England’s largest club stadium, Old Trafford, is home to the most successful team in the country, Manchester United. The 75,000 capacity ground, which is up there with Europe’s largest football stadiums, has been witness to countless triumphs over the decades. Millions of supporters travel to Old Trafford each season and there are plenty of reasons to visit.
History of Old Trafford
Old Trafford has been United’s home since 1910, when the new stadium was constructed following a move from the former ground, Bank Street in Clayton. Originally planned as a 100,000 capacity stadium, the early plans were modified to 80,000 due to costs, and over 100 years later the total remains similar after various redevelopments. The 1990 Taylor Report, which recommend all seater stadiums on safety grounds, dropped the capacity to a low of 44,000, however subsequent expansion of the North, East and West stands and new quadrants saw this grow back to 75,000 in 2006.
The stadium has survived some critical moments over the years, most notably the bombings during World War Two which left it out of action from 1941 to 1949. The German raids on Trafford Park destroyed much of the main stand and led United to temporarily play home games at City’s Maine Road.
Over the decades there have been plenty of world class players doing the business for United at Old Trafford, some go down as legends. You don’t need to look far to see their statues adorning the stadium; the holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton sits in front of the east stand under the gaze of Sir Matt Busby, who guided the team to League and then European Cup glory in the 50s & 60s. The stadium sits at the top of Sir Matt Busby way (the renamed Warwick Road), intercepting Sir Alex Ferguson way on the other side of the ground.
Sir Alex is unquestionably the greatest manager of United; whilst Sir Matt Busby laid the foundations and rebuilt the club after the Munich disaster, Fergie took United to another level with domination in the 90s and 00s. He retired in 2013 with the club unveiling the Sir Alex Ferguson stand (the old north stand) with a statue to match. A few years later Old Trafford also witnessed the renaming of the south stand to the Sir Bobby Charlton stand, the third figure in United’s history to be knighted and leader of the great team under Busby. A final statue of Denis Law “King of the Stretford End” can be found in the top tier of the famous stand.
Travel to Old Trafford
Old Trafford is around 3 miles west of Manchester city centre, but there are plenty of options for travelling to the ground on public transport. The Metrolink is by far the most convenient option, with any of the nearby tram stations (Old Trafford [LCCC], Trafford Bar, Exchange Quays) in zone 2, all a 10 minute journey from the city (zone 1) followed by a similar length walk to the ground.
There are bus routes from the city centre too, though a bit of a slower option and at mercy of the often gridlocked roads around Manchester. In years gone you could travel directly on train service from Piccadilly to Manchester United FC Halt station, however these stopped running in 2018 at the club’s request, namely health and safety reasons. Car parking isn’t cheap in the official car parks either at £10/game, though there’s plenty of unofficial options slightly further out for a fiver.
Museum & Stadium Tour
Old Trafford museum and stadium tour is available every day of the week, though closed on matchdays. I’ve only made one trip here, but worth it to visit the museum and get a picture with the 2008/09 trophy haul. There haven’t been many prolific season’s since, but there’s plenty of history and memorabilia to see. The stadium tour is great for those that want to find out more about the vast history of Old Trafford, with a trip down the original players tunnel (under the current dugouts) and Eric Cantona’s influence on the home dressing room.
Matchday at Old Trafford
There have been scores of memorable games at Old Trafford, with emphatic title deciders, famous cup wins and the occasional final hosted at the ground. Whilst there may not be the same buzz for every single fixture, the stadium is still busy from the early hours on a matchday. From scarf sellers to last minute visitors to the ticket office.
Plenty of fans will fill the pubs around the ground too, with early queues at the Bishops Blaize and The Trafford, both a short walk up Sir Matt Busby Way. Slightly quieter pubs exist a little further out too; The Tollgate at Trafford Bar, The Matchstick Man at Salford Quays and The Quadrant just behind Old Trafford cricket club. Plus many more. A pre match drink and a bit of singing is the ritual build up for a lot of fans, with little incentive to get into the ground too early, especially when a 400ml bottle of Heineken costs £5 (equivalent of £7 a pint!)
Visitors to Old Trafford will often bemoan the atmosphere at United games, and the growth of the stadium has perhaps come at its expense, with more and more new fans or tourists filling the ground at times. There are, however, solid supporter groups and pockets of fans in J & K Stand, and both tiers of the Stretford End who keep the noise going each game. Certain occasions make for a bigger and more intense atmosphere, derby games and the latter stages of cup competitions, whilst big European nights under the floodlights are always an occasion.
For fans making a one off or rare visit to Old Trafford, the Manchester United club shop, or “megastore”, is often a stop-off. Over 17,000 square feet of merchandise which United claim sees 10,000 fans each matchday. The store is open 7 days a week too, useful for the hoards of visitors to the ground on any given day.
Manchester United Tickets
Whilst not quite the rare commodity they were in the Fergie era, tickets for United games can still be tricky to get hold of. The eticketing system is easy enough to navigate, but most matches require fans to be signed up to the official membership scheme (£25/year or £35 if you want a membership pack) just to have access to apply for tickets. Premier League and Champions League games are in high demand, but there’s often more general sale for League Cup and Europa League games.
Of course, having a season ticket makes things a little easier, even if it means being signed up to the Automatic Cup Scheme (ACS) which means you’re obliged to pay for all home cup games, or forfeit the right to apply for away matches tickets, including finals.
Visiting Old Trafford will always be on the bucket of list of fans across the world. Steeped in history and whilst not the sleek, modern design that we now see across Europe, it’s still an awe-inspiring sight with the supports of the huge cantilever roof coming into view as you make the approach to the ground. There’s often talk of further expansion, such as raising the south stand to match the two-tiers on the other three sides, but plans have been discussed for years with costs always the excuse, especially under the Glazer regime. Modern stadiums do have advantages over Old Trafford, better facilities and access for fans, however none will ever match the prestige of M16 0RA.