Old Trafford, 'The Theatre of Dreams'

Old Trafford

Newton heath's first ground was at North Road, Monsall, and was set in typical Victorian northern industrial surroundings. When the Heathens joined the Football league in 1892, their playing surface was one of the worst in the competition and could be a mud-bath at one end and rock-hard at the other. The changing rooms were half a mile away at the Three Crowns public house.

In 1893, the club moved to Bank Street, Clayton. The pitch was little better than the one at North Road and the smoke-billowing chimneys provided a similar backdrop. The only real improvement on the first ground was the subsequent erection of a 1000-seater stand, the result of J.H Davies, Newton Heath's first major benefactor, investing £500. On 4 April 1904, the Football League beat the Scottish League 2-1 at Clayton.

It was Davies who, in 1909, donated the huge sum of £60,000 for the purchase and development of a site at Trafford Park. The new ground, to be called Old Trafford, was ready for use in 1910 and on 22 January that year, United played their final match at Clayton, beating Spurs 5-0. Their first game at the new stadium nearly a month later, saw 45,000 cram in to witness a seven-goal thriller, won by Liverpool.

The Clayton ground had been sold to Manchester Corporation for £5,000 in January 1909, one week before plans for the new Old Trafford were approved by the Stretford Council.

Old Trafford, with a capacity of 80,000, then had only one stand, situated where the Main Stand is today, but it offered untold luxuries - tea-rooms, tip-up seats and attendants to politely point the way. The nearest the ground cam to being filled to capacity was on 27 December 1920 when Aston Villa were the visitors and 70,504 packed the ground to register what is still United's record home attendance, not withstanding the 80,000-plus crouds who saw them play at Maine Road after World War Two whilst Old Trafford was being rebuilt after war damage. And the actual attendance record for Old Trafford stands at 76,962, for the 1939 FA Cup semi-final between Wolves and Grimsby.

When Old Trafford was bult it was one of Britain's great stadiums, but by the outbreak of World War Two, because so little improvement had been made, it no longer stood out as one of the League's outstanding venues. By 1945 it could not be used at all. During a raid on nearby Trafford Park industrial estate, on the night of 11 March 1941, German bombs landed on the ground, virtually destroying the Main Stand, part of the terracing and badly scorching the pitch.

Makeshift offices were erected and United, as determined as ever, set about the long rebuilding job whilst sharing Manchester City's ground for home matches. The worst hit of all league clubs during the war, United were awarded £22,278 by the War Damage Commission to clear the debris and rebuild the ground.

A massive 120,000-capacity ground was planned, but financial restrictions prevented it and instead only the Main Stand was replaced. On 24 August 1949, United played their first Football League game at Old Trafford for ten years when 41,748 saw them beat Bolton.

United's venture into Europe in 1956 saw them erect floodlights to cater for mid-week matches. The first European Cup match under the Old Trafford lights was the semi-final against Real Madrid on 25 April 1957. For their previous European games that season United had to return to City's Moss Side ground.

The first League game under lights at Old Trafford was on 25 March 1957 when Bolton were the opposition and United's biggest league crowd of the season, 60,826, endured a 2-0 defeat.

One of Old Trafford's most emotional occasions saw nearly 60,000 urge United to FA Cup victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the first post-Munich match. The following Saturday, a crowd of 66,124 saw the visit of Nottingham Forest.

As United moved into the golden era of th 1960s, Old Trafford saw its greatest phase of improvement. The Stretford End was covered in 1959, sheltering 22,000 standing fans from the worst of the Manchester weather.

In readiness for the 1966 World Cup Finals, work started on the magnificent cantilever stand in 1964. Upon its completion, at a cost of £350,000, there remained only one part of the ground still uncovered, the Scoreboard End. In 1973 that was rectified and the next major improvement was the replacement of the Main Stand roof with a cantilever.

Three World Cup matches, in Group Three, were played at Old Trafford in 1966, 40 years after the first full international was staged there - the 1926 England-Scotland match, which the Scots won 1-0.

Bradford City won their one and only FA Cup Final when they beat Newcastle 1-0 in their replayed Final of 1911 at Old Trafford. In 1970, Chelsea beat Leeds to win the Cup at Old Trafford, the first time a Wembley Final had to be replayed. United's ground had been chosen for only one Cup Final, replays excepted, and that was the 1915 game between Sheffield United and Chelsea. It was called the 'Khaki Final' because many of the 49,557 crowd were soldiers either on leave, or about to embark for the trenches. The choice of Old Trafford for that game ended the 19 year dominance of the Crystal Palace as the Cup Final venue.

Old Trafford's 50,000 capacity was reduced considerably during the 18-month programme of development was undertaken to upgrade the ground. Work started in summer of 1992 with alterations to the Stretford End which greatly reduced the Old Trafford capacity to 34,000. Naturally, with attendances previously averaging in excess of 40,000 this posed a major problem. Away fans were to be banned, and those United fans fortunate enough to gain admission would have to pay increased charges to compensate for the reduced capacity.

 This move brought about much unrest amongst fans and they set up a pressure group call HOSTAGE (Holders of Season Tickets against Gross Exploitation). It is unfortunate that the fans are made to suffer at such a time, but when the redevelopment is complete, Old Trafford will re-state its case as one of the finest soccer grounds in the world and will again be a delight for players and fans to visit.

The new West Stand, or the Stretford End, as most United fans would rather call it, was completed for the beginning of the 1993-94 season, to make Old Trafford a 'bowl'. The North Stand was demolished at the end of the 1994-95 season and was rebuilt as a three tier Stand making Old Trafford once again the biggest club stadium in England, with a capacity of 55,000.

The summer of 1996 saw the European Championship in England, Old Trafford was of the venues, and was the venue for the semi-final clash between France and The Czech Republic.


[Home] [History] [Duncan] [OT] [Best] [Bio] [Links] [Book] [Trivia]