West Ham United Stadium Tour

westham

On the 23rd december, I decided to book a holiday and take my son to West Ham. Some of you may wonder why it took me a month to write this blog post. Well I am pleased to say that the family got a little bigger in the new year and that I have not had a minute to myself. Not that I have some free time now but I have been a bit canny. Stuck my 2 year old in front of Bob the builder and gave my wife some food. job is good. and errr of course fed the new little one.

Ok, back to football matters. West Ham United, a club I have always liked. Not sure exactly why but I remember the day I use to watch West Ham vs. chelsea back in Britanny these were feisty encounters and I always loved those (Dennis Wise was entertainment). West Ham played good football and use to produce quality homegrown players like Nantes and this is probably why I had a soft spot for them. Now then, I have been to Upton Park, in fact this is the only ground in which I slept. i actually recall opening my french windows and being able to walk into the stand (quality). This is when, back then, I was in charge of promoting Everton Ladies FA Cup Final against Charlton. The Boleyn Stadium was class. Typical British stadium with its two towers and claret front gates (now in the megastore). However, like many Clubs now commercial revenue plays a key part and they had to move to a bigger stadium. By the way, for all the talk about the Olympic stadium, they got a great deal!

West Ham United Football Club

West Ham United Football Club is a professional football club based in Stratford, East London, England, that competes in the Premier League, England’s top tier of football. They played home games at the Boleyn Ground from 1904 until the end of the 2015–16 season when they moved to the London Stadium.

The club was founded in 1895 as Thames Ironworks and reformed in 1900 as West Ham United. The club has traditionally played in a claret and blue home strip with white shorts. West Ham competed in theSouthern League and Western League before joining the Football League in 1919; they were promoted to the top flight in 1923, when they also played in the first FA Cup Final at Wembley. In 1940, the club won the inaugural Football League War Cup.

West Ham have been winners of the FA Cup three times, in 1964, 1975, and 1980, and have also been runners-up twice, in 1923, and 2006. The club have reached two major European finals, winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 and finishing runners up in the same competition in 1976. West Ham also won the Intertoto Cup in 1999. They are one of eight clubs never to have fallen below the second tier of English football, spending 59 of 91 league seasons in the top flight, up to and including the 2016–17 season. The club’s highest league position to date came in 1985–86 when they achieved third place in the then First Division.

Three West Ham players were members of the 1966 World Cup final-winning England team: captain Bobby Moore and goalscorers Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. By the way, passing comment, the way West Ham and the FA treated Sir (in my eyes) Bobby Moore was a disgrace!

London Olympic Stadium history

London Stadium, (originally known as the Olympic Stadium), is a stadium in Stratford, Greater London, England, at Marshgate Lane in the Lower Lea Valley. It was constructed to serve as the home stadium for the2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, hosting the track and field events and opening and closing ceremonies. It was subsequently renovated as a multi-purpose stadium, with its primary tenants being West Ham United Football Club and British Athletics. The stadium is 6 12 miles (10.5 km) from Central London.

Land preparation for the stadium began in mid-2007, with the official construction start date on 22 May 2008, although piling works for the foundation began four weeks before. The stadium held its first public event in March 2012, serving as the finish line for a celebrity running event organised by the National Lottery. Following the Paralympics the stadium was used intermittently whilst under renovation, before re-opening in July 2016 with a capacity of 60,000. The decision to make West Ham United the main tenants was controversial, with the initial tenancy process having to be rerun.

As well as its regular tenants, the stadium will continue to be used for a series of special events. The stadium hosted several 2015 Rugby World Cup matches, one test match of a tri-series between England Rugby League and New Zealand Rugby League in November 2015, and will host both the 2017 IAAF World Championships in Athletics and the 2017 World ParaAthletics Championships, marking the first time both events have been held in the same location in the same year. It annually hosts the finish of the Great Newham London Run at the start of July. The stadium can also hold concerts with up to 80,000 spectators, and due to its oval shape and relocatable seating, it is suitable to host other sporting events such as Cricket or Baseball.

Olympic Design

On 13 October 2006, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games confirmed that it had selected Sir Robert McAlpine and Populous to start exclusive negotiations with, to fulfil the eventual design and build contract of the new Olympic Stadium after no other organisations met the bidding criteria.

