It seems incredible now when we view some of the impressive grounds that make up the home stadia of the Premiership clubs that in just 17 years how many of them have changed beyond all recognition from those far away days of the Premierships beginning. Looking back, the speed that some of the grounds changed is now, with hindsight, quite amazing. Back in 1992, football was still reeling from the after effects of the Hillsborough disaster and the implementation of the Taylor report.
Contrary to what some people may tell you, the majority of grounds in Britain were dirty,decrepit bowls with dreadful facilities, hard to get to and you were made to feel as if you were an inconvenience to the local constabulary. With the announcement of the Premiership’s formation though, all that changed. Coupled with the Taylor Reports recommendations, all terracing was to be removed and stadia had to become all seater by 1995 in the the top two divisions. English football was about to witness the most dramatic rebuilding process it had seen for over 100 years.
For the first of my stadium tours, where else can we start than Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. United were one the clubs hit hardest by the Taylor Report recommendations. United were planning to rebuild the Stretford End with a new terracing section which had to be completely scrapped, so when the Premiership started, Old Trafford had the incredible capacity of just 44,000! As you can see from the picture, it seems like a different ground to the one we see week in, week out these days.
What caused a massive boost to the ground though was the decision by UEFA to award England Euro 96. This allowed the participating grounds to begin to undertake major redevelopments to the stadiums to be ready for the Championships and in 1994, United unveiled ambitious plans to increase the capacity by a whopping 11,000. The club decided to completely rebuild the North Stand with an individual capacity of 26,000, with 3 tiers and what was at the time, the largest cantilever roof in Europe.
Work began in 1995 to be ready for Euro 1996 and I remember going to Old Trafford for the Euro’s. The stand was mesmerising and tickets for it had a vertigo warning printed on the back of them. It seemed gigantic at the time and with United’s continued success in the Premiership and the Champions League, the club soon decided that the capacity needed to be increased further. On every subsequent visit, Old Trafford has always impressed me, it seems something is always being added to the ground.
The next stand to get attention was the East Stand with an additional tier which brought the ground up to 61,000. The stand was opened in September 2000 and was then joined by the increase to the Stretford End in 2001 to make that a two tiered cantilevered stand pushing the capacity up to a whopping 68,217 and had the seal of approval from U.E.F.A when it was awarded the 2003 Champions League final.
The increase in Old Trafford’s capacity also came to the aid of the England national team. Wembley was demolished in 2001, not before time and during 2001 and 2007, England played 23 home games around various grounds but Old Trafford hosted the national side in 12 of those matches and England certainly benefited from the atmosphere and the attendances.
The next alteration has so far been the last, as the club decided to complete the corners that book ended the North Stand, between both the East and West Stands. These North East and North West Stands had another tier fitted to them, which saw the club open some sections of it to record a new Premiership record high attendance of 69,070 against West Ham United on March the 26th 2006.
The corners were finally fully completed and used for the first time in a Premiership match in 2007, as United entertained Blackburn Rovers on March 31st, winning 4-1 setting another attendance record of 76,090. That brought the capacity up to it’s current level of 76,212 fans making it easily the largest league ground in Britain but it’s only the 3rd largest stadium overall in the UK behind Twickenham (82,000) and Wembley (90,000).
Yet, it may not be third for much longer, the club have mooted further expansion by adding a further 19,000 seats on the South Stand, using the South West and South East corners and adding a second tier along all 3 sections. It seems that United will be continually improving what is one of the best stadiums and one of my favourite away grounds in world football even more in the next few years.