Manchester United's AON Training Complex has undergone some important renovation work in recent years, but the Red Devils' training ground still repeatedly comes under fire from critics, with many people frustrated by the fact that it doesn't match up to state-of-the-art new facilities like the Leicester City FC Training Centre. At the same time, United's home stadium has also faced criticism, with ex-player Gary Neville describing Old Trafford as "rusting and rotten", after years of under-investment from the Glazers.
It's a source of great frustration for many United fans, particularly given the club's immense wealth. But are things really that bad? Regardless of Old Trafford's current status, there's absolutely no denying that this ground is steeped in history, triumph, and footballing heritage. Old Trafford remains one of the UK's most impressive grounds in, a place that inspires fear in visiting players and fans — in this article, we'll be exploring how the Manchester United stadium has earned this reputation.
We'll provide you with an in-depth guide to the Manchester United ground, diving into its facilities, size, capacity, and history, and detailing the recent renovation work that's been completed at the ground. We'll also outline any plans for future expansion at Old Trafford. This is part of our ongoing series of articles focusing on Stadia & Operations in football.
Until 1902, Manchester United were known as Newton Heath, and that wasn't the only thing that differed from the club's modern identity — the team's early home grounds were marred by wretched conditions, whether it be boggy turf, gravel on the pitch, or smog obscuring players' vision. It became obvious pretty quickly that a new home was needed, and three decades after the club's formation, Old Trafford became the solution.
Sat in a spot west of the city next to Salford Docks, Old Trafford is the oldest of the two major modern stadiums situated in Greater Manchester. It first hosted a game in 1910, and since then has been the site of some remarkable sporting moments. From high-profile FA Cup clashes to European Cup nights and top-of-the-table Premier League battles, Old Trafford has hosted some special football matches over the years.
Described as "The Theatre of Dreams" by legendary United forward and England World Cup winner Bobby Charlton, Old Trafford enjoys a greater level of status than many other grounds across the UK. This is largely due to what's happened on the pitch, but the stadium's core facilities and features also play an important role. Here are some of the key things you need to know:
On the stadium's east side is Hotel Football, a football-themed hotel and fan clubhouse set up by legendary former United captain Gary Neville. Accommodating up to 1,500 supporters, the hotel opened in 2015, and while operating separately to the club itself, it's a key part of United's extensive hospitality offering. Parties and events are regularly hosted at the ground, as are other high-profile sports matches and concerts (more on this later).
From their formation as Newton Heath in 1878 until the early 20th century, the club now known across the world as Manchester United played at Bank Lane, around half an hour's walk from Old Trafford. Here, there was a capacity of 50,000, but it was described as a "dismal" site, situated right next to a chemical works with no room for expansion and fumes drifting into the ground and obscuring views of the pitch.
The switch to a 24-acre site at Old Trafford was confirmed in 1908, and after the enlisting of renowned Scottish stadium architect Archibald Leitch as chief designer, the 80,000-capacity ground was quickly developed and opened with a game against Liverpool on 19th February 1910. Its early decades weren't exactly plain sailing — due to its proximity to Salford Docks and the local munitions factories, the area was targeted heavily by German bombers during World War Two. On 22 December 1940, the stadium was hit, and just a few months later, further damage from Luftwaffe bombing meant that the ground had to be closed, forcing United to use the Maine Road home of their rivals Manchester City for the following eight years.
In the post-war period, Manchester United were financially stricken, with no manager, and a derelict home ground. Scottish manager Matt Busby was appointed in 1945 to turn things around, sparking a momentous period in the club's history. Improved performances led to 50,000-plus crowds at Maine Road, and the Red Devils soon had enough cash to move back into Old Trafford. The Main Stand's roof was restored by 1951 and the other three stands were covered, while £40,000 was injected into a proper floodlighting system (the first match to be played under floodlights at the ground was a league match against Bolton Wanderers on 25 March 1957).
Further renovation work helped ensure that Old Trafford was fit to host group matches at the 1966 World Cup, and as the stadium was gradually modernised over the following decades, the capacity dropped to around 60,000. The conversion to all-seater following the Taylor Report of 1990 meant that redesign plans had to be altered significantly; millions were spent on redeveloping the Stretford End into an all-seated stand, with a cantilever roof newly extended across the ground. By 1994, the standing terraces at Old Trafford were all gone, but the following year the opening of a new three-tier, 25,500-capacity North Stand brought the capacity back up, and renovation work to the other stands in the subsequent years meant that by 2006, Old Trafford could hold over 76,000 fans. Following the big 2005-06 expansion, the club set a new Premier League record attendance of 69,070.