The construction of the stadium commenced three months early in May 2008 after the bowl of the stadium had been dug out and the area cleared. The building of the stadium was completed in March 2011 reportedly on time and under budget, with the athletics track laid in October 2011.

Exploded view of the stadium’s layers

The stadium’s track and field arena is excavated out of the soft clay found on the site, around which is permanent seating for 25,000, built using concrete “rakers”. The natural slope of the land is incorporated into the design, with warm-up and changing areas dug into a semi-basement position at the lower end. Spectators enter the stadium via a podium level, which is level with the top of the permanent seating bowl. A demountable lightweight steel and pre-cast concrete upper tier is built up from this “bowl” to accommodate a further 55,000 spectators.

The Olympic Stadium interior

The stadium is made up of different tiers; during the Games the stadium was able to hold 80,000 spectators. The base tier, which allows for 25,000 seats, is a sunken elliptical bowl that is made up of low-carbon-dioxide concrete; this contains 40 percent less embodied carbon than conventional concrete.[19] The foundation of the base level is 5,000 piles reaching up to 20 metres (66 ft) deep. From there, there is a mixture of driven cast in situ piles, continuous flight auger piles, and vibro concrete columns. The second tier, which holds 55,000 seats, is 315 m (1,033 ft) long, 256 m (840 ft) wide, and 60 m (197 ft) high. The stadium contains just under a quarter of the steel as the Olympic Stadium in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, approximately 10,700 tonnes (11,800 short tons). In addition to the minimal use of steel, which makes it 75 percent lighter[clarification needed], the stadium also uses high-yield large diameter pipes which were surplus on completion of North Sea Gas pipeline projects in its compression truss, recycled granite, and many of the building products were transported using trains and barges rather than by lorry.

The Olympic Stadium during the 2012 Summer Olympics

A wrap, funded by Dow Chemical Company in return for being able to advertise on the wrap until 26 June 2012, covered the exterior during the Olympics. The wrap was made from polyester and polyethylene, and printed using UV curable inks. The wrap was made of pieces of material that covered 20 metres (66 ft) high and 900 metres (1,000 yd) in length. The final design for the wrap consisted of 2.5-metre-wide (8 ft) fabric panels, twisted at 90-degree angles to allow entry to the stadium at the bottom of the structure, and held in place with tensioned cables.

To allow for fast on-site assembly, compression truss and roof column connections were bolted; this enabled easy disassembling of the roof structure after the closing ceremonies. The cable-supported roof structure covers approximately two-thirds of the stadium’s seating. Reaching 70 metres (230 ft) above the field of play, the stadium roof held 14 lighting towers, or paddles, that collectively contained a total of 532 individual 2 kW floodlight lamps. The lights were first officially switched on in December 2010 by Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson. During the games, the towers were fitted with additional ceremony lighting, and 4 of the 14 towers held large temporary video screens.

Stadium interior

Lighting paddle which was connected to every seat (left) and what it can create (right).

The stadium was equipped with a nine lane Mondo 400 metres (1,300 feet) athletics track. The turf in the stadium was grown in Scunthorpe and was a mix of perennial ryegrass, smooth stalk meadow grass and fescue grass seeds. It took 360 rolls of grass to cover the infield and was laid in March 2011.[30] The track was designed by Italian company Mondo, and was their latest version of the Mondotrack FTX.

The stadium’s 80,000 seats had a black and white ‘fragment’ theme that matched the overall branding design used by LOCOG for London 2012. The lines all centred on the finish line in the stadium. The seats were made in Luton and were fitted between May and December 2010. During the Games, the Stadium’s grandstands contained a lighting system developed by Tait Technologies that allowed them to function as a giant video screen. Individual “paddles” containing nine LED pixels each were installed between each seat of the stadium, which were controlled via a central system to display video content wrapped around the stadium. The system was primarily intended for use during the ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics – over 70 minutes of animated content were used during the Olympics’ opening ceremony.

