Manchester United’s home Old Trafford has long been England’s premier club stadium. The ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has the biggest capacity for a club side in England at 76,000, but the stadium has not been redeveloped at all since the North West and North East Quadrants were filled in during the 2005/06 season.
Planning for the Quadrants was put in place before the take-over of the club by the Glazer family, and they have not put forward any plans while owning the club to increase the capacity further. In the time since, Manchester City have expanded their capacity in the South Stand to fit 55,000 inside the Etihad and this week Liverpool have put forward more consultation plans to increase their Anfield Road end, taking the overall capacity of Anfield to over 60,000.
On this evidence it’s clear that United’s rivals are not only ahead on the pitch, but also off it. Old Trafford from a distance looks rusty and lob sided, due to the fact that the South Stand, renamed The Bobby Charlton Stand in 2016, has only one tier, compared to the opposite North Stand’s three. Behind the South Stand is residential houses and a railway line used by fans every game, these being the biggest logistical issues regarding adding new tiers.
It would cost reportedly 200 million to add 10,000 extra seats, however, with United being one of the richest clubs in world football, money should be no issue. It has been stated that there is also the technology available to not have to build over the railway line. However, the expansion would mean limited additional corporate facilities and this shows how the Glazers operate, if there is little room for corporate opportunities, the interest will not be high.
Over the years the number of channels now broadcasting matches has resulted in a substantial increase in TV money coming into the club, and the significant amount of sponsors the club has too now adds millions a season. Simply put, matchday revenue no longer makes the club the most money. The Glazers are rarely seen at Old Trafford, so it would come as no surprise that the matchday experience means little to them. Their lack of care for the ground could be seen before last April’s Manchester derby when the roof leaked before the game.
Managing director Richard Arnold stated in 2018 that expanding Old Trafford would be a multi-season challenge and there wasn’t a certain way of doing it without rendering United homeless. However, the club needs to move forward in some way as other clubs are catching up either through ground redevelopment or by moving to a new ground completely. In the years that the Glazers have owned the club, Arsenal and Tottenham have moved into impressively modern new grounds, while Everton and Chelsea are also planning to move in the near future.
Moving away from Old Trafford would be troubling for most fans, but the way the ground is being allowed to rot under current ownership means United are being left in the past. It seems like it won’t take many more years until the ground no longer has the highest capacity in the country. Under the ownership of the Glazers, the Theatre of Dreams is being slept on, and something will have to change.
Written by Alex Metcalfe