When the footballer Lee Dixon moved from Stoke City to Arsenal in 1988, having signed for £350,000, his new club put him up in a hotel. He had just eight weeks to find a new home. He'd sold his house in the Midlands for £36,000 and bought a £175,000 three-bedroom house in Redbourn, Hertfordshire. He found the mortgage a struggle.
"Players wouldn't put up with that now," says Dixon. "And rightly so." The former Arsenal and England defender retired from football in 2002, and has been making his living as a TV pundit. But he also works as a house-hunting fixer for the Premiership's stars. With his business partner, the buying agent Oakhall Property Source, he finds hotels or rented accommodation for players, then arranges viewings and consults the WAGs, before ordering the removals van.
Six-figure weekly wages and foreign players coming to Britain have made property-hunting for Premiership footballers big business. Clubs want to make sure that their assets are happy. "A settled player will perform better on the pitch. To achieve that, it's vital to get his wife or girlfriend taking an equal part in the decision. We sit down with them to find out what they are looking for, do the donkey work, and then come up with a shortlist of, say, 15 properties to view on the same day.
"The most important thing is to guarantee anonymity. If word gets out that a top-flight footballer is moving into the area, estate agents will capitalise on it. We aim to remove the circus element and cut out the curtain-twitchers."
But famous neighbours do tend to stand out. England's skipper, John Terry, owns a £2.25m house in Surrey. He incurred the wrath of his neighbours when he held a PlayStation tournament for his Chelsea team-mates, who blocked the road with their Ferraris.
Whether having a star footballer as a neighbour appeals to the public or not, their presence will push up prices. Estate agents believe that this is good news. "People with a lot of money will inevitably inject cash into the local economy," says George Burnand of Strutt & Parker. "In places like Cobham, the fact that a footballer is living down the road increases the chances of vendors obtaining a higher price. In this area, we have seen rises of 10 to 20 per cent in the past year."
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's manager, helped to create the scene in Cobham and Esher when he told his players that they should live within 15 minutes' drive of the club's Surrey training ground.
Security, of course, is a big issue for star footballers. In May last year, Frank Lampard had his £100,000 Aston Martin, a Mercedes 4x4, a plasma TV and a computer stolen from the £8m three-storey London house he'd moved into weeks before. Peter Crouch's home in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, was broken into in September while he was in Turkey.
Dixon, who lives in north London, will take care of any security and hi-tech-toy requirements. But plasma screens aside, footballers' houses aren't always what you'd imagine. Some footballers still opt for a set of tasteless turrets in suburbia, but many are choosing something more stylish in city centres and old-money locations.
The influx of foreign players seems to have ushered in sophistication. In London, Hampstead, Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Chelsea are popular. And they like to be near airports - not only Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester, but airfields such as RAF Northolt and Farnborough, since many own private jets.
According to a Country Life survey, many footballers are now choosing period country houses in peaceful rural areas. The survey says that 20 properties costing more than £2m have gone to Premiership footballers in the past three years.
Dixon is providing more and more of these kind of properties. He is in negotiations with Chelsea and Arsenal to provide a property service for the clubs' new players. "We are trying to streamline the process by linking up with the club rather than with the player," he says. "That will take out even more of the hassle."
He deals with property investment, too, because the most players can contribute to their pensions annually is £215,000, and many have impressive nest-egg portfolios. Robbie Fowler, who's worth £28m, owns 100 properties.
Michael Owen is another case in point. He owns a home in Northumberland, two plots of land in Portugal and a property in Dubai. In his autobiography, he tells how, aged 18, he bought a house for his mum and dad, and another for his brother. All of these properties were located just round the corner from his own Grade II-listed £4m mansion. Owen has also bought third and fourth houses for his sister and another brother on the same street as his parents; and so on, until all the houses in the street belonged to the Owens.
If footballers continue to spend like this, Dixon's 2 per cent cut should help him earn as much as his clients do.
Oakhall Property Source, 020-7590 7790, www.oakhallpropertysource.com
Surrey's well-heeled towns such as Esher are home to Chelsea stars John Terry, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Arjen Robben and Wayne Bridge, who live in homes worth up to £3m.
Alderley Edge, Wilmslow, Prestbury, Worsley and Hale collectively form Gold Trafford, home to Manchester United stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand - prices have risen by 65 per cent since they moved in. Wayne Rooney bought a Thirties mansion in Prestbury, only to demolish it and build a neo-Georgian mansion with six en suite bedrooms, indoor pool, cinema and games room for £3.5m. Ryan Giggs knocked down his £1.9m Victorian house in Worsley to make way for a six-bedroom home with gym. The sundial is all that's left of the old property. Djibril Cissé owns a £2m mansion, which brought a title with it, so the Liverpool player is now Lord of the Manor of Frodsham.
Newcastle's Shay Given lords it over his green acres on an upmarket estate of tasteful, early 20th-century houses just a few miles from the city centre. Alan Shearer has a home there too, while Michael Owen's place is up the road at Belsay. (In his Newcastle days Lee Bowyer had a £1m property in Morpeth called Chaswell House, but it quickly earned the nickname Chavwell House.)
Thierry Henry lives in leafy north London. Other Gunners live nearby and are known to gather of a morning to sip lattes while discussing the merits of 4-3-3. Jürgen Klinsmann of Spurs first moved there in 1994, starting a breakaway movement from Mayfair, Belgravia and Chelsea.
Hertfordshire and Essex
David and Victoria still own Beckingham Palace (formerly an orphanage) near Sawbridgeworth. Brooklyn's bedroom is rumoured to have a domed ceiling with a £20,000 fibre-optic "night sky". David Seaman lives more modestly in a 16th-century farmhouse near Rickmansworth. For Spurs' growing array of stars, St Albans, Chingford and Chigwell are the hot spots. Apparently the Egyptian striker Mido revels in his new-found Essex retreat in Abridge, having had enough of burning the candle at both ends in Rome.Reuse content