One hundred and four years ago today, Manchester United played at Old Trafford for the first time, in a 4-3 loss to Liverpool. The home of the Red Devils has since evolved to become the second largest stadium in Britain, and ninth biggest in Europe.
On February 19th, 1910, an estimated 50,000 people witnessed a 4-3 win for the visiting Liverpool in the ground that would come to be known as the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’ Reports state trams struggled to cope with the numbers attending the game and up to 5,000 people forced their way in without paying. United went 2-0 up inside the opening half an hour before Liverpool stormed back to level the game at 3-3. Then Scotsman James Stewart scored his second of the game to give the visitors a 4-3 win and spoil the party for the hosts’ big day.
Then chairman John Henry Davies had sanctioned spending £60,000 on a new stadium moving the team from Bank Street to a new venue, which according to manutd.com, was described by one journalist as:
“The most handsomest, the most spacious and the most remarkable arena I have ever seen. As a football ground it is unrivalled in the world, it is an honour to Manchester.”
The stadium was first designed in 1909 by the architect Archibald Leitch, the man behind Liverpool’s Anfield, Fulham’s Craven Cottage and Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium among a host of others. During World War 2, German aircraft targeting the Trafford Park Industrial Estate bombed the stadium; destroying the main stand, and scorching the pitch. United paid rent to cross-city rivals Manchester City for the use of Maine Road, an exercise that saw the club run up debts of £15,000 by the time Old Trafford reopened in 1949.
The North Stand was opened ahead of the 1966 World Cup in England and housed the first private boxes at a British football ground, a suggestion made by Matt Busby after watching baseball in the US. An all-seater Stretford End was built in the 1990s and various expansions included a three-tier North Stand and additional capacity to the East and West Stands, prior to hosting the 2003 UEFA Champions League final.
Today, Old Trafford’s capacity is 75,524. The North Stand was renamed in Alex Fergusons’ honour in November 2011. Perhaps the best-known stand at Old Trafford is the Stretford End. Originally designed to hold 20,000 fans, it was the last stand to be covered and also the last remaining all-terraced stand at the ground before the upgrade to seating of all stadiums in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy.
The Manchester United museum, incorporating the stadium tour, opens seven days-a-week except on match-days.
According to the club website, Sir Bobby Charlton coined the phrase ‘Theatre of Dreams’ in the book ‘Soccer’ by John Riley at the beginning of Alex Ferguson’s reign as manager in 1987. Images: stadiumguide.com