With slight anxiety, my colleague from City Watch and I approached the entrance marked ‘VIP’ at the Etihad Stadium. When we were kindly given the opportunity to experience Manchester City’s Tunnel Club by our friends at Sure on the eve of the Lyon game, my first instinct was to turn it down. All I have ever known at football is the terraces, lads with pints and chicken balti pies, the passion of salt of the earth fans.
Suddenly I had the chance to go from within the heart of diehard Blues – I’m in South Stand level one every week – to the most lavish, expensive VIP experience Manchester City has to offer. A ticket in the Tunnel Club Premier area is not cheap. The next Champions League game at the Etihad, against Shakhtar Donetsk, would set you back £479 per person for the full experience.
The ‘Tunnel Club Premier’ allows you to see the players through one-sided glass as they walk through the tunnel, get a heated padded seat on the halfway dugout, and receive a five-course meal with unlimited premium drinks.
The Tunnel Club Experience
As soon as we stepped through the VIP Entrance, we entered a whole new world. The side of football so few will ever get to see – one I never expected to myself. We were given gold-coloured (no, not real gold before you ask!) lanyards that gave us full access to the Tunnel Club area. Hostesses welcomed us with warm smiles and asked if it was our first time in the Tunnel Club. I was just trying to take in the impressive surroundings and find my bearings. It only took a few seconds to realise I wouldn’t have to, as we were guided through a plush bar and into the ‘Premier’ area downstairs, where an incredible dining experience awaited us.
A spacious room included a curved screen above the bar that aired the ongoing Shakhtar vs. Hoffenheim game in Group F. We were one of the first groups in, wanting to get the most out of our experience, and watched as dapper-looking types began to occupy the tables around us.
To start, we were offered broad bean bread with harissa dip, and wine – I won’t begin to try and tell you what it was – and for a while just excitedly soaked in the ambience. As more groups entered the dining area, the noise picked up, but throughout the night the atmosphere remained chilled and relaxed. I have to say our table – we were later joined by two others who we became friendly with – was perhaps the most animated in the area.
I love a good meal as much as anyone else, but am no critic and could not accurately describe in words how tasty the á la carte food was. My eyes widened when I saw ‘frogs legs kiev’ on the starter menu, and realised I had no idea what I was in for here. I went for the mushroom duxelles and sunny side quail egg to start. My colleague had the same and despite a nervous glance at the plate, both enjoyed the food.
Again, we both opted for the same when deciding our main course: Coq au vin and baby pearl potato served with sauteed cap mushroom, baby carrot and charred onion. To me, it sounded like a posh Sunday chicken dinner, but like the starter, it made the tastebuds explode and every bite was delicious.
During our meal, Colin Bell, Tony Book and Joe Corrigan casually walked past our table with Tony saying hello. Benjamin Mendy stopped by briefly and took some photos with fans, but we didn’t quite get chance to reach him. I was disappointed, but wouldn’t be by the end of the night.
We both ordered ruby chocolate tart to finish off our pre-match dining, but left our table before it was served after being informed that the players were arriving. A short trip upstairs and we took our place near the main entrance.
One of the big selling points of the Tunnel Club is getting to welcome the players close-up. And boy, you are close-up as they pass by you, slapping hands, before heading down some stairs to begin preparing for the big game. Management arrived first – unfortunately no Pep with his touchline ban – then the players, with club icon Sergio Aguero last in and receiving the biggest response.
Upon returning to our table, dessert was waiting and was one of the tastiest sweets I have ever had. The perfect end to a great pre-match meal.
Did I mention the drinks? Unlimited drinks are included in the Tunnel Club Premier experience – as they should be at that price! As you turn the pages of the drinks menu, some prices do appear later on that are exceptions, but you can get wine, beer, cider, soft drinks, and cocktails on the house – and as many as you want, something my colleague was keen to take advantage of! I went for a non-alcoholic apple drink that was tasty and very refreshing.
The Tunnel and Match Time
When marketing the Tunnel Club, City’s big selling point was the ability to watch players pass through the tunnel through a one-sided glass window. I won’t lie, like many I found it a little weird – and it’s not something I’d prioritise doing every week if I had a Tunnel Club season ticket – but seeing the likes of Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero pass by at such close proximity was surreal.
