Game on: Why footballers love living in Hertfordshire
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Hertfordshire has long been a property hotspot among footballers. Richard Burton found out why cashed up players find the likes of Harpenden, Radlett and Cuffley so appealing.
Ask any one of a growing number of premiership footballers what a home fixture means to them and they'll probably say a decent house in Hertfordshire.
More and more are discreetly following the likes of Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Dele Ali into the county, drawn by the easy commute to their London clubs and the high standard of living a stone's throw from the capital.
Not all of them are investing in the likes of Rowneybury House, the Sawbridgeworth pile that became known as Beckingham Palace after a former England captain snapped up all 24 acres of it back in the late 90s.
And not all of them are household names, according to those advising the younger generation of rising stars with an eye on the future and a quieter, more secure lifestyle.
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"Hertfordshire has always been popular because, for clubs like Watford or Arsenal, it's good not just for the stadiums but close to the training ground at London Colney and just a desirable place to live," said football agent Alex Levack who runs the Sidekick Management sports agency.
"If they're young and single, I tend to steer them more towards central London but for those married with families it's all about space, privacy and schools. I've moved many players into the county over the years; to places like Cockfosters, Radlett, Hadley Wood, Arkley and Harpenden.
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"There does tend to be something of a herd mentality among players. They speak to others when they perhaps come down on loan or on a transfer and get an idea of where they want to be."
It's well documented that, with weekly six-figure pay packets, there will be those looking for the sort of six-bed gated and listed country seat Theo Walcott bought on the Goldings in Hertford. Or the sprawling 7,200ft six-bed place Jack Wilshere had on Harpenden's West Common a few years ago. Or even the millionaire's row mansion Jermain Defoe bought on the Ridgeway in Cuffley.
But the reality is that most are more modest; like the neat new-build Watford's Manuel Almunia bought in Leavesden, near Watford, or the period-style detached that Chelsea's Russian international goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine had on a modern estate next to the Harry Potter studios in Abbots Langley. Or even the four-bed on a mini gated estate Arsenal's Brazilian defender Denilson bought next to The Three Hammers in Chiswell Green.
"I know people think it's all about the most expensive, but that's not always the case," said Alex. "I do try to say to a player, 'do you really need to spend £5 million on a house?' It's not all about that."
Daniel Barbanel, a north London property agent who finds homes for many players, including Spurs stars, said: "There really isn't a typical house. They can range from two-bedroom apartments to nine-bed places with indoor pools. Not everyone goes berserk when it comes to the property market.
"For a lot of players in London clubs it's a choice of either Hampstead or Herts. I'd say half want to be close to a coffee shop and a tube station, others want to come home from training and just chill out with privacy and it's those, the ones who are looking for something closer to the country, a community with a village feel, that come into the county.
"Other than that, it's about schools for those who have a family, or proximity to the training ground. Areas like Hadley Wood and Cuffley have always been popular as well as Elstree and Radlett. Radlett has actually become more popular since Watford came into the premiership."
Daniel, who runs Outlook Property, added: "The privacy issue is important, and while it's not like the continent where they get mobbed, I know that every time I walk down the street with a player in Hampstead there'll be someone wanting a photo or an autograph. You don't get that in Herts."
The issues over whether to rent or buy tend to mirror those of any other profession where mobility is important. Many young players rent until they find their feet. Others buy early and rent them out when they move clubs, a move that can in some cases mark the first steps in building a portfolio.
Players these days are well represented with clubs employing staff to deal with issues such as relocation, agents managing their employment deals and property experts handling everything from initial home-finding to dealing with leaky pipes further down the line, all things that would distract a player from the only thing he wants to do, play.
Some leave it to their wives or the clubs and others who have tried it themselves quickly realise there's a reason for leaving it to someone they trust.
Manchester United's Lee Sharpe told me a few days after his move to Leeds he'd had difficulty getting estate agents to take him seriously when he went looking for a place to rent in Yorkshire.
Mind you, with his, then, longish hair, casual dress, baseball cap and a couple of dogs in tow, he didn't exactly appear the ideal tenant, especially to non-football fans who hadn't a clue who he was.
More recently, others who have gone north have found themselves struggling to move into Cheshire's so-called "golden triangle" with Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain even suggesting, after his big-money move to Liverpool, that players would find themselves "scrambling for a house".
In this part of the world, we're lucky not to have that problem, partly because there are so many quality properties in quality locations from which to choose.
In fact, any player looking for a move this week would be spoiled for choice with the likes of a seven bedroom double-fronted detached on The Ridgeway in Radlett, a nine-bed four-storey home in Arkley and a Grade II listed seven-bed manor house in Goffs Oak.
If that wasn't enough, they could always view a 19th century mansion set behind two sets of private gates in Essendon, a modern five-bed in a gated cul-de-sac off Newlands Avenue in Radlett or a spacious six-bed in a discreet West Common cul-de-sac in Harpenden.
Nick Ingle, who leads the residential team at Savills Harpenden, said: "South Hertfordshire is always popular with London buyers - whatever their profession, and particularly those with young families.
"The unprecedented combination of excellent schooling, open countryside and superb transport links ensure that there is strong interest whenever a home comes on to the market. You're less than an hour from the capital, yet The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is right on your doorstep, with a host of desirable amenities including several golf courses and country parks.
"For those who are high profile it's also comparatively quiet, so those in the public eye - including footballers - can enjoy their time in relative privacy."