Experience Football in Manchester, the Lifeblood of the City

If you’ve heard of the city of Manchester, odds are it's for one of two things: its legendary music, or its legendary football teams. Because humble Manchester isn’t home to just one world-beating side but two in Manchester United (est.1878) and Manchester City (est.1880). When combined, these sporting giants have some 700 million fans worldwide, 28 league titles, 18 FA Cup wins, 14 League Cup wins, and 3 UEFA Champions League wins between them, a lineage that has made Manchester the de facto footballing capital of the UK and, for many, the world. But, as a historic hub for the sport since at least the nineteenth century, going to Manchester for the footie is so much more than just going to watch a game or two (although we certainly recommend you do so if you’re passing through!). Rather, it’s a snapshot into the day-to-day life of one of England’s most charismatic cities whose residents will always proudly tell you this is the UK’s real second capital. And, just as Mancunians are tirelessly proud of their city, they are tirelessly proud of whichever of the two teams they pledge their allegiance to as well. Football is the emotive lifeblood of the Capital of the North, woven into the very fabric of the city, and, even if you’re not a fan of the beautiful game, a trip to Manchester is sure to make you understand why it is still today the sport of the world.

The entrance to Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, guarded by the ‘United Trinity’ (George Best, Denis Law, and Sir Bobby Charlton, from left to right).

- © Debu55y / Shutterstock

Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester United’s “Theatre of Dreams”

An aerial view of Old Trafford Stadium.

- © 4kclips / Shutterstock

A History of the Team

United fans will tell you that Manchester United is the real team of the people in the city. And, although both United and City were founded within just a few miles and a few years of one another, and although Manchester City has certainly seen the most success within recent years, United are without a doubt the team with story and history on their side. 

The legendary tale of modern Manchester United begins with gut-wrenching tragedy. Returning from the ashes of the Second World War as a side reborn under the leadership of manager Matt Busby, the exceptionally young, talented, and organic team he assembled (affectionately nicknamed the “Busby Babes” in the media) went on to win an FA Cup (1948) and two League Titles (1955-56, 1956-57), as well as becoming the first English team to qualify for the European Cup in 1957. However, disaster struck the following year when, on the way back from a European Cup quarter-final victory against Yugoslavia’s Red Star Belgrade, the team’s plane crashed outside Munich and killed 23 people, including eight players. 

A memorial plaque to the victims of the Munich air disaster on Old Trafford’s East Stand

- © Bestravelvideo / Shutterstock

The public outpouring of sympathy following the tragedy helped to transform United into the behemoth it would eventually come to be known as. In 1968, Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup, led on the field by Sir Bobby Charlton (a survivor of the Munich air crash), George Best, and Dennis Law. The three are now immortalised at the front of the stadium with a statue entitled the United Trinity. A second period of dominance began with the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson as manager in 1986, who would steer the helm of the club for almost thirty years between ‘86 and 2013, during which time the club won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, and two UEFA Champions League titles. The Ferguson era also brought a stream of legendary players to United, among them Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Liked the ‘United Trinity’, Ferguson is now honoured with a statue on the grounds, as well as a stand, the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, named in his honour in the north of the Stadium.

A History of the Stadium and What to Do

Manchester United playing against Liverpool F.C.

- © mooinblack / Shutterstock

Old Trafford itself became the home of the team in 1910 and is now the second-largest stadium in the UK only after London’s Wembley Stadium. It boasts a capacity of 74,310 people (Wembley, by comparison, can hold a maximum of 90,000 people). Located in the southwest of the city in the eponymous neighbourhood of Old Trafford, Manchester United play an average of one game per week here during the football season (typically from July to May), with tickets normally costing £40 or more for official members when bought directly from the sight, or at least £114 when bought by non-members on resale. The price may seem steep, but it is surprisingly below the Premier League team average of £125 per ticket. All this while giving you the opportunity to attend a match in one of Europe’s most famous stadiums (and one of the country’s oldest!) and to watch world-class players at the top of their game.

