressing room is on the right hand side of the tunnel and it was well-equipped with modern facilities and a large TV where coaching staff from the away team can discuss about their game-plan.
Once we were done at the away dressing room, we started walking towards the home dressing room.
Along the way, I got to see Pep Guardiola’s office. The room was obviously closed as the season has not started yet, but that is where all the magic happens.
Then we entered the fitness center where players train. At one side, Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus’ picture of celebrating with teammates was stamped, and the tour guide shared a nice little story about Jesus.
When Jesus first arrived at City, he was homesick during the first few months and was depressed most of the time.
Guardiola arranged for Jesus’ mother to stay in Manchester so that Jesus can play with comfort and adapt to the English conditions quickly.
Interestingly, that’s the reason behind Jesus’ trademark celebration after scoring, indicating a telephone call which is actually a gesture to call his mother every time he scored for City.
A classy act from Pep, isn’t it?
Then we entered the home team’s dressing room. I was thrilled to see the designated seats where the players sit.
Most of the spectators were interested about Agüero’s seat and locker. I had the chance to sit there and take a few photos.
But I was also thrilled about sitting on De Bruyne’s seat along with that of Bernardo Silva’s.For me, the Portuguese attacking midfielder was the best player for City last season when they became champion for the second time in a row.
Inside the dressing room, a short video was aired showing footage of Pep’s discussion and instructions to players during the half-time break.
Another interesting thing out tour guide shared was that, every player receives two match jerseys for each game.
Usually, they give away the extra jerseys to their friends and fans, or for charity.
The interesting part is that, there are approximately 3,500 jerseys provided to the squad members consisting of 25 players every season.
Another interesting thing the tour guide informed was that, before entering the tunnel towards the pitch, players walk through a corridor and on its left side, there is a wall full of pictures of their family members and loved ones.
Players spend 90 seconds watching their loved ones’ pictures before entering the pitch.
The most thrilling part was when I was walking through the tunnel and entering the pitch.
While walking, the tour guide said an audio clip of the crowd noise from the adjacent walls will be created so that the visitors can imagine how players feel before entering the pitch.
The sound was stunning and comprised of loud cheers and chorus of home crowd which will surely give goosebumps to any professional athlete.
Finally, I reached the sidelines of the beautiful pitch.
The overall view of the whole stadium was obviously mesmerizing and with the pitch only a few feet away from me, I was remembering some of the goals and moments of City that I have watched in the TV and imagined where they took place.
One moment that popped up in my mind was when City scored two stoppage time goals to clinch the EPL crown, after 44 years in their club history, in 2012, under manager Roberto Mancini.
I tried to realize how the atmosphere was then and how the crowd must have erupted with joy.
Finally, the tour ended with a visit to the modern-looking press conference room that can house more than a hundred journalists.
In the end, it was a brilliant experience to watch the home ground of the current EPL champion.