Old Trafford | 1992-2002
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The spring of 1992 was a time of emotional turmoil for many Manchester United fans. Not only had the league title been snatched by Leeds United – making it a quarter of a century since the Championship pennant had fluttered at Old Trafford – but the Stretford End was due to be demolished at the season’s end.
Following Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the Hillsborough tragedy, United had announced plans to redevelop the spiritual home of the club’s most passionate supporters. The revered terrace at the western end of the ground was to be replaced with some 10,500 seats, including a relocated family section, 46 executive boxes and assorted lounges. The dressing rooms were also to be relocated, with the players now reaching the pitch through a retractable security tunnel.
The final league game for which it was possible to stand on the Stretford End was the 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on 2 May 1992. There was just time for United to beat Crystal Palace in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final, and then Norman Whiteside held his testimonial at Old Trafford before the bulldozers moved in. That summer a stream of nostalgic fans dropped into Old Trafford to pick up a brick or fragment of rubble as a keepsake. They were greeted by the spectacle of two giant cranes towering above an empty space where the headquarters of the Red and White Army used to be.
The eerie atmosphere in the ground continued during the 1992/93 season as construction work dictated a much-reduced capacity, though each section of the new West Stand was opened as soon as possible. By mid-winter fans were installed at ground level, albeit exposed to the elements and kitted out in plastic macs (provided by the club) when the heavens opened.
The new Stretford End – which involved extending the cantilever roof around the whole stadium – cost a reported £12million. As if that were not enough, the club also invested in a press conference centre under the main stand and a much-needed new public address system. On the pitch events progressed even more satisfactorily as the Reds, inspired by new signing Eric Cantona, lifted the league championship trophy for the first time in 26 years. By the start of the following campaign, Old Trafford was a magnificent monument to modernity. With all the ground improvements complete, it seemed inconceivable that further large-scale development would be needed within a decade. But as the team grew ever more successful – United won the Double in 1994 and repeated the feat two seasons later – demand for tickets mushroomed, and further plans were laid.
After dismissing the idea of moving to a purpose-built stadium – it was felt that supporters would bitterly oppose such a break with tradition – the board announced plans for a huge three-tier edifice to replace the North Stand. More than a dozen options were considered before the final design was unveiled late in 1994. The new building would cost an estimated £18.6m, but as it extended much farther outwards than its predecessor and required a drive-through access road, another £9.1m would be needed to buy the necessary land from Trafford Park Estates.
By the time Old Trafford came to be used as one of the nation’s premier venues for Euro 96, the North Stand was well-nigh complete, adding some 12,000 seats to Old Trafford’s capacity, which by now exceeded 56,000. The largest single stand in the land, its giant sloping roof and labyrinthine web of girders towered above the three remaining cantilevered sides, a compelling benchmark of United’s phenomenal appeal. Fittingly, standing regally on the main forecourt above the Munich memorial tablet, was an imposing bronze statue of Sir Matt Busby, the man whose vision and genius had set the ball rolling half a century earlier.
Yet as the Reds continued to sweep all before them, the ground still wasn’t big enough to meet the demand of fans from all around the globe. Once again the architects returned to their drawing boards. This time they came up with second tiers for the East and West stands, which would increase the capacity by a further 12,000 to around 67,500. As neither of these additions was designed to sweep around the corners to meet the North Stand, the work was relatively uncomplicated and finished in time for the 2000/01 season, during which United recorded an average league gate of 67,542 – easily then a record for English club football.
Meanwhile the catering and recreational facilities had kept pace. The North Stand now housed the Red Café, a themed restaurant particularly popular with children, and the Manchester Suite, one of the most capacious function rooms in the north-west, seating 900 people. Most eye-catching of all, though, was the United Museum, which had grown into one of the most popular sports-related tourist attractions in the country.