Flourishing the fan fare
Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it's more serious than that." So said Bill Shankly, former manager of Liverpool FC. A little extreme maybe, but millions of fans would probably agree.
Today football is enjoying increased prosperity, largely as a result of income from television. The effect can be seen in newly spruced up stadia like Liverpool's Anfield stadium, Manchester United's at Old Trafford and at Elland Road, Leeds United's ground, all of which now offer tours of their facilities and, where appropriate, the club museum. Alas, the absence of the latter puts Leeds United out of the reckoning. True, the stadium is sizeable and the staff helpful but any club that keeps its trophies in a broom cupboard can't really expect to compete successfully.
The club tours have broadly similar itineraries: a look at VIP areas - the press conference room, the players' lounge, the dressing room - then out through the players' tunnel into the stadium itself and, finally, the club museum.
The tours are a fan's heaven, obviously, but students of sport and the media, sports science and travel and tourism will also find them interesting and relevant. As for younger children (and, to be honest, not a few adults), their faces tell all: to follow in the footsteps of such heroes as Jamie, Giggsy, Robbie and Becks is for dreams to come true.
And nowhere more so than at "The Theatre of Dreams", as Old Trafford recently styled itself. "Has Posh Spice really been in here?" asks one wide-eyed teenage girl in the players' dining room. Over in the dressing room, visitors gaze at David Beckham's strip with an almost religious intensity.
Snippets of information are received with appreciative nods. We learn that their lightness make Jaffa Cakes the players' prescribed half-time biccy and that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson forbids any talk of the game just played when his team joins the opposition for a drink.
It's all good fan fare, served up again at Anfield where the guide spiels off info on players' diets, health and hygiene practices and their idiosyncrasies and superstitions. Things being a bit more relaxed here, youngsters are encouraged to jump into the empty communal bath and pretend to celebrate having just tanked the opposition.
Good as it is, fantasy bathtime doesn't compare with trotting down the steps to the players' tunnel and, like the lads themselves, giving the famous "This is Anfield" sign a slap for good luck on the way.
No such talismanic touches at Old Trafford but what a stadium! If Anfield is impressive, Old Trafford is magnificent. Visitors gasp when they see it.
Represented by the massive, gleaming cup, the triumph of winning the European Champions' Trophy last season is at the heart of the club museum. Off to one side, though, is a memorial to the Munich air crash of 1958 which killed or injured many of a gifted team.
The verve with which the club recovered from this appalling blow is celebrated almost everywhere else; the deeds of such as Best, Law, Charlton, Robson and Cantona are recalled with relish. If the thought hasn't occurred elsewhere, it does here: Manchester United is not so much a football club as an institution.
But if United capture the imagination, Liverpool have collared the cups, most notably four European Champions' Trophies, dispalyed in replica form. Beat that, they seem to be saying to their Lancashire neighbours.
As for the rest, it's much the same as United's tour - signed players' kit, mementoes, videoclips - but with activities, such as a penalty kick contest, that bring a sense of fun that United's museum lacks.
Near the main entrance to the stadium, a statue of Bill Shankly is inscribed: "He made the people happy." Everton fans would think otherwise, but visitors to the Anfield museum get the drift.
Leeds United Football Club, Elland Road, Leeds LS11 0ES. Pupilsstudents pound;2. Teachers free. Tel: 0113 2266223 Liverpool Football Club, Anfield Road, Liverpool L4 0TH. Under 16s pound;3, over 16s pound;5. Teachers free. Tel: 0151 2606677 Manchester United, Sir Matt Busby Way, Old Trafford, Manchester M16 0RA. Students and pupils pound;2. Teachers free. Tel: 0161 8688637 All will arrange pre-visit tours