West Ham tenancy

Following the granting, in March 2013, of a 99-year tenancy to West Ham United, the E20 LLP, a joint organisation by the London Legacy Development Corporation and Newham Council were specifically set-up to oversee redevelopment of the stadium into a UEFA Category 4 venue seating 60,000 spectators. The reconfiguration saw work on a new roof, corporate areas, toilets, concessions and retractable seating. West Ham contributed £15 million and Newham Council £40 million for the work to be carried out with the LLDC and the British Government making up the rest. Approval was granted for the installation of retractable seating on all sides of the stadium and an 84 metres (92 yd) transparent roof. The black and white seating design from the Olympics, was replaced with a white, blue and claret design. The new design includes West Ham’s name on the East Kop Stand and symbolic crossed hammers on all lower tier stands, and the retention of the 2012 shard design on the upper tier, albeit in new colouring to match the Stadium’s anchor tenant. Work continued through 2016 to transform the stadium into a home for West Ham, with the club’s colours and giant model West Ham shirts added to the stadium concourse

The stadium Tour

 

So, here we are on a cold winter morning hopping on our first train to Waterloo. The we jumped onto the City Line to Bank and then the Central Line to Stratford. As you exit the tube station, make an immediate right turn towards the bridge and start trudging along. After 15min you arrive at the London Olympic Park (swimming pool on your right). My first impression is how nice the whole setup is. Fantastic for sports fanatics. The stadium is very nice too and you recognise straight away the iconic red metallic torch. Nice design, although nothing like a British football stadium, but a lot more like an italian stadium. We make our way to the megastore, and we can see the West Ham anthem “blowing bubbles” lyrics placarded all around the stadium. Once in the megastore, I collect my tickets and make way to gate E.

I am greeted by the security personnel and once bags are checked, we were given our audio equipment. It is another self guided tour (start becoming more and more popular – volume versus quality simple economic rhetorics!). We make our way through the escalators to the luxury VIP area. Once arrived, my son could not hold a number 2 and therefore I had to ask kindly the security guy to show me the VIP toilets. Just to realise that I had not taken a spare nappy (rookie mistake, for the rest of the tour I was praying for no accidents to occur). Once the job done, we got to talk with the security guy. I explained to him what we do (our Grand Tour, maybe should sell my story to Amazon) and got into a conversation (i.e. do you like self guided tours). He agrees with me that nothing replaces a good guide and some of the unique stories. It turned out that he was a former guide at Wembley, so I got many stories out of him. He explained how the seats retract themselves to make way to the running track and how urban climbers sneaked into West Ham’s London Stadium climbed to the roof, invaded pitch and sat in the dugout (watch video but do not attempt).

30min later (not exaggerating, there is no one on a 23rd December, and the man was quality to listen to), we were back on the trail. We made our way to the dressing room. Wow, pure luxury! I mean they must spend as much time in the jacuzzi than on the pitch. It is state of the art. No wonder why Spurs wanted the stadium! We took the usual pictures, and again most players are together based on their language.

We then made our way for what we thought was the tunnel. We were in for a surprise. In fact we got taken to an indoor running track facility, where the likes of Bolt warmed up during the Olympics. it did not take long for my son to start going up and down and the fantastic staff to cheer him on. Great experience and the little  on got to stretch his legs and have a lot of fun (just to put his 2 year old leg in the starting blocks were hilarious). At the end we had to do the podium with the medals and of course only a matter of £10 the picture 🙂

Thereafter, you got taken to the interview rooms, 7 in total and finally through the tunnel. The stadium is amazing and I can only imagine how nice it must be to get out on a saturday afternoon under the “we are blowing bubbles”chorus. We took the usual pictures in the home dug out and made our way out of the stadium.

As a stadium tour I thought it was really good, the running track is definitely a plus. It is well organised, great access for kids or disable and if you like self guided tours you will like this one. Staff is very friendly and helpful. The stadium architecture is nice although not what I would class as a football stadium but one that has got a lot of history in such a short space of time (I mean the Queen did land jumping from the plane). However, no football history yet so this is why an average score below.

Official information regarding the stadium tour:
https://www.whufc.com/new-stadium/tours

Cost: £17 adult
Stadium architecture: 7/10
Stadium history: 5/10
Stadium Tour: 8/10
Overall mark: 7/10

Benoit Mercier

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Google begins mobile-first indexing, using mobile content for all search rankings

Google has begun testing its mobile-first index, which will primarily look at the mobile version of your website for its ranking signals and fall back on the desktop version when there is no mobile version.

