"The most handsomest, the most spacious and the most remarkable arena I have ever seen. As a football ground it is unrivalled in the world, it is an honour to Manchester and the home of a team who can do wonders when they are so disposed"
Sporting Chronicle: Saturday 19th February 1910
The above words were written on Old Trafford's opening day in 1910. Manchester United had just moved from their old stadium of Bank Street, Clayton, to a new stadium in the Old Trafford area of west Manchester. Built in 1909, for the then huge sum of Ј60,000 it was terraced on three sides with a seated main stand undercover. The stadium was designed by famous Scottish architect Archibald Leitch, who also designed stands at Hampden Park, Ibrox Stadium and White Hart Lane.
In 1911 and 1915 it held the FA Cup final and in 1920 it had its largest ever attendance of 70,504 for a league game against Aston Villa. The FA Cup Semi of 1939 of Portsmouth vs Grimsby would top that with 76,962. The stadium was heavily damaged in World War 2 and for a while United played at local rivals, Man City's Maine Road stadium from 1946-1949. Old Trafford was a venue for the 1966 World Cup and also held the 1970 FA Cup Final replay between Chelsea and Leeds. Old Trafford became the first stadium to erect perimeter fencing in the 1970's to combat crowd disturbances.
Roofed cover was later added to the other three sides of the stadium, however all these stands suffered from obstructed views because of old fashioned roof-post design. In the mid 1960s development of modern cantilever stands began on the north and east of the ground in time for the World cup. The new design had terracing at the front and a large seated section behind. Gradually the entire ground was redeveloped over the decades, culminating with the Stretford End in 1994.
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, over 58,000 could pack into Old Trafford. However in the early 1990s after the Hillsbrough disaster, the Taylor Report required England's top teams to have all-seater stadiums. The Old Trafford design master plan of the 1960's was now complete and the stadium was a perfect bowl, but with United more popular than ever the reduced 44,000 capacity was just too small.
This led to further expansion in 1995-6 with the construction of the giant three-tiered North Stand, holding 26,000 and bringing capacity to nearly 56,000. The North Stand, reaching around 200 feet in height has four lift towers and the largest cantilever roof in Europe. This massive, brooding structure towers over the pitch, intimidating opposing teams. Costing Ј19 million to build it also houses the excellent United Museum on three floors (open on non-match days) and glittering trophy room (hopefully always full) as well as the Red Cafe restaurant and two layers of executive "Sky" boxes.
The South stand is the main stand at Old Trafford, containing the managers bench area, the directors/ television/ police control boxes and luxury restaurants and executive suites. Here, the seating slopes at a different angle to the rest of the stadium, making it slightly lower than the other stands.
Interestingly, the first 20 or so rows of seats around all four sides of the ground are below street level. The South stand is rarely seen on television as it contains the TV gantry, which looks North. The players tunnel used to be at the centre of this stand but in 1993 it was moved to the South-west corner. The old tunnel still remains and is opened for special occasions and stadium tours.
The East Stand was home to the diehard K-Stand United fans (most of whom have relocated to the Stretford End) as well as the away fans enclosure in the South-East corner and disabled section. It was formerly known as the Scoreboard End, so called because of the large scoreboard that resided until the late 60s, when an electronic one was installed. This scoreboard was recently replaced by two modern electronic scoreboards in each corner of the North Stand.
Further building redevelopment added a second tier at the east end in January 2000, making a 61,000 capacity. On the outside is a large tinted glass front, similar to a modern office block. Here stands the Sir Matt Busby Statue, Munich memorial plaque and the famous clock commemorating the Munich air crash on 6th February 1958. Its also the location of the huge Manchester United Megastore where every type of club merchandise is available.
The west side of the ground for many, will always be known as the legendary Stretford End. In the days before all-seater stadia the Stretford End was a heaving mass of almost 20,000 standing United fans who were amongst the loudest in Britain. It was once measured that the roar from the crowd was louder than a Jumbo Jet taking off. The old terrace was replaced in 1993 and in August 2000 a second tier of seating was added here, bringing a total capacity of 68,217. The West Stand holds the Family seating area and beneath the corner is the players dressing rooms/tunnel and lounge. It also has a statue of 60's striker Denis Law in the upper concourse - Law was known as "The King of The Stretford End".
Old Trafford was a Euro 96 venue and is now an annual host for the FA Cup Semi-final. Many claim the atmosphere at Old Trafford is not as good as it once was, ironically it is the legend of the Old Trafford atmosphere that has brought the tourists yet they are partly responsible for its decline. Sir Alex Ferguson has often complained about the lack of singing and low noise levels, therefore the new upper West Stand tier has designated singing areas to try and recreate the days of old.
The long-term plan for the stadium is to rebuild the South stand in a similar style to the North and fill in the corners to make a whopping 90,000. There are currently no plans for any more expansion work in the immediate future because of restricted space around the stadium. The nearby railway track could be built over, however the club would have to buy up to fifty nearby houses at great expense and disruption to local residents.
Old Trafford is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most famous sporting arena's in the world. In an era where many clubs are moving from their traditional homes and although down the years it has changed beyond all recognition, the magic of Old Trafford will always remain. On a big match day or European night the atmosphere is as good as any venue in world football. The Theatre of Dreams (as Bobby Charlton named it) is the biggest club ground in Britain and a fitting home for the worlds most famous football club.
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