On average, most football stadia will only welcome match day customers once a week. The rest of the time, they stand empty and under-used.
But for those that are home to successful clubs – particularly ones with an internationally-recognised brand – stadium tours have become a lucrative money-spinner.
It helps if, like Arsenal FC, you have an iconic 60,000-seat state-of-the-art venue to show off, as well as a long history of winning trophies and fielding legendary players.
Likewise, it helps that the London club are well placed to take advantage of the thousands of football tourists who flock to the city from overseas.
But do you have to be an Gunners fan to really get the most out of a visit to the Emirates Stadium? Not necessarily, but – again – it probably helps…
There are several tour options at the Emirates, including VIP packages where your host will be a former Arsenal star and perks such as lunch, drinks and a goody bag are included. Yours for just £350…
‘Everyone sat quietly, listening to their audio player and drinking in the atmosphere of the famous stadium’
The cheapest option to check out what is currently England’s third-largest football ground after Wembley Stadium and Old Trafford is a self-guided audio tour.
Offered in nine languages, these are priced from £14 for under-16s, with students and OAPs charged £17 and standard adult entry for £20. Family tickets are £55.
You don’t have to book your ticket in advance; you can pay on the spot and enter the tour any time between 9am and 6pm.
Naturally, you enter through the Arsenal merchandise shop so you can size up any souvenirs you might wish to buy as a memento of your trip, from towels to mugs.
Once you buy your ticket, your are given a pair of Arsenal headphones and a small audio player, which explains each part of the tour as you follow the route.
The first floor features statues of Arsenal legends – this is probably the part where being a die-hard Gooner is an advantage.
Pride of place goes to a huge figure of the club’s longest-serving and current manager Arsene Wenger.
Moving on, the second floor was my favourite as it gives you access to the directors box, looking down on the pristine playing surface.
You can be there for as long as you like, and everyone sat quietly, listening to their audio player and drinking in the atmosphere of the famous stadium.
You can imagine how exciting and noisy it must be on match day.
After that, the tour takes you into the inner sanctum of any stadium – the players’ changing rooms.
I had always wondered what it would be like to stand in one at a famous club, and can assure they are definitely an upgrade on the ones we used before PE at my old school!
The home side’s facilities feature a huge jacuzzi, as well as a massive shower room and beds for physio and massages. Once you pass those, you enter the actual changing room itself, where the players shirts hang.
Visitors also get to walk up the tunnel and out into the stadium itself at pitch level. As a football fan, it’s an amazing experience you will never forget – even without those 60,000 spectators.
As a budding sports journalist, I was also fascinated to see the press conference room and the area where managers and players get interviewed after matches.
The tour ended in a room full of replicas of the trophies won by Arsenal down the years, although the FA Cup (pictured right) – which they won last season – was possibly the real thing?
It’s a room of good memories for any visiting Gunners fan, although it will also remind them that their team haven’t won the Premier League title since 2003-04, when the ‘Invicibles’ went unbeaten throughout their league campaign.
Despite their troubles in recent seasons, Arsenal are a top club with an amazing history, and the self-guided audio tour of the Emirates is well worth doing.
You can do it whenever you want (match days excluded) and take your own time – there’s no pressure to keep up with a group of people, and you are allowed to linger.
The staff were friendly, welcoming and helpful, and the Emirates is just a 10-minute walk from Highbury & Islington underground station.
But back to that question: do you need to be an Arsenal supporter to really enjoy the tour? Well, I’m a Manchester United fan, but I’m very happy I did it.
For more details on tours of the Emirates Stadium, visit the Arsenal website.