Old Trafford picture special as Manchester United consider huge renovation
Even the most iconic football stadiums can start to show their age and hold a club back. That’s what Manchester United are finding with Old Trafford, their home for the past 112 years.
The ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – fortress of the Busby Babes and Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1999 Treble winners – has witnessed hundreds of unforgettable moments down the years.
Old Trafford may be the second-largest football stadium in Britain, its 74,879 capacity puts it behind only Wembley’s 90,000 seats, but the place is starting to show its age.
Little surprise, then, that United are considering various options to bring their home up to the kind of modern standards their fans demand.
One involves levelling the place and rebuilding a completely new, state-of-the-art arena with a capacity in excess of 80,000 completely from scratch.
But that would mean United moving out for probably two years. There are no other stadiums of comparable size in the north-west and a ground share at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium is out of the question.
So the more likely solution is to revamp and enlarge the South Stand, also known as the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand.
This idea has been a non-starter for decades because of the railway line that runs behind it but advances in building technology mean it’s no longer an insurmountable problem.
United would also, in all likelihood, be able to complete a South Stand expansion without impacting capacity and therefore revenue while the construction work is taking place.
But this would be far from the first time the complexion of Old Trafford has dramatically changed as our picture special of the stadium through the ages proves.
Having rescued the fledgling Manchester United from bankruptcy in 1909, chairman John Henry Davies funded the construction of a new stadium and chose a patch of land adjacent to the Bridgewater Canal in Old Trafford. The renowned Scottish stadium architect Archibald Leitch was commissioned to draw up designs for an enormous ground that could accommodate 100,000 spectators. But original estimates of £60,000 swelled to nearer £100,000 and so capacity was reduced to 80,000. The stadium was completed late in 1909 and Old Trafford hosted its inaugural game (pictured) on February 19, 1910, a 4-3 victory for Liverpool. One journalist present wrote Old Trafford was ‘the most handsomest [sic], the most spacious and the most remarkable arena I have ever seen… As a football ground it is unrivalled in the world.’
Prior to the opening of Wembley in 1923, the FA Cup final was played at different venues around the country. Old Trafford was handed the honour twice – the 1911 replay that saw Bradford City beat Newcastle United 1-0 (pictured) and the 1915 final that saw Sheffield United beat Chelsea 3-0. The latter is known as the Khaki Cup Final because of the large number of spectators in the uniforms of the armed forces, the First World War well underway.
An aerial shot of Old Trafford, taken in 1930, shows its location in what was really an industrial hinterland of Manchester. Railway lines snake around the ground with factories and chimneys visible. There has been a railway station behind the South Stand since August 1935 when it was constructed by the Cheshire Lines Committee. Originally named United Football Ground, it was quickly renamed Old Trafford Football Ground in 1936 and is now known as Manchester United Football Ground. Services were suspended in 2018 on health and safety grounds.
In 1936, United spent £35,000 refurbishing Old Trafford with an 80-yard long roof added to the United Road Stand (now the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand) and further improvements were made in 1938 to maintain its status as a top-class venue. Indeed, the record attendance for a football match at Old Trafford remains the 76,962 who crammed in to watch the 1939 FA Cup semi-final between Wolves and Grimsby Town. But the stadium was extensively destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the Second World War. The ground was requisitioned by the military to be used as a depot and its proximity to railway lines made it a target. It was first raided just before Christmas in 1940 and again in March 1941, the second attack flattening the main stand.
This picture was taken in 1945 with reconstruction only taking place following victory over Germany. While the ground was rebuilt, United played their home matches at City’s Maine Road at a cost of £5,000 per year plus a share of the gate receipts. United finally returned home at the start of the 1949-1950 campaign.
The 1950s saw triumph and disaster for United. Matt Busby’s team won the league three times and were pioneers in entering the European Cup, the first English team to do so. In their first season in Europe, United had to play their first three matches at Maine Road because Old Trafford didn’t have floodlights. They moved back in time for the second leg of their semi-final against Real Madrid (pictured above). We can see Real’s Raymond Kopa scoring past keeper Ray Wood as a packed crowd watch on. The game ended 2-2 with Real winning 5-3 on aggregate.
Old Trafford as seen on a quieter day in 1957 with a central portion of seating surrounded by terracing. The first match played under floodlights there was a league fixture with Bolton Wanderers on March 25.
The black and grey shadows in this evocative image really reflect the moment. This is United struggling on following the air disaster at Munich in February 1958 that wiped out eight of their players. Swept along by emotion, they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup once again but went out to AC Milan despite winning the first leg at Old Trafford 2-1. Pictured is goalkeeper Harry Gregg, who dragged three team-mates from the blazing wreckage at Munich, punching the ball clear.
