When you hear the name, Old Trafford you would probably remember the spine-tingling glory of the Red Devils and the proud history of Manchester United. Yet somehow if you talk to a regular visitor of the facilities, they will tell you a very different story of the matchday experience. Here is how the biggest stadium in England, once the envy of the entire world, has been allowed to deteriorate.
During a Manchester Derby in 2019, a thunderstorm caused a massive torrent of rainwater to cascade down onto the seats below. This issue stands as an embarrassing reminder of the negligence shown by owners at Manchester United. The failure of the Glazer Family to modernize the stadium or actually to make any changes at all. United have not made any upgrades or significant changes to their home stadium since 2005. Since then, a host of clubs have opened or upgraded their home grounds. Arsenal moved to the Emirates. Manchester City has upgraded the Etihad Campus significantly. Liverpool has built a new main stand and, most recently, Spurs have moved to a state-of-the-art replacement for White Hart Lane.
#MUFC have only spent £118m on infrastructure in the last 11 years. Obviously, this is dwarfed by #THFC £1.4 bln (new stadium and training ground), but it is also lower than #MCFC £378m, #LFC £238m, #BHAFC £181m and #AFC £132m, where owners have invested in the future. pic.twitter.com/JjURq7UIgX
— Swiss Ramble (@SwissRamble) May 4, 2021
The complaints from fans revolve around the lack of a big screen and the poor quality of the concourses and catering facilities. One of the key reasons behind the massive capacity of Old Trafford is the narrow lanes between rows. While that is an efficient use of space, supporters even less than average height have complained of feeling uncomfortable during games.
On an even more embarrassing note, in 2015, health inspectors from the local council criticized the club for failing to implement adequate procedures to control pests in the food areas of the North and South stand. Other issues include the logistics to expand the south stand that is only meters ahead of a train track. The project to expand that part of the stadium was put on hold in December 2017 since it was going to cost £750 million.
The primary reason for all of this is probably the lack of financial necessity. Despite these problems, United has managed to pocket a matchday revenue of £110 million before the pandemic, significantly higher than the other premier league giants. To defend themselves from criticism, the Glazer family points at the funds invested to improve stadium experience including £4 million in security upgrades, another £4 million in hospitality development, and £11 million in making the stadium more wheelchair accessible. Even though it is significant investment, it is still far less than what other Premier League clubs are doing.
While these changes may or may not be significant, according to Tifo Football fans can see rust developing in the stands, photos of mice running onto the pitch were captured by journalists regularly and media remain frustrated by the outdated facilities and poor Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, Man United’s rivals and neighbours- Manchester City have spent over £1 billion pounds on expanding and improving the facilities of the stadium over the past decade. More recently, Tottenham Hotspur also spent a whopping $1 billion for the new stadium with state-of-the-art facilities and a retractable pitch (for NFL games).
The biggest concern is the lack of future vision about the stadium. It seems that the potentially high cost and logistics of making changes to the stadium have steered the Glazers away from the clubs’ beloved home. However, there are some signs of positivity for Old Trafford.
On May 7, in a letter to Manchester United fans, Joel Glazer said, “We recognize that we will need to significantly increase investment in Old Trafford and our training complex to ensure that the club’s facilities remain among the best in Europe. As part of this, we will consult with fans on investments related to the stadium and the matchday experience.”
Joel Glazer once again hinted towards more investment in infrastructure while talking at Fan’s Forum in the first week of June. Time will tell whether these promises are fulfilled by Manchester United owners. As of now, the big question remains – With fans returning to the stadium after more than a year, will these problems persist?