Businesses that have made the move to have their platform responsive will be delighted to read the below. If you haven’t then you need to ask yourself whether you should 1) go responsive or 2) recruit more people to ensure that all your content is available on your mobile site.

Most of Google searches are mobile, but Google’s index is desktop

Google explained that it sees more mobile searches than desktop searches on a daily basis. But when Google looks to evaluate a page’s ranking in Google, it currently looks at the desktop version of the site — an issue we pointed out over a year ago. To fix this, Google will look at the content, links and structured data of the mobile version of your site if one is available.

Google wrote:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

With this change, Google will primarily index mobile content and use that to decide how to rank its results, regardless of whether you’re on desktop or mobile. There will no longer be any type of “mobile-friendly” adjustment done just for mobile users. Effectively, if you’re not mobile-friendly, that will have an impact even on how you appear for desktop searchers

Google is testing this but hopes to roll it out to all

Google said it has started this experiment and will “continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale.” Google will “ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience.”

No mobile site? Don’t worry

Those who do not have a mobile version of their website do not need to worry. Google will just use the desktop version to rank the site. Google wrote, “[I]f you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.” This also means that if you have a responsive site, one that dynamically changes content depending on desktop or mobile device, there’s nothing special you need to do.

Of course, if you do not have a mobile site, you won’t benefit from the mobile-friendly ranking boost. But that is separate from this mobile index news.

How can you prepare?

Here are some recommendations Google is giving webmasters to prepare for the change:

  • If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
  • If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
      • Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version. Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing the output.
      • When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.
      • Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
      • Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.
  • If you are a site owner who has only verified your desktop site in Search Console, please add and verify your mobile version.

Good luck

Benoit Mercier

What to make of Black Friday?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s U.K. Asda Supermarket Entices Shoppers With Black Friday Deals

UK shoppers have rushed to buy Black Friday bargains, as retailers and payment firms report strong sales activity for the annual discount event. Barclaycard said it had seen a record number of transactions on Friday, while Argos, John Lewis and Currys PC World reported a surge in orders. Online retailers said initial figures indicated Black Friday, now into its third year, had topped expectations. We witnessed some crazy scenes in the past like at this ASDA (one step too far but across the pond it is even worse). But the question at Boardroom level is whether this is good for business. Here is my perspective in a debate that will go on for some years to come.

What is Black Friday?

Not sure how many people do know where it stems from. When my CEO asked me what it was called in France “Vendredi noir” I preferred to answer that all Fridays are black in France due to the amount of strikes happening at this time of year.

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1932, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S., and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock

What are people looking for during Black Friday and potential psychological impact?

products

According to Retail Week, most consumers will be looking for electricals, as well as, clothing bargains. IMRG predicted that over £1.27bn would be spent.

Andy Webb, of the Money Advice Service, said: “A third of people felt pressure to spend more than they could afford during the whole of Christmas. That leads into debt.”

For some, this can have a serious impact on their wellbeing.

“Short-term discounts encourage consumers to purchase immediately, rather than reflecting on whether you really need to buy a product and if you can afford it,” said Katie Evans, head of research and policy at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.

“This can be particularly difficult for people experiencing mental health problems, who sometimes find it harder to resist impulses and might find that shopping makes them feel better, at least for a short while.”

The institute is calling for new rules to allow people to opt out of email marketing or to set a daily spending limit in online shops.

Is Black friday driving profits?

This is the question that has been going on for the last three years at Boardroom level.

Reasons to hate it:

Paul Martin, KPMG’s UK Head of Retail, said: “For retailers, it has always been questionable whether Black Friday really benefits them in the long-run, and in the current environment of rising costs and squeezed margins – perhaps it’s even more so.” I would agree that this is like taking drugs (analogy of course). Give your customers a shot to make them fill good but it has no lasting impact. Last night watching BBC news I saw Peter Ruis’s (CEO Jigsaw) interview, whereby he declared themselves Black Friday refuseniks. His main argument is “In fashion, over 50% to 60% of Black Friday purchases are returned. It stays in the supply chain two or three weeks, churns around and everyone’s lost the chance to sell it, and it just goes straight into the sale at 50% to 60% off. It is a double whammy: loss of profit, loss of margin, and that product just sitting around in supply chains”. Hard to argue against, right? Well not so sure, that is my opinion.