United fans cheer wildly after Colin Webster scored an 89th-minute winner to take them into the FA Cup semi-finals in 1958. Their squad decimated following Munich, United did brilliantly to reach the final at Wembley, only to lose 2-0 to Bolton.
This aerial image shows how Old Trafford looked on the eve of the 1966 World Cup, when it hosted three group stage games. In the immediate post-war years, the club invested tens of thousands of pounds in redeveloping the stadium, adding roofing and floodlights. Ahead of the 1966 tournament, the club’s directors decided to remove the old pillars that obstructed so many views in the United Road (north) Stand and install a cantilever roof. The stand was expanded to hold 10,000 in seated accommodation at the back and 10,000 on a terrace at the front. United were also the British club to install private boxes.
Part of the upgrades ahead of the 1966 World Cup included construction of a new passenger bridge over the railway line
George Best, suitcase in hand, isn’t short of attention as he makes his way across the Old Trafford car park after a match in the 1968/1969 season. The prominent signage on the top of the Stretford End welcomed spectators from far and wide to the home of the European champions at the time. Note the huge floodlight pylons, too, and a tall chimney in the background
Those private boxes are clearly visible in this photograph of a game against Manchester City in 1970. A similar redevelopment of the East Stand was completed in 1973 but this outlay coincided with declining fortunes for the club on the field in the 1970s after Matt Busby stepped aside. Indeed, they were relegated into the second division in 1974, returning at the first attempt.
The Scoreboard End, one of the final parts of the stadium to get a roof, is seen on what appears to be a clement day in 1971. As well as a scoreboard and clock showing the United scoreline at the top, the letters would correspond to a list of the day’s fixtures printed in the match programme. The score from each game would be shown at half-time to keep fans updated.
The legendary George Best on the ball during a league match against Wolves in 1971. Most of Old Trafford remained terracing at this point and would do for a long time yet but every part would be covered within two more years. Unfortunately, the rise of hooliganism led to United becoming the first club in the country to install a perimeter fence to keep supporters off the pitch
The exterior of the Stretford End circa 1983, showing the club’s souvenir shop and ticket office. One effect of the regular redevelopment work was a reduction in capacity – in the 1983-84 campaign, for example, the highest attendance was 58,547 for a match against Barcelona but averaged 42,215 in the league. This was a big drop from the crowds of 80,000 initially seen when the stadium was first built. The Munich Clock, which marks the 1958 crash, is visible above the ticket office
A closer look at some of the merchandise on offer in the United club shop, which was certainly a far more modest effort in the 1970s and 1980s to the cavernous megastore at Old Trafford today
Fans clamber on the pitchside fencing to get a better view during a match in 1980 but it wouldn’t be long before the complexion of Old Trafford changed once more. The 1989 Hillsborough disaster and the Taylor Report that followed it led to the phasing out of terracing and the arrival of all-seater stadiums. This conversion led to the capacity going down to 44,000
A look inside the United trophy cabinet in September 1980. At that point in time, the club had won the First Division title seven times, the FA Cup four times, one European Cup and the Charity Shield (now Community Shield) eight times
An image of fans socialising inside a bar at Old Trafford in 1980. The walls are adorned with pictures of the players in action
United chairman Martin Edwards is seen high above the pitch during reconstruction work on the North Stand in 1995. With the ground set to host five games at Euro 96, upgrade work was carried out to boost capacity as well as continue the conversion to an all-seater venue.
Many matches at Old Trafford during the 1990s were played out against the backdrop of building work, including this 4-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in January 1993. Only 35,648 were inside the ground with the capacity restricted
The success of Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams during the 1990s and 2000s led to an unprecedented demand for United tickets and resulted in extensive redevelopment to Old Trafford. The North Stand was turned into a three-tiered monster ahead of the 1996 European Championship, with similar cantilever rooves added to the West and East Stands in the subsequent years. The corners were filled in at the north end, raising the capacity to around the 75,000 mark.
In May 2008, to mark the 40th anniversary of United’s first European Cup triumph, ‘The United Trinity’ statue of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton was unveiled on the Old Trafford forecourt. Looking back at them is their manager Matt Busby, while there is also a statue of Sir Alex Ferguson outside the stand named in his honour.
The interior of the stadium taken from above the tunnel ahead of a match against Everton this season. Various refurbishment work has seen the capacity drop slightly on some recent seasons with just over 74,000 fans accommodated.
As United look to the future, the South Stand (to the right in this picture) is the next to be earmarked for development. The Old Trafford capacity could go full circle and back to the 80,000 mark if this work is completed in the years ahead.