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If you can’t make it to a game though, don’t fret as regular guided tours of the stadium are also organised by the club. During your immersive visit, you will get to know the stadium up-close-and-personal, including a trip up to the aforementioned Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, a journey into the player’s changing rooms so you can see some game-day behind-the-scenes, and a walk through the players’ tunnel and then onto the electric-green pitch to follow in the footsteps of the countless legends who have walked this route before. The tour will also include a trip to the Old Trafford Museum which contains some priceless club memorabilia and the opportunity for some classical British tea and biscuits at the onsite Red Cafe. The full tour takes about seventy to eighty minutes and is the ideal outing for families with young children.

Old Trafford Guided Tour Tips

  • The Old Trafford Museum and Stadium Tour runs 9:30am to 4pm Sunday to Thursday and 9:30am to 5pm Friday to Saturday, except on match days, so check fixtures dates before planning a visit.
  • Stadium tours are subject to availability, so consult with your organiser and remember to book in advance.
  • Adult tickets for the Stadium Tour go from £25, while junior/concession tickets are from £18. Group packages are offered. However, prices are subject to change and tours are very likely to sell out, so it is advised you check online and book in advance if you want tickets.
  • The tour itself will take seventy to eighty minutes, however it is recommended that you give yourself at least an additional half-hour to visit the museum and cafe.
  • Food and drinks are available at the onsite Red Cafe, which is open until 4pm every day of the year, except match days.
  • It is advised not to bring a bag with you if possible. Stringent security searches will be carried out.
  • Free parking is available at the stadium, or regular trams and buses run from the city centre to Old Trafford and take around twenty-minutes. The Old Trafford Tramlink stop is serviced by the green line. Consult the Transport for Greater Manchester website for further guidance.  
  • The tour is fully accessible for people with reduced mobility or with further access needs, however it is advised you get in touch with your tour providers in advance about any disabilities to ensure all needs are met and catered for. 

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The Etihad Stadium, the Futuristic Home of Football’s New Guard

The Etihad Stadium at dusk.

- © Debu55y / Shutterstock

A History of the Team

The City of Manchester Stadium, better known as the Etihad Stadium, has been the home of Manchester City F.C. since 2003. Manchester City is often mistaken for a relatively young outfit, however in reality it has existed since 1880 when it was founded as St. Mark’s (West Gordon), making it just two years younger than its rivals in red. The name Manchester City was adopted __in 1894.

The cause for this mixup is because the majority of the club’s successes have only come in the last twenty years. This came in the wake of a protracted period of decline and stagnation in England’s lower leagues during the 1980s and 1990s, which was coincidentally the apex of Manchester United’s dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson (making City’s failures seem all the worse). The 2008 financial takeover of the club by Emirati billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan saw the club reborn as a European giant in the 2010s, however, marshalled primarily by Spanish manager-cum-football genius Pep Guardiola. Since al Nayhan’s assumption to the City throne, the team have broken domestic records and won two FA Cups and six Premier League titles, overtaking Manchester United as the city’s primary trophy-winner due to the Reds’ own period of relative mediocrity after the 2013 retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. City, however, have yet to win a major European competition, a fact United fans will be quick to make you remember!

Either way, the money brought in by the Emirati prince has allowed City to attract an international cohort of some of football’s biggest names to the Etihad, among them the Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure, Spain’s David Silva, Argentina’s Sergio Aguero, Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne, and Norway’s Erling Haarland. The current team is subsequently one of the most diverse and dynamic in the modern game, ensuring that a Manchester City match is never one to miss.

Manchester City players after scoring a goal.

- © Oleh Dubyna / Shutterstock

A History of the Stadium and What to Do

The Etihad Stadium is much younger than its Red contemporary, having been built as a venue for the 2002 Commonwealth Games before being handed over to the Blues in 2003. Following a series of renovations, its capacity swelled from some 38,000 when it was originally constructed to some 58,000 now, making it the sixth-largest stadium in England. The stadium itself has received much praise for its sleek and futuristic design, having received an award from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2004 for innovation and inclusivity and from the Institution of Structural Engineers in 2003 for singularity and uniqueness.

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Inside the Etihad Stadium.

