It's 1.15pm and Drayton Park is empty. Eerily so. Arsenal are playing Liverpool in their first Premier League home game of the new season. An hour ago, this bloated and bendy North London thoroughfare looked very different. Throngs of ruddy-faced, excitable, Mars Bar-dizzy lads with their dads, wearing red scarves and Gunners shirts, marched up from the nearby Tube stations just like in Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby's brilliant love letter to Arsenal. Hornby still lives not too far from here and for several years I did too. I wasn't ever close enough to hear those ethereal roars when Arsenal scored, but I remember the matchday station closures, the parking restrictions and the smoky buses backed up along a clogged Holloway Road.
So why would you want to live near a football stadium? For easy access to pies and programmes? "I love the matchday food stalls and the atmosphere," says Yolanda Copes-Stepney, 30. "I rent in Highbury Square, the old Arsenal ground and want to buy a flat here. It's a beautiful area. Fans disperse quickly after matches and it's a nice crowd."
Shopping, pubs and transport are always better than average near grounds. And new research published by the Halifax last month shows that there could be sound coin-jangling reasons for buying nearby too. Based on data from the Land Registry, the lender has noted house price rises above the national average for 10 years in areas sharing a postcode with a Premier League stadium. Prices of properties near Emirates Stadium have gone up 102 per cent in that period, to an average of £539,653.
In Arsenal's case, a spanking new ground was built in 2006 a couple of streets from their previous home. "I actually live on Highbury Hill myself and, since the Emirates was built, it's changed our street, because there's less people on matchdays.
"They go up towards Drayton Park now," says Charlie Keegan from Alwyne Estates of nearby Highbury & Islington. "Conversions of the old Arsenal ground had a positive effect on the market in N5," continues Keegan. "A three-bed penthouse in the old Highbury sold for £980,000 recently – so you can see the effect that would have on properties surrounding it. A five-bed Victorian terrace with a 100ft garden, which would have gone for £800,000, now goes for over £1m."
If you're a devout fan, living near a stadium can be nirvana. "Many of the people that live near Chelsea and go to matches love the fact that they can walk across the road and be at the ground. You can be home by 10 past five on a Saturday," says Mark O'Neill from Knight Frank in Fulham. "If you talk to most people who live near the Chelsea and Fulham grounds, they will say that they don't even think about it any more." His colleague James Pace at Knight Frank Chelsea points out you could get a bargain: "Properties really close to the ground may be slightly cheaper and for the sake of having to put up with the football roughly every two weeks."
Average prices near to the posher Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge grounds rose 116 per cent to £767,553. But the biggest rise pointed out by the Halifax was in the more prosaic vicinity of the Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City, where prices rose 350 per cent over 10 years – to an average of £91,703. What's worth remembering in this case is that prices (of pies and houses) around the Etihad were very low to start with.
"That average price increase of 350 per cent is not a true reflection of the whole market for that area – the majority of the area prior to its regeneration was ex-local authority," says John Hopkins, senior manager at Bridgfords in Manchester. "Most of these houses would have been bought at a vastly reduced value.
"Included in the regeneration were new-build developments and pockets of new-build flats which were sold off at a much higher sales value compared to existing properties. This would show a huge increase on the average value for this given area."
Perhaps there's another red herring in the research, too. Is it the proximity to the stadium that's pushing up prices or is it the resultant spattering of new shops and bars?
"Good question" says O'Neill. "My instinct is to say regeneration." Hopkins adds: "The regeneration of the whole area plays a major part, not just the ground itself – in the case of east Manchester, there was the introduction of the Metrolink, much improved transport links, a supermarket, along with all the council regeneration money.
"Building a new stadium also gives an area a feel-good factor."
Suren Thiru, housing economist at the Halifax, says: "House price growth is more likely to have been driven by regeneration and good transport links associated with having a football ground, rather than the desirability of simply being near the stadium itself."
The Halifax claims Sunderland showed the third biggest rise, with average prices in areas sharing the ground's SR5 postcode up 159 per cent to £97,820. But not everyone is convinced that football is the sole reason. "We have no evidence to suggest that house prices in Southwick and Monkwearmouth increased after the Stadium Of Light was built," says David Brennan, at Pattinson in Sunderland. "The stadium was built over 10 years ago and house prices in the surrounding area, like anywhere else, were very different at the time.
"Even the slightest increase or decrease in average sold prices would have been outweighed by fluctuations in the housing market.
"In general, Southwick and much of Monkwearmouth tend to offer property at the lower end of the market. The last property we sold in the immediate vicinity of the ground completed in January for £37,500."
But something's changed in football too. The prawn sandwich brigade have won the day and the middle classes aren't scared to live near grounds. Looking up at the neatly glass-wrapped Emirates from down on Ashburton Grove, I think about all the private boxes and hospitality suites inside. "There's no doubt that the image of football has changed," says Mark O'Neill."Fifteen years ago if you were selling a house in, say, Moore Park Road – by Stamford Bridge – most reservations would have been about the ground. Now people don't even mention it. It's no longer a blight."
THE ETIHAD STADIUM
The Waterfront, Openshaw, Manchester, £65,000
(Bridgfords; 01614 527 513)
A one-bedroom flat a stone's throw from the Etihad Stadium, this is in a new-build block which is clad smartly in wood with metal balconies. City fans will be near enough for home games, but all sports nuts will love the nearby Sport City facilities – the National Squash Centre, velodrome and new BMX centre.
THE STADIUM OF LIGHT
Byron Street, Southwick, Sunderland
Starting bid: £39,950
(Pattinson; 0800 24 24 26)
Pattinson have this property up for auction, which is a couple of streets away from the Stadium Of Light, in Sunderland's Southwick district. The two bedroom mid-terrace boasts double glazing and, of course, easy access for hardcore Mackems who can stroll to games in a few minutes.
Rumbold Road, Fulham £2,995,000
(Knight Frank; 020 7751 2400)
This big family home has had the Simon Cowell treatment – a basement, glass-panelled staircases and white-walled bathrooms that scream "Fulham-dweller done good". You might be able to hear the cheers from Stamford Bridge from the garden of this impressive place.
Ashburton Triangle, Islington, £295,000
(Chesterton Humberts; 020 7359 9777)
You can't get closer to The Emirates than this. A new block looks out towards the ground and is separated from it only by a wide pedestrian walkway which fills up with Gooners when Arsenal are playing at home. Trips to the Tesco Express might be tough on Saturdays.