  • Loss of profit and margins? It is all about volumes. Retailers have to work out their equilibrium point. If you manage to drive your revenue by having greater output at a bigger pace than you increase costs (which must include your returns costs). However, I do agree that you have a loss of margins, unless you buy products specifically for the occasion.
    Profit-max-proof.png
  • Products just sitting in the supply chain. For me this is down to forecasting and being confident in your supply chain management. Very easy to write but damn complex to run.
  • Negative brand impact. Discounting is never a happy recipe for brand reputations. it devalues your products. For an established brand, discounting can have an adverse affect on value. Quality and price do not exist as isolated concepts in consumers’ minds. They are interrelated. Research has shown that deep discounts do cause the consumer to believe that something is wrong. Frequent discounting serves to lower the value of the brand because of an almost subconscious reaction by the consumer who believes that quality also has been lowered. Or, in a “value rebound,” consumers begin to perceive the everyday price as too high. The brand is then bought only on deal.

Reasons to do it:

  • Market share/share of wallet: Like any business person my aim is to increase volumes and drive costs down but the reality in a competitive environment is that it is very difficult to do either, especially if you have access to little innovation. Therefore, an event like Black friday is an opportunity worth recognising. It is even harder nowadays when you are not just competing against other high street players but arguably the all world (thank you ecommerce). I find it very difficult to argue against being part of black Friday. Not because I like it, but because if you don’t you become isolated and one or many of your competitors will jump in the space.

Conclusion

My question to businesses who don’t take part in Black Friday is whether they feel that their customers brand loyalty is that high that there is little risk of losing them to competitors (you must have high confidence in your product offering, pricing structure and channel distribution). If the answer is low risk then continue to sit outside but if the answer is high then I am afraid that as you read this post you will already be against it.

Now if you are a football club (low risk of switching allegiance), I would understand but even the likes of Apple answered no to this question and took part yesterday. We are talking of a premium brand with high loyalty customers.

The reality is that core customers only account for a small percentage of your database and, although the most precious segment (profit wise), how much additional incremental growth can you drive from them? Acquisition must be high on your agenda and you must invest and fight for it to grow your active database. Also recognise the channels dynamics. Your competitors are not based in a 40 miles radius, they are all over the world and are called Amazon, Zalando, etc.

Finally, you can’t ignore the macro economic factors. Inflation is kicking in and next year all imports will become more expensive. The pound is weakening and businesses have not hedged for the next 5 years.Therefore, as costs go up, businesses will be under pressure to increase prices, which will suppress demand (simple supply/demand economic model). Consumers are not ignorant to this fact and events like Black Friday can only grow in my opinion as people will be hunting for bargains.

Looking forwards to your opinions 🙂

Benoit Mercier

Real Madrid Stadium Tour

image.jpeg

Well after a well deserved summer break, it is time to start again our journey to visiting as many football stadiums as possible. This time our journey takes us to Real Madrid, #1 football club in the world. Why Real Madrid some of you may ask. Simple, I am on a well deserved holiday in Malaga, South Spain, and agreed with my wife to do the 500km journey to Madrid to visit the famous Santiago Bernabeu. She is a Saint or can’t be bothered talking memoit of it.

Real Madrid

Founded in 1902 as Madrid Football Club, the team has traditionally worn a white home kit since inception. The word Real is Spanish for Royal and was bestowed to the club by King Alfonso XIII in 1920 together with the royal crown in the emblem. The team has played its home matches in the 85,454-capacity Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in downtown Madrid since 1947. Unlike most European sporting entities, Real Madrid’s members (socios) have owned and operated the club throughout its history.

In domestic football, the club has won a record 32 La Liga titles, 19 Copa del Rey, nine Supercopa de España, a Copa Eva Duarte, and a Copa de la Liga.[14] In international football, the club has won a record 11 European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles, a joint record three Intercontinental Cups, two UEFA Cups, three UEFA Super Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup.

Santiago Bernabeu stadium

The Santiago Bernabeu stadium is located in the district of Chamartín of Madrid. It occupies the block bounded by the Paseo de la Castellana and the streets of Concha Espina, Padre Damián, and Rafael Salgado. Nearest subway station is Santiago Bernabéu on the Line 10.

