Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS are reportedly planning to build the ‘Wembley of the North’ to replace Old Trafford in the coming years as they kickstart their Manchester United revolution. But does that make sense for the club or for fans?
Firstly, it is hardly surprising that there is a clamour in some quarters for a sparkly, shiny, brand-new stadium.
It might be a bit overstated given the stadium and its lack of any improvement in close to two decades have become a symbol of United’s decline under the Glazers, but it can’t be denied that Old Trafford is outdated and a far cry from its previous status as the showcase stadium in Britain.
Its non-selection for Euro 2028 was a damning indictment of its current state, no matter what was briefed to the contrary.
There are the well-reported and hugely embarrassing leaks in the roof, rust galore around the stadium, social media images of concrete falling and barely a new lick of paint evident for anyone who has been in attendance in recent years.
The concourse is behind the times – tight and narrow – and not well connected around the stadium.
The food and drink options are limited – a roasting hot pie and a pint of stale Carling if that tickles your fancy, and the queues are a mile long.
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There are not enough toilets and the ones that are in place regularly overflow.
There are also issues with accessibility, with stand entrances and turnstiles not updated under the stewardship (if you could call it that) of the Glazers.
A new stadium would continue the feeling that a new era is on the horizon, one without the reviled Americans; it is expected that Ratcliffe will be the majority owner of the club within three years, long before a stadium would be completed.
Look purely at the financial benefits to a new stadium and there are plenty – just look at what Tottenham are doing with their new stadium, and United are a far bigger club and would have a much bigger venue to work with.
NFL games and major concerts could and would take place in a new stadium, and boutique stores, restaurants, an even bigger museum and club store could be fitted in, turning it into a multi-purpose arena on par with any in the world.
Those new revenue streams would both help with the payment of the stadium and PSR/FFP, allowing United to further flex their muscles in the transfer market.
As for what would become of United’s current home, it has been suggested that it would either be downsized and become the home of the women’s and Academy sides or a full-on museum. Football’s version of the Coliseum if you will.
That’s the argument for building a new stadium. Now here is one for not building but instead remodelling, modernising the famous stadium and returning it to its former glory.
Some of the issues it currently faces appear fixable, starting with the roof and the rust. Basic maintenance is the bare minimum, which was clearly too much for the Glazers.
Food and drinks can be upgraded overnight, while it would likely not take too long to sort out the bathroom situation.
A revamped concourse would be more of an ask, as well as any interior infrastructure redevelopment, but surely it would be achievable.
The long-term issue at Old Trafford with increasing its capacity closer to 100,000 – which the club would have little problem filling – has been the train tracks that run adjacent to the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand.
But in recent years it has been floated that a workaround would be possible here, allowing the only single-tier stand in the ground to be massively expanded to turn it into a proper cauldron.
The stadium has hosted major events before and would again if redesigned.
As for boutique stores and the like, there is so much unused land around Old Trafford that the club owns that could turn the local area into a ‘Manchester United World’ of sorts. That would certainly happen if a new stadium was built too in fairness.
That does sound a bit too like Ed Woodward’s alleged description of the club as an ‘Adult Disneyland’ when pitching to Jurgen Klopp, but the point remains.
Currently, there’s Gary Neville’s Hotel Football and little else bar the stalls along Sir Matt Busby Way, which do bring a sense of tradition and should be supplemented rather than removed.
The job creation and boost to the local economy that would come with development around the stadium would be enormous and bring more of a community feel back to the club once again, as well as acting as a major source of revenue.
There are obviously several feasibility issues that come into play as well: How long would a new build take? What if they could not play in Old Trafford with building taking place right next door? Where would they play instead?
On the other side, how reduced would capacity be while a rebuild took place?
There are also rumours of wiring issues at the stadium, which again can be laid at the feet of the Glazers and their negligence.
Football, though, should be about more than numbers on a spreadsheet, and it certainly is to the fans. Sir Jim Ratcliffe would be wise to discuss any possible plans with and take counsel from supporters’ groups before making seismic decisions.
Old Trafford is synonymous with United, like Anfield is with Liverpool. It would not feel right if either club now played at a different stadium, and there is little doubt most Reds felt relieved when the proposed Stanley Park build was shelved in favour of an Anfield expansion, even if it was a financial decision as much as anything.
Even though the stadiums are bigger and nicer, do any Arsenal and Spurs fans have a greater affinity towards the Emirates and Tottenham Hotspur Stadiums than Highbury and White Hart Lane? West Ham fans’ feelings towards the London Stadium are well established.
All those clubs, like Everton next summer, moved because their stadiums were too small and could not be remodelled to make them suitable for their aspirations. That is not the case for United, who already have the biggest club stadium in the country. Real Madrid’s remodel of the Bernabeu should be the blueprint here.
Old Trafford is also steeped in history, legacy and lore that could not be recreated at a new stadium. Gone would be the spirit of old when chasing a goal late in a game, which is still relevant even in the team’s reduced current state.
This is the stadium first made famous by Billy Meredith, and then Sir Matt Busby and his Babes, the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton and most recently Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, Wayne Rooney and so many more.
The two knights have stands named after them while the Trinity, as well as Ferguson, have statues outside Old Trafford. Would they just be moved down the road? It would not feel the same.
What about the Munich tunnel, the memorial and the stopped clock? On the week of the anniversary, it all feels very poignant.
This is a place where generations of families have gone for over a hundred years, where parents have brought their children, and those children have brought their children.
What would a new stadium even be called? From Old Trafford to New Trafford…?
Sure, it would be a symbol of a new era but is that what the Glazers have done to the club and the fanbase? Force them to leave their stadium just to clear the stench of their near-two decades of destruction? It all feels a bit self-defeating and a betrayal of everything that came before.
The stadium survived being bombed twice by the Nazis in 1940 and 1941, leading to no games being played at the ground until 1949. It can survive the Glazers, and anything the modern game throws its way.
Old Trafford is special and unique. It should be protected at all costs. Pun intended.