Old Trafford – Louder Than A Boeing 747
In many ways, the Munich air crash was the making of Manchester United. Not only did it spark renewed determination by the club’s management and players to succeed in Europe, it also heralded a period of development at Old Trafford which continues to this day.
When Old Trafford opened for business on 19 February 1910, a reporter for the Sporting Chronicle described the new stadium as “the most handsome, the most spacious and the most remarkable arena I have ever seen. As a football ground it is unrivalled in the world.”
Designed by the famous Scottish architect, Archibald Leitch, who also designed stands at Hampden Park, Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford cost GBP 60,000 to build and consisted of three huge terraces with a seated South Stand under cover.
Disaster struck during World War II, however, when the South Stand was heavily damaged during a bombing raid by Hitler’s Luftwaffe, and for a while the club was forced to play home matches at Maine Road, the stadium of arch-rivals Manchester City. But Old Trafford was quickly rebuilt and United resumed playing therein 1949.
Little changed before the Munich air disaster, after which the club started to broaden its horizons. The advent of European competition had introduced a new dimension to English football and spectators began to demand better facilities.
United led the way in giving fans value for money and the first cantilever-roofed stand came in 1964 with the opening of the United Road (North Stand). No longer would spectators have to peer at the action from behind old-fashioned pillars. With the new North Stand came Britain’s first executive boxes and in 1973 the cantilever was extended to encompass the East Stand. Old Trafford set the benchmark for the modern-day football ground.
But there were problems, too, and the hooliganism afflicting British football during the early 1970s led to United’s stadium becoming the first in England to have pitch-side perimeter fencing erected to combat crowd trouble.
The stadium’s development continued, though, and by the end of the 1980s three of the four sides had cantilever roofs. Still to be developed was the world-famous West Stand – otherwise known as the Stretford End, the proud home behind the goal of a heaving mass of 20,000 standing United fans who were renowned as being amongst the loudest in Britain. Legend has it that the roar of the crowd from this section of Old Trafford was louder than a Boeing 747 taking off.
But the Stretford End’s days were numbered following the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, when 96 Liverpool supporters died after being crushed by overcrowding at an FA Cup semi-final. The report which followed recommended the abolition of all standing terraces and, in line with government policy, Old Trafford soon became all-seater. Capacity fell overnight from almost 60,000 to 44,000, but far from halting the club in its tracks, the challenge of redeveloping the stadium gained new momentum. Between 1996 (when the impressive three-tier North Stand we see today opened) and 2006, Old Trafford’s capacity has risen incrementally to 76,212.
A total of GBP 114 million has been spent by the club on stadium development over the past 14 years and ManU captain Gary Neville, a professional at Old Trafford during all of that time, remains in awe of his surroundings. “The roar of the crowd as you edge closer to the pitch, the tunnel is where it hits you – you’re about to play for the Reds at Old Trafford,” he said.
For players and spectators alike, Old Trafford truly is the Theatre of Dreams.