Top-6 rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have announced plans to move to newer, bigger arenas joining the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City in expanding their stadium in recent years. Arsenal too shifted base from Highbury to the bigger Emirates Stadium a decade or so back. However, Manchester United’s last two developments at Old Trafford have been renaming the names of the North Stand and the Main Stand after two living legends of the club.
The last expansion at Old Trafford took place between 2005 and 2006 adding 8000 seats in the two quadrants joining the then North Stand (now Sir Alex Ferguson Stand) with the Stretford End and the East Stand. Yes, Old Trafford is the biggest club stadium in England, by a mile. The closest stadium is Arsenal’s Emirates about 15k seats behind though the Emirates may drop down to No.4 after Spurs and Chelsea move into their new homes. However, United’s place at No.1 in terms of capacity seems safe. But despite this, Manchester United cannot stand still. Reason: This is Manchester United, England’s biggest and most successful club.
Back in January, a report emerged suggesting that the club was looking into plans to redevelop the Sir Bobby Charlton stand adding close to 7500 seats and building quadrants linking the stand to the Stretford End and the East Stand. This would take the capacity of the stadium to about 88k, making Old Trafford the second largest club stadium in Europe behind only Barcelona’s Camp Nou. Incidentally, this would be much bigger than Real Madrid’s Bernabeu.
But talks of redeveloping this stand has been going on since the last expansion without. But it has been all Talk and no work. A big reason for this is the presence of railway lines and houses behind the stand. A redevelopment would mean that there would be drastic changes to the tracks and the club would have to buy a few rows of houses lying beyond it. Replication of the Sir Charlton stand with the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand would take the capacity to 95k. But it is safe to say that will not happen as it would take close to £100m for such development.
Advancement in technology means that United can upgrade the South Stand at a much lower price would involve adding a second tier to the currently single tier stand increasing its height to that of the Sir Alex stand but without the third tier. United’s executive suites and hospitality packages would all be located in this ‘new’ stand. Currently, United use the Lancashire County Cricket Club’s facilities for corporate packages.
Another way to increase the capacity and improve England’s best atmosphere in a stadium will be to introduce safe standing. Safe-standing has long been mooted at Old Trafford but any introduction would require a change in legislation since standing terraces were banned after the Hillsborough Disaster. The supporters are behind the idea of safe-standing and want it introduced as early as possible. Celtic recently experimented with the idea to much success. Many teams in the Bundesliga have safe standing terraces in which fans stand during the league but remain seated in European matches due to UEFA regulations. Safe standing at Old Trafford would most likely be based on the German standard. The club also experimented with a specific singing section a while back with the loudest fans put together to improve the atmosphere.
Manchester United’s ever-increasing season ticket waitlist means that the club will have to increase capacity at Old Trafford sooner rather than later. And with all the rivals increasing their capacities, my money is on sooner.