On 22 June 1944, the Banco Mercantil e Industrial bank granted a credit to Santiago Bernabéu and Rafael Salgado for the purchase of the land adjacent to the old Ramin Amin. On 5 September 1944, architects Manuel Muñoz Monasterio and Luis Alemany Soler were hired and the structure on the site began to give way to the new stadium. On 27 October 1944, construction work on the stadium began.

The Nuevo Estadio Chamartín (English: New Chamartín Stadium) was inaugurated on 14 December 1947 with a match between Real Madrid and the Portuguese side Os Belenenses, which resulted in a 3–1 victory for Los Blancos.[3] The stadium had an initial capacity of 75,145 spectators, 27,645 of which had seats (7,125 covered) and 47,500 for standing fans. Sabino Barinaga was the first player to score in the new stadium.

The first major renovation occurred in 1955. On 19 June of that year, the stadium expanded to accommodate 125,000 spectators. Thus, the Madrid coliseum became the biggest stadium of all the participants of the newly established European Cup.

On 4 January 1955, after the General Assembly of Members Compromisaros, it was decided that the stadium adopt its present name in honour of club President Santiago Bernabéu.

In May 1957, Real Madrid used electric stadium lighting in a game against Sport Recife of Brazil.

Following a series of spectator fatalities in the 1980’s (most notably the Heysel Stadium in Belgium and the Hillsborough Stadium in England), English authorities released the Taylor Report on how to improve football spectator safety in English venues. UEFA followed suit across Europe. The stadium was forced to create separate shortcuts to different stadium sections and seats for all spectators. In the 1990s, the Santiago Bernabéu went through a large expansion and remodeling. The board of Ramón Mendoza awarded the project to Gines Navarro Construcciones, S.A.

As a club representing the rich and the powerful of Spain, Real Madrid has a very demanding clientele.[4] When Florentino Pérez became the president of the club, he launched a “master plan” with one goal: to improve the comfort of the Santiago Bernabéu and the quality of its facilities, and maximise revenue for the stadium.

Pérez invested €127 million in five years (2001–2006) by adding an expansion to the east side of the stadium, as well adding a new façade on Father Damien street, new costumes, new boxes and VIP areas, a new stage in honour of the east side, a new press area (also located on the east side), a new audio system, new bars, integration of heating in the stands, panoramic lifts, new restaurants, escalators in the tower access, and implementation of the multipurpose building in Father Damien street.

The stadium Tour

Well on a sunny Tuesday morning off we went and got the metro, line 10, that took us directly to Santiago Bernabeu. I must say that I was unsure how my son would behave as he is in the middle of his terrible twos. As you arrive in front of the Bernabeu, you must make your way towards gate 7, tower B, which is on the left handside when facing the stadium. There you can buy your tickets. You should know that the basic stadium tour is self guided. In this respect, it is very much the same concept than Arsenal. However, you can get a guide, but it will cost you an extortionate 170 € to do so.

Once this is done you go to tower C and go through two checks of airport style security. This time I did not take the pram but you can do so. However, if there are some lifts, it is not completely pram friendly so be prepared to do some lifting.

We got to the top of the stadium and there we had an amazing view. If from the outside it looks old and kind of ugly (looks like a block of concrete), inside it is an ansolute gem. Quite similar to Old Trafford. Unlike many European stadiums, you are quite close to the pitch and you have a good view right at the top. Time to take few pictures and we make our way towards the museum. You have some amazing pieces of history and shed lots of videos on huge screens (10m long!), I want the same at home :). You get to see all 10 Champions League trophies. Wait a minute have they not won there 11th “La Undecima” this year against local rivals Athletico Madrid? Of course but they keep it for the end where you get to take a picture with it for 11 € small format or double for big format. I must say that it is a must to have your pocture taken with the “Big Ears” cup for any football fan. I can now say that I got to touch the original Champions League Cup (also great money maker).

You then get to mid tier level and it is the first time you can access the stands. At that point the sun is shinning nicely and you can enjoy a panoramic view (see picture at the top). You also can eat a bite and drink in the concourse, which is always handy to keep a 2 years old happy. The pitch is immacualte and younhave those UV lights on where there is no sun. Unfortunately, no guide to tell me how much it cost but can only be in the range of £1m to £5m.

