For years it appeared that the tram line behind Old Trafford’s South Stand would be the biggest impediment to the ground’s redevelopment. The line runs directly behind the stand and for that reason, it was the North, East and West (Stretford End) stands that were prioritised for redevelopment and expansion.
The completion of the ‘enclosed’ stadium in the early 1990s made Old Trafford the finest stadium in Britain but since that time, other teams have greatly improved their grounds along with the development of Wembley which has meant that the Manchester United ownership suddenly find themselves playing catch-up in terms of elite stadia.
Money has been put into Old Trafford over the years. Between the mid-90s and the mid-noughties, the capacity of Old Trafford was increased from 40,000 seats to almost 77,000 seats. This was before the boom of commercialism in football and at a time when fee-paying spectators were greatly important to the owners; and when match day revenue was still a major factor in the clubs’ finances.
This isn’t necessarily the case anymore. In 2005, match day revenue accounted for 36% (£62m) of Manchester United’s overall income whereas in 2018, Manchester United’s match day revenue made up just 18% (£118m) of the club’s overall income.
Match day revenue is still important, but in terms of financial outlay, Manchester United might well believe that their capital is now better spent in commercial endeavours, expanding foreign markets and potential financial investors rather than creating larger attendances on gameday.
Money has been spent on Old Trafford in recent seasons to improve the overall ground. The capacity for disability seating was increased during the summer (which brought down the overall capacity) while the Corporate boxes have also been improved (providing external seating, meaning that visitors no longer sit behind glass).
Speaking recently on Off the Ball, United We Stand editor Andy Mitten spoke of having seen proposed plans to expand the South Stand and improve the overall capacity to about 84,000. The current plan would mean that the South Stand would remain in situ, without the need to be bulldozed given developments in engineering and construction. The roof would be removed and a new tier could then be built behind the current stand. The new tier would be built over the current tram line without massive disruptions to the service.
It would be a costly endeavour, and given that match day revenue has fallen down the pecking order in Manchester United’s finances, it may no longer be near the top of the priority list for the Manchester United owners.
There continues to be a massive demand for such development however. Old Trafford is sold out for every game with United continuing to have greater demand than supply for tickets. Old Trafford boasts the largest average attendances in the league (with an average of 75,000 per game in 2018). This contrasts starkly with other marquee clubs across the continent. In 2018, FC Barcelona had an average attendance of 62,000 per game in the Camp Nou, a ground which caters for 99,000 supporters.
Regardless of whether the South Stand is redeveloped in the coming years, it is important that the ground continues to be looked after. Money has been spent on redeveloping corporate and disability seating, but fans recently have noted that the perspex roof of the South Stand looks grimy and dirty, and long in need of cleaning. It might be easy to put this on the long finger and suggest redevelopment is sooner than we think, but this has been a problem for a number of years, and it is not befitting one of the finest grounds in world football.
Manchester United fans should be grateful for the ground they have in Old Trafford. Perhaps no longer the biggest, it is still the greatest stadium in football.
While Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City have built new grounds, these are empty, vacuous hulls; bare skeletons on which they hope to build a new history over the coming years. Is there really a point in naming a stand after a legend who never adorned the stadium, like West Ham recently did with Billy Bonds? Manchester United have this history in situ at Old Trafford; character, memories and legends in abundance.
While fans can await the next stage of redevelopment at Old Trafford, they can rest assured that Old Trafford will always remain the ground of Manchester United; an eternal home to legends past and present with many memories, great and enduring.