Today, Old Trafford's four covered all-seater stands are entirely joined up, surrounding the 105x68m pitch. The North Stand is now named after Sir Alex Ferguson, while the South Stand takes its official name from another United legend, Sir Bobby Charlton. The other two stands are the East and West stands.
Previously the South Stand, this side of the ground, which runs lengthways parallel to the pitch, was renamed the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand in 2016, 60 years after the legendary player made his debut. It's the only single-tiered stand at Old Trafford, due to construction limitations, although it can still hold over 9,000 spectators. This structure contains most of the ground's executive suites, as well as the television gantry and media centre. The dugouts are situated just above pitch level in the South Stand, giving a raised view to coaches, with the Munich tunnel (named in honour of the 1958 Munich air disaster) stretching underneath the South Stand and leading to the changing rooms.
Opposite the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand is a structure named after a man who led the club to a staggering 38 major trophies: Sir Alex Ferguson. Called the North Stand until its 2011 renaming, this side of the ground has been redeveloped extensively over the years. In preparation for the 1966 World Cup, £350,000 was spent on expanding the capacity to 20,000, and those fans were given a better view as the old roof pillars were replaced with modernised cantilivering. Nowadays, the whopping three-tier structure can hold over 26,000 people, as well as some spectators in executive boxes and hospitality suites (these were actually the first private boxes at a British football ground).
You'll probably know the officially-titled West Stand under a different name: The Stretford End. Probably Old Trafford's most famous stand, it's this goal end that generates much of the noise on matchdays, with most of United's most vocal fans holding season tickets in the Stretford End. In line with the hardcore nature of the support, this was the last stand to be covered and also the ground's last remaining all-terraced stand; thankfully for United, the passionate support has continued since all-seater conversion. While it was initially built to house 20,000 fans, today the West Stand can hold about 14,000 supporters.
Finally, there's the goal end opposite the Stretford End, a less iconic part of Old Trafford but an important element of the matchday atmosphere nonetheless. Also regularly called the Scoreboard End (you can probably guess why), the East Stand holds around 12,000 fans, and is also the location of the disabled supporters' section and the 3,000-capacity away end. Behind the main stand, you can find both the United megastore and the club's core administrative centre, as well as several tributes to the history of Manchester United, including a memorial to the victims of the Munich air disaster.
There are currently concrete plans in place to revamp Man United's AON Training Complex, with Mags Mernagh (a highly respected figure who helped deliver Leicester City's £130m training ground) taking the reigns of the project as Programme Director. The stadium, meanwhile, has been the subject of much discussion regarding renovation. A huge amount of work was done at Old Trafford in the 1990s and 2000s to make it one of the world's best football stadiums, but in recent years the club has faced criticism for stagnating (Gary Neville's aforementioned "rusting and rotten" comments have been shared repeatedly).
Back in 2009, further capacity expansion plans were reported, with the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand pinpointed as an area that could be redeveloped. It was suggested that a £100 million investment here could bring the ground's capacity up to around 95,000, making it even bigger than Wembley Stadium, although it's unsure exactly what the club is looking to do, and Red Devils fans are still waiting for serious upgrades to be confirmed.
In 2018, it was reported that logistical issues have pushed back the plans, with club managing director Richard Arnold stating "it isn't certain that there's a way of doing it which doesn't render us homeless." A further update was provided by co-chairman Joel Glazer at a 2021 Fans Forum meeting, where he announced that "early-stage planning work" for the redevelopment of both Old Trafford and the club's Carrington training ground had been launched. Criticism continues to be levelled at Old Trafford's current situation, but it looks like various options are being weighed up.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Any plans for expansion will hinge on whether United are able to continue playing regularly at Old Trafford while work is carried out, but it's not just the first team that will be hoping this is feasible. Old Trafford is also regularly used for rugby league matches (it's hosted every Rugby League Premiership Final since 1986-67), and in the past it's also been used within various rugby union competitions. Numerous concerts have been played at Old Trafford, too; big artists such as Bon Jovi, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen, and Rod Stewart have appeared on stage here, and a number of high-profile speaking events and dinners are hosted at the ground each year.
If you'd like to find out more about the high-quality infrastructure that allows United to compete at the top level of English football, head here to check out our guide to the AON Training Complex, the Manchester United training ground.