You then make your way to pitch level. I must say that it is impressive. You feel really close to the pitch. I can imagine how much pressure the players are under when the crowd is turning on them. Having played at Old Trafford, I should add Santiago Bernabeu to my bucket list. We make our way to the bench. Well you call it bench, I call it 5 stars luxury seats. The issue of having a self guided tour is that there is no regulation of the flow of people and therefore you have a real bottle neck in key areas, such as pitch side. However, I managed to get my son squeezed in one of the seats and take a picture. I told him not to get too comfy as his place should be on the pitch.

We did not stay too long there for obvious reasons and made our way down the small tunnel that the players take (10 steps down from the pitch). Same principle than Anfield for those who have been there. We make our way up to the home dressing room (alongside the metal fence that seperates the home and visitors players in the tunnel that again you can see on tv). Shame there is no guide as I would have loved to know why they decided to put such a fence (what event caused that to happen – a feisty el clasico?).

The home dressing room is of average size. Now some of you will be highly interestednin knowing where the best player on the planet seats. Here you go:

image

Each locker is personalised. It is quite a confined area with two indoor bicycles, showers, pool, and 1 toilet (can’t be having more than one player with a stomach bug, unless you do like Robbie Savage and use the ref’s one).

The final part of the tour is the press room. Way bigger than Villa but much smaller than Man City. There you can take your picture and the desks are basic wooden tables (they did retain a bit of the working class football essence!).

As any good stadium tour you finish it in the megastore and of course you buy your champions league picture (how can you not!)

This concluded an excellent day out and one I would strongly recommend to do.

Official information regarding the stadium tour:

http://www.realmadrid.com/en/tickets/bernabeu-tour

Cost: 20 € adult
Stadium architecture: 10/10
Stadium history: 10/10
Stadium Tour: 6/10 (at least with Arsenal you had headphones explaining some history)
Overall mark: 9/10

Benoit Mercier

Dedham in Essex

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Well in our UK tour, we decided to go to Essex and visit some family. As the weather was stunning, we decided to go to Dedham about 20min from Colchester. Dedham is a village within the borough of Colchester in northeast Essex, England, on the River Stour and the border of Essex and Suffolk. The nearest town to Dedham is the small market town of Manningtree.

Dedham is famous for being the village of John Constable. Dedham is at the heart of ‘Constable Country’ – the area of England where Constable lived and painted. Constable attended the town’s Grammar School (now the ‘Old Grammar School’ and ‘Well House’), and he would walk to school each morning alongside the River Stour from his family’s home in East Bergholt. Many of Constable’s paintings feature Dedham, including Dedham Mill, which his father owned, and Dedham Parish Church, whose massive Caen stone and flint tower is a focal point of the surrounding Dedham Vale.

Upom emtering the village, follow the car park sign. There are plenty of spaces but not suprisingly they do fill quite quickly. Aim to get there for 11am.

Then make your way to the right (opposite direction to the village) and pass the reconverted mill and on the right you will see a pub restaurant. There you can hire a boat for the hour to go along the river Stour. On a sunny day it is amazing. Once completed you can have a picnic and an ice cream by the river and do the couple of miles to the Constable house (very pretty)

The village itself is beautiful and a cream tea is waiting for you in front of the Church. A great family day

Benoit Mercier

 

World of football gone mad

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I have read this morning that United was ready to pay £125m to secure Pogba’s services for the next 5 years, of which 20% will go directly in the player’s pocket. Have they gone mad? I love football but these sums are disrespectful to the fans. The average fan earns about £20k to £25k. Pays £40 on average for a ticket, which makes a working class sport more expensive than attending a play at the theatre. These huge sums of cash that the Clubs have, could easily cut the ticket prices to £5. The economics makes sense but one day I hope those at the top of the hierarchy, they will wake up and impose a transfer cap as well as basic salary cap, which would also help on the competitiveness of the league, stop buying foreign players and promote home nurtured players. People fell back in love with football last year when Leicester won it. Why? Not just because of their football but because they did so on the cheap (more realistic amount in my eyes anyway). Ranieri said few days ago that the big Clubs would kill them! Well force is to admit that he is right. And what an example does it set to these young lads. Drop out of school and play footie you could earn millions rather than study hard to secure a decent job that will never pay that much. These football players don’t deserve it but nor can they be hold accountable. If I was in Pogba’s shoes I would do the same. We always come back to the same point, people at the top need to regulate the sport and market. Utopia, this is where I wake up and look at the sums involved and all the corruption involved (disgusted just thinking about it). As a United fan I should rejoyce at the fact that a world class player is about to join us but the reality is, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The cynics would say that I would have to stop paying my Skysports and BT sports subscriptions and stop paying to go to the grounds. But why should I, when all I want to do is watch a good game of football. Instead I will go and play with my son in my local park at least it will feel like a real world to me.

