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Old Trafford versus the bulldozer

Old Trafford versus the bulldozer

Plans to redevelop Manchester United’s iconic stadium include the option to knock it down completely and build a new ground, but fans are reluctant. How important is a stadium to a team’s success?

Iconic Old Trafford has seen better days.

Water leaks in, the views from some of the stands aren’t very good, there’s a lack of legroom, the facilities are outdated and even an infestation of mice once troubled the Theatre of Dreams.

“Man U has been accused by the local council of being unable to provide appropriate conditions for fans due to the discovery of an infestation of rodents in the famous Old Trafford stadium.” 

Zoomin

Before the Covid pandemic, Manchester United was the third richest club in the world, behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, with an annual revenue of around £700 million.

But it’s behind teams like Arsenal and Tottenham in the stadium stakes, who have both built brand new, state of the art grounds with top-notch facilities.

The last significant renovation of Old Trafford was in 2006 when a second tier was added to the North West and North East quadrants, increasing the capacity by 8,000. 

The Glazer family, which bought the club in 2005 after those plans were approved, have been criticised for not investing more in the stadium since taking over. 

But then, last week, came news that plans to rectify the problem of a decaying Old Trafford were in the works.

Reports suggested that there were three potential solutions. Two of them involved renovating the existing stadium. 

The third caused shock amongst fans as it was revealed the Glazers were considering knocking down Old Trafford and rebuilding it entirely.

So how important is a stadium to the success of a team?

Old Trafford is steeped in history because of moments like this…

“Rooney…up towards Ferdinand…cleared away as far as Ryan Giggs…who’s played one for Michael Owen! Oh this is incredible! Beyond added time, Michael Owen with his first Old Trafford goal for Manchester United makes the place erupt! They’re appealing for the whistle and there it is. The conclusion of one of the most incredible Manchester derbies of all time.” 

Sky Sports Football

Michael Owen’s dramatic late winner against derby rivals Manchester City in 2009 became part of Old Trafford folklore, Fergie time, the idea that in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era United always scored in injury time.

Stadiums hold memories for fans and players. Memories of past success and sporting prowess. 

So when a club builds a new, modern ground, they can sometimes feel soulless or empty.

Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand feels strongly that Old Trafford should not be razed to the ground. 

“There’s a lot to be said about the history that you smell and you feel when you walk just even around…let alone in the stadium.” 

Stretford Paddock

His favourite Old Trafford memory? Beating Barcelona 1-0 in the 2008 Champions League semi-final. They’d go on to beat Chelsea in the final to win the competition for the second time under Sir Alex Ferguson.

“Now. Chance for a run. It’s gone as far as Scholes. Scholes hits one! Oh what a goal! Paul Scholes has produced one from the top drawer just when United needed it! What a goal from Paul Scholes and Old Trafford has exploded here.”

Manchester United

Special moments, special players. Since Old Trafford opened in 1910, Manchester United have won 19 league titles, 11 FA Cups, one Europa League and three European Cups.

“You can smell the history. Straight away. There’s only a few stadiums like Liverpool, Anfield , here. When you come here, and you walk out in the stadium, and it opens up, like it just did, you automatically, you get like what’s gone on before here.”

FIVE

And when you think of all the famous players – George Best, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton – that have played at Old Trafford. And that’s just the Manchester United players – Rio Ferdinand thinks that it’s woven into the fabric of the stadium.

“There’s a romance around it that’s built out of the history…all the players, the games, the big moments that you aren’t going to get in a brand new stadium.”

FIVE

We know that there are problems with the matchday experience at  Old Trafford. But it would be a big step to knock it down completely. 

Before Covid hit, Manchester United were making £105.6 million per season in matchday income. Arsenal, with their superior facilities, made less in the same period of time – £98.5 million. 

So it doesn’t seem like Old Trafford’s problems are putting fans off. But equally, they could make even more money from a brand new stadium. They could conceivably become the richest club in the world.

And as we know from Manchester United’s involvement in the failed European Super League, money sometimes trumps tradition.

“Oh Manchester…Manchester United! A bunch of bouncing Busby Babes, they deserve to be knighted. When they’re playing in your town, get yourself to that football ground. Take a lesson, you will see, football taught by Matt Busby. Oh Manchester, Manchester United!…”

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.