It is a commonly accepted truth that while Old Trafford is England’s biggest club stadium, it is far from the best.
The Theatre of Dreams can hold 74,310 fans on match day yet, as an example, Tottenham’s new stadium is far superior in every other aspect.
This was not a cheap outlay for the North London club, but represents an investment which will last multiple generations of Spurs fans. It’s also opened up a host of new opportunities and partnerships for Tottenham, which are not possible for any other Premier League club.
Manchester United fans would not necessarily expect this type of new stadium, given the exorbitant costs and efforts involved in such an enterprise, but significant investment is required to bring an out-dated Old Trafford into the modern day.
Further improvements to the logistics of the stadium are also occurring, designed to improve fan’s experience and the atmosphere generated on match day. United have installed safe standing areas at various parts of the ground which means 8% of Old Trafford’s current capacity falls into this category.
United also became the first side in the Premier League to publish a “fan engagement plan” this season, designed to create dialogue between a club and their supporters to help “improve their experience.” These are small steps, but ones which suggest a growing appreciation amongst United’s heirachy that more needs to be done to improve United’s home.
£10 million has been spent on overhauling the wi-fi system with Old Trafford previously constituting a dead zone for service once you entered the stadium. A leaky roof in the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand is also scheduled to be fixed this year, a long overdue upgrade.
The Athletic reports United will spend a total of £20 million on these various processes, but underscore it will “cost many times that to bring about the modernisation and expansion many feel it truly needs.”
An additional tier in the same area as the leaky roof has been suggested, by extending the stand over the railway tracks behind it. This would provide a significant capacity increase, with the current waiting list for season ticket holders standing at 150,000. Given the current the rate of acceptance stands at 2% for this season, fans at the back of this queue would have to wait 150 years for a season ticket.
Collete Roche, United’s Chief Operating Officer, insists United are “not standing still” on potential renovation, but acknowledges the complexity involved in such endeavours.
The club launched a “strategic review” last Novemeber, at the request of the Glazers, intended to analyse what improvements could be made to Old Trafford. The aforementioned expansion to the Sir Bobby Charlon Stand was one such option, as was the possibility of “constructing a whole new Old Trafford.” Reports suggest a proposal has been “drawn up” detailing a new stadium built on the car park adjacent to the current ground.
The prices involved in these works ranged from £500 million to more than £2 billion. The idea of such investment by the Glazers must be treaated with scepticism, however, with noises suggesting a comprehensive renovation will only occur under new ownership.
The Athletic describes the state of Old Trafford as a “major lightning rod” of emotion for fans in relation to the club’s owners. The disrepair the stadium has been allowed to fall into over the past seventeen years is a physical manifestation of the Glazer attitude – one which has seen the Americans extract £1.5 billion from the club, without any level of meaningful reinvestment in return.
The Glazers have allowed Old Trafford to become Old Trafford by prioritising profit over productivity. The club appear to be taking small steps in the right direction, but far greater strides will have to be made to do the stadium the justice it deserves.