Benoit Mercier

Most beautiful villages, towns and cities in England

From chocolate box rural hamlets to stunning coastal communities, Britain is home to some of the most charming villages in the world. You never know your own backyard until you leave. I have decided to visit with my family some of the most beautiful villages in England. I have been fortunate to live in the most pretty county in England for 15 years, Yorkshire, but what else has England to offer? Well the response is simple. A lot. I want to make the most of the British Summer and visit as many places as possible. So look out for my new section “England Must See Places”

Castle Combe

Often referred to as ‘the prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe in the Wiltshire Cotswolds is a picturesque little community nestled on the edge of the Bybrook River. Its small pretty streets are lined with quintessential Cotswolds stone wall cottages and its quaint beauty has attracted the attention of the silver screen – the village starred in both the 2007 fantasy film Stardust and Steven Spielberg’s Oscar nominated War Horse. Formerly an important wool industry hub, Castle Combfe’s history is still evident in its riverside cottages bearing names like ‘Weaver’s House’ and visitors can see one of the country’s loldest, medieval clocks still in use at St Andrew’s Church. It is a special place to me having lived in Chippenham with my parents and often came for a stroll on Sundays. The car park is at the top of the village about 5min walk.

Lacock

Another amazing village in Wiltshire that I am fond of. Afterall my first crush was on a girl from Lacock, what is it not to lile 🙂 Lacock village is a firm favourite for film and TV producers, most notably for its picturesque streets and historic cottages, untouched by modern alterations. The village’s most famous appearances include ‘Downton Abbey’, the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Cranford’, and the films ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘Wolfman’. There’s lots to discover in Lacock village; quaint cottages, the old workhouse, the medieval tithe barn, the old lock-up and the village church

Bibury

2 weeks ago my wife told memthat she had come across what looked like an amazing village in the Cotswolds. Well once we arrived there in a basking sunshine, the view was stunning. Bibury is a village and civil parish in Gloucestershire, England. It is on both banks of the River Coln which rises in the same (Cotswold) District and which is a Thames tributary. The village is centred 6.5 miles (10.5 km) northeast of Cirencester. Arlington Row here is a nationally notable architectural conservation area depicted on the inside cover of all United Kingdom passports. It is a main tourist destination for tourist visiting the traditional rural villages, tea houses and many ornate protected buildings of the Cotswold District, accordingly it is one of six places in the country featured in Mini-Europe, Brussels. You can park by the Church and make your way up to the village along the stream. You will see a little bridge, cross it and you will get to the famous hilly street. Then continue straight and you get to the farm where you can have a picnic and feed the trouts. It cost about £8 per adult. Worth it you can even have a bbq and cook what you fish. Once you are done do stop by the church.

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Canterbury

I had heard a lot about the city from my parents but could not remember it. So knowing that another beautiful sunday was ahead of us, we decided to pack our bags and head straight to Canterbury. It took us just under 1h30 to drive to Kent bit again what a worthwhile journey. The City is small and beautiful. From the Cathedral to Christ’s college (by the way £32k tuition fee per year!) Canterbury has many places to showcase. Our favourite one was to go punting. Cost us £20 bit our little one loved it. If you are in the City do take the time.

Fordwich

After visiting Canterbury, keep a bit of time to travel few miles to a tiny village called Fordwich. It is a very small town and a civil parish in east Kent, England, on the River Stour, northeast of Canterbury. It is the smallest community by population in Britain with a town council. Its population increased by 30 between 2001 and 2011. Although many miles inland, it was the main port for Canterbury, which traded directly with London and Channel ports and indirectly with the near Continent, before the Wantsum Channel silted up making the Isle of Thanet part of mainland England. You can park by the pub next to the church. Its red bricks make the whole village incredibly beautiful and should be on your list to do on a beautiful summer day.

Benoit Mercier