Old Trafford | 1963-1974
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As Matt Busby’s third great United team surged from strength to strength during the 1960s, Old Trafford underwent a radical transformation. Not only did the ground’s costly and fashionable facelift reflect the optimism of the decade, but it was the forging of the luxurious stadium we sit in today.
In 1962, United were already considering major expansion when the club’s plans were given fresh impetus by the news that England was to host the World Cup finals in four years’ time. The club was asked to stage three games and was awarded the considerable sum of £40,000 towards the cost of preparation.
So, in 1964, down came the cover along the United Road side and up went a sleek cantilever stand running the length of the ground and turning into both corners, allowing for later development. There were seats for 10,500 behind a standing paddock for 10,000. It was an impressive edifice, symbolising United’s emerging power.
Significantly, the new stand featured the first private boxes in British football. The board was initially sceptical about this revolutionary extra; many doubted that fans would ever want to watch a match from behind glass. But the architects believed passionately in the idea, the directors eventually changed their minds, and 34 boxes were installed with the first seasonal rent at £250-300.
The cost of the new stand was reportedly £350,000, and further work on the ground took United’s pre-World Cup expenditure beyond £400,000, putting them firmly in the red. Some fans complained at that; the money, it was felt, would have been better spent on improving the squad. But Matt Busby was content with his playing resources – after all, he had Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best – and recognised with characteristic vision that the club must advance on all fronts.
United continued to move with the times. In March 1967, the club experimented for the first time with closed-circuit TV. Seven huge screens were erected on the pitch to relay action from the Reds’ match at Arsenal. More than 28,000 fans filed into Old Trafford for the event. It was a blustery Friday night – one screen was blown over – and although the project was a moderate success, similar efforts have been few and far between.
Six months later saw the start of a new business venture. After careful consideration, the directors invested £1,000 in a small wooden hut for use as a souvenir shop on Old Trafford’s forecourt. While meriting credit for their foresight, it is unlikely they envisaged the huge impact that merchandising would one day have on the club’s finances.
On the debit side, Old Trafford was not immune from a malaise that had begun to afflict the British game: hooliganism. So concerned were the directors after a missile was hurled during the European Cup semi-final against Milan in May 1969 that they considered the unthinkable: the installation of safety fences. They decided against such draconian measures, but the issue would rear its head again all too soon.
Sounding a more positive note, chairman Louis Edwards spoke that same year of the stadium’s limitless potential for development, boggling many minds by revealing that the board had examined the possibility of a sliding roof, along the lines of the famous Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The idea remained on the drawing board, but it erased any doubts that United were without rivals when it came to long-term ambition. The previous year, Old Trafford’s increased stature earned its first FA Cup semi-final since the war. In 1970, a major coup arrived in the form of an FA Cup final replay between Chelsea and Leeds.
Although business expanded by the year, the glorious Busby era was drawing to an end. But if the team was showing signs of decline, the urge to build was not quelled. In 1971, the club decided to extend the United Road cantilever around the Scoreboard End, creating 5,000 new seats and more exec boxes, while retaining a standing area behind the goal. This was opened in 1973, by which time further behavioural problems caused anxiety. When a knife was thrown from the Stretford End in a game with Newcastle in February 1971, the terracing behind the goal had to be cleared, a £7,000 fine met, and the first two home games of the 1971/72 season played away from Old Trafford.
Worse followed. Defeat at home to Manchester City in April 1974 – via a backheeled goal by former Stretford End idol Denis Law – added to the heartache of relegation to Division Two, and hundreds of fans invaded the pitch before the final whistle. As a result, 1974/75’s action began with 9ft-high spiked fences behind both goals, a depressing sight for anybody who cared about football in general and United in particular.