- © Cosmin Iftode / Shutterstock

Like at Old Trafford, the essential Manchester City experience would be seeing the team in action on their home turf, with tickets normally selling for a minimum of £60 when bought directly from the site (and, naturally, extortionately more when bought through a third-party dealer). However, like at Old Trafford, regular stadium tours are arranged at modest prices to give visitors a more intimate glimpse of the grounds. An Etihad Stadium tour is a completely different experience to one at Old Trafford, though, with a futuristic approach that reflects the futuristic design of the stadium itself. So, visitors will be taken to the Press Room to field questions to a virtually-rendered Pep Guardiola and then to the 360 degree cinema suite for an immersive audiovisual history of the team while also visiting all the regular favourites (the stands, the changing rooms, the field, and so on). This high-tech tour means you have two exciting options, each with its own quirks, when choosing a stadium to visit in Manchester. Or, if you’re a real football fanatic you could even squeeze in both! Either way, you’re guaranteed a fascinating insight into the beautiful game at its most spectacular.

Practical Information

  • Tours are run every day of the year, including matchdays. However, please note that matchday tours will follow a different route that does not include the dressing room and tunnel, and that weekend, matchday, and school and bank holiday tour tickets are slightly more expensive. Precise times vary and can be found online. Always remember to book in advance.
  • Off-peak prices (Monday to Friday) are £25 for a standard ticket, with discounts for seniors, students, and under 16’s. Family packages are also available. Peak prices (weekends, school and bank holidays, matchdays) are slightly higher. If you book online in advance, you can save up to 15%. For more information, visit the official site.
  • It is advised not to bring a bag with you if possible. Stringent security searches will be carried out and bags bigger than A5 will be refused entry on matchdays.
  • Free parking is not offered at Etihad Stadium. However, regular buses to the Etihad Stadium run from Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre and take less than twenty minutes. The Metrolink Etihad Campus tram stop is serviced by the light blue line. Consult the Transport for Greater Manchester website for further guidance.  
  • Tours are accessible to all; for more information, click here.

The National Football Museum: An English Love Story

The National Football Museum, Manchester.

- © GarethWilley / Shutterstock

After having learnt about the clubs that make Manchester the nation’s footballing capital, why not learn more about the story of football in England as a whole? The National Football Museum is one of Manchester’s premier attractions and rakes in 500,000 visitors per year. It is located in the Urbis building in the heart of the city and features in its collections iconic pieces of football memorabilia, including the 1966 World Cup Final ball (with which England won the competition for the first and still only time), the shirt Maradonna wore in the infamous ‘hand of god’ game, Sam Taylor Wood’s Sleeping Beckham video portrait, and Britain’s oldest surviving FA Cup trophy, dating to 1896. There are also plenty of interactive displays for children and adults alike, allowing visitors to test their penalty skills (for a surcharge of £2 for three shots!) or their footballing knowledge in fun games scattered throughout the museum. Sporting fan or not, the museum has something for everyone!

Practical Information

  • The National Football Museum is open daily 10am to 5pm daily, except between December 24th and 27th and from January 1st to 2nd. Last admission is 4pm. Please note that the museum may sometimes be closed for private events or staff training. Always check the website before visiting to avoid disappointment.
  • Tickets can be bought online or at the door, although it is always encouraged to book in advance (booking online is also slightly cheaper). Online fees for adults are £12, £10 for students or seniors, and £7 for children. Under 5’s get in for free, as do City of Manchester residents. For a full table of admission prices, please visit the official website.
  • The National Football Museum is located right in the heart of the city and is thus easily walkable. The nearest Metrolink tram stop is Victoria Station which is serviced by the green, yellow, dark blue, pink, and brown lines. Several buses also service the area. Check the free city centre bus route map for more information.
  • The National Football Museum does not contain cloakrooms or luggage storage. However, luggage storage facilities are available throughout the city.
  • The National Football Museum is fully accessible. For more information, visit the website here.

Editor's Tip

If you want to see at least one footie game while you’re in the city but don’t want to pay Premier League prices, there are various lower-league teams based in and around Manchester who will charge smaller fees for a more intimate and often more intense atmosphere. Notable mention goes to Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Rochdale, Salford City, and Stockport County, all of whom are located in the Greater Manchester area and whose stadiums are easily reached by bus or tram from the main city. You might miss some of the big names, but you won’t miss any of the fire or action.

by Jude JONES
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