As I stood by the tunnel window, Leroy Sané stopped almost in front of me to sort his afro out and I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
We watched both teams and match officials head to the pitch – Arteta was chatting with his staff less than a meter away from me – and then decided it was time to finally head to the padded seats we’ve all seen on TV.
We were seated a number of rows above the dugout with a central view of the action, behind Arteta’s technical area. In honestly, the view wasn’t much better than you could get either side in cheaper areas, and besides having a padded seat, you wouldn’t say this was the best thing about the Tunnel Club experience.
Behind our seating area were commentators and journalists from around the world. I was surprised to see my friend and host of the City Watch Podcast, Ian Cheeseman, almost directly behind me among the press and we gave each other a wave.
The match itself proved to be frustrating as Lyon stunned the ground by taking a 2-0 lead. As a long-time season ticket holder, this was one of the worst City performances I have seen in quite some time. What I will say though, is the Tunnel Club seating area isn’t all stoic business types – many were on their feet and letting their feelings be known. One proved that even in the Tunnel Club you can’t avoid the idiots as this individual verbally abused Gabriel Jesus as he walked off at half-time.
To our right, we saw Mendy sat watching intently. His facial expression barely changed as his teammates performed well below their high standards on the pitch. He did not look happy at all with the performance. Perhaps had he not been injured City would have had more luck breaking down a solid Lyon defence.
Half-Time and Full-Time
Half-time at a football game can be a lonely (and cold) experience if you go by yourself. Waiting in your seat or on a damp concourse with nothing to do, you just will the 15 minutes to pass quickly. After my evening in the Tunnel Club, I can safely say half-time has never passed so quickly. We returned to our table to find a gougère au fromage waiting for us. The best way I can describe this is a bit like a tiny cheese and onion pastry – very tasty, albeit about one mouthful in size.
We’d also pre-ordered our drinks before the game, a perk of hospitality, as anyone who knows the standard matchday experience and likes a drink or some chips at half-time has experienced the nightmare of waiting and waiting… and waiting to be served at half-time. No such wait here, as we were quickly served and enjoyed a chilled half-time chat that flew by.
Ricky Hatton was nearby to share his half-time views and 90s icon Georgi Kinkladze was around (but I didn’t get chance to see him). While enjoying our half-time drinks, all four of us at our table were shocked to see the players heading back out. I had to check my phone to confirm it had indeed been 15 minutes and the action was about to resume. We’ve all seen empty corporate areas at big grounds after half-time and complained. For the first time I realised why, as I wanted to wait just a while longer to finish my drink and enjoy the conversation with my colleague and our two new friends.
Despite a Bernardo Silva goal, there was to be no comeback and it was a bad night for the Blues. The crowd headed home at full-time – some of them before that – but we returned to the dining area of the Tunnel Club to find a a selection of cheese, artisan breads, crackers and biscuits waiting for us. This was the final part of a five-star dining experience and we had coffees decorated by the Manchester bee to wrap up the night.
The experience didn’t end with more food and drink, though. In came Benjamin Mendy and sat with a couple of friends who had been waiting for him. In honesty, Mendy looked quite sullen and I was reluctant to approach him but did, and he took photos with us, something I was grateful for. Footballers are celebrities but it must get tiring being asked for selfies and autographs all the time, and with the night ending, Mendy probably wanted to relax with his pals.
We left the Etihad Stadium a little after 10:30pm with reluctance – my colleague had to get to work or else we would have been there until we were kicked out. After saying farewell to our new friends, we headed out of the main entrance with the same warm smiles that welcomed us five hours earlier.
All in all, it was an incredible experience. Well-trained, professional staff who make you feel comfortable and welcome – something us first (and possibly last) timers were grateful for as it can be a daunting experience to step foot into a VIP world. A young man named Arnold saw to our table for much of the night and I can’t speak highly enough of his attentiveness and service.
The Tunnel Club is a different world from what most of us are used to and I never expected to step foot into it. If the opportunity to experience it ever presents itself, even once, don’t let it pass. It may not be the ‘real’ footballing experience, but we get that every week, don’t we? This is a novelty, an experience. Thanks again to Sure for giving us this opportunity to experience Manchester City’s Tunnel Club.