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Leagues: EPL

The Changing Face Of Premiership Grounds: #1 Old Trafford


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 favorite away grounds in world football even more in the next few years.

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  1. Peter Elkin

    January 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Re Manchester City v Stoke City 6th Round of the FA Cup March 1934.
    My late father attended this match. He actually rode his pedal cycle from Stoke to Manchester. Although in his latter years his memory was poor, he could quote parrot fashion both teams of that day, he said that Stoke were robbed, for the game was played in gale force winds, and the only goal of the match, which was scored by Man City was blown into the net.
    Stoke have just been drawn with Man City at Manchester for the 5th round of the 2010 cup and memories have been stirred.

  2. chahey

    October 22, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    man utd can buy villa,lampard,gerrard and messi!

  3. Peter

    October 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Paul – brilliant article, very interesting, with a look back at how football stadiums coped with the Hillsborough disaster and you used a fantastic example with Old Trafford, which always seems to have looked a magical arena and very intimidating for the opposition. The stats were brilliant and this could be the start of a good collection of articles about football grounds.

    One question – I know you say that Old Traffor has hosted the premier leagues biggest attendence, but are any of the other stadiums, The Emirates or Anfield for example, capable of hosting even bigger? I would imagine probably not but still interested to know. Thanks for a good article.

    • Paul Bestall

      October 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Peter,

      Currently Anfield is well short of coming anywhere near Old Trafford’s record attendance. It currently has an attendance of just over 45,000.
      The Emirates meanwhile is around 60,000 but Celtic Park is currently the second largest league ground in Britain, it’s just under 61,000.

      Ironically, the record for a top flight match has yet to be broken, and is currently held by United with a crowd of 83,260 for a league game against Stoke City in 1948! Oddly enough though, the game was held at Maine Road, whilst Old Trafford was being rebuilt after the damage it sustained during WWII

      I’ll be covering a few more grounds over the next few weeks, so I hope you enjoy those too.

      • Huh

        October 1, 2009 at 5:56 pm

        Peter & Paul ,

        the top flight record is actually 84,569 held by Manchester City vs. Stoke in 1934, this is still the record provincial crowd in England for a first team game by any club.

        The game you refer to was also attended by 10’s of thousands of City fans as they played at Maine Rd for three years after Old Trafford had been bombed during the 2nd world war, indeed Utd attendances were up considerably during their time at Maine Rd as City fans also attended.
        The highest attendance of Utd the season before the bombing was 42.008 with the average being 30,369 in 38-39 and on the return home highest was 53,928 with an average of 41,690 in 49-50 season.

        • Paul Bestall

          October 1, 2009 at 8:21 pm

          I thought the City v Stoke game was an F.A Cup match?? If not, I stand corrected.

          • Huh

            October 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

            Yes, it was an F.A 6th round Cup match between two top flight teams surely making it a top flight game? (you don’t mention Division 1), but this is actually thought to have been in excess of 86,000!
            Manchester Utd’s highest home pre modern era (Taylor report etc) attendance seems to be 68,796 against Man City in 1936-37 (this is of course not including games at Maine Rd), this could be wrong as a game against Aston Villa in 1920 is said to have had 70,504 but I can find no evidence of this, Old Trafford’s capacity during this time was 80,000 (never filled).
            City’s highest three home league attendances seem to be 79,491 against Arsenal in 1934-35, 78,000 vs. Man Utd in 1947 and 76,129 vs. Everton in 1956, this is only bettered by Chelsea in 1935 with 82,905 the highest home game attendance ever, that included only two sets of fans!!

  4. John

    October 1, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Very interesting article, man. I enjoyed it a lot. Keep ’em coming!

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