Belfast Telegraph

John Laverty: Manchester United should include Old Trafford in rebuilding plan... it's a dump


It stands alone: Tottenham Hotspur’s stunning new stadium (pictured) has left others like Old Trafford trailing in its wake
It stands alone: Tottenham Hotspur’s stunning new stadium (pictured) has left others like Old Trafford trailing in its wake
John Laverty

By John Laverty

The 2003 Champions League final was a real stinker. Two ultra-defensive Italian teams, no goals, 120 stultifyingly awful minutes.

Andriy Shevchenko finally put us out of our collective misery with the decisive spot-kick as AC Milan beat Juventus to lift Old Big Ears for the sixth time.

It was the last Champions League decider I attended - and, incidentally, the last major showpiece game hosted by Old Trafford.

Some 16 years on, Uefa don't see it as a theatre for their dreams any more; not only is 'OT' no longer one of the finest stadiums in Europe, it's not even the best in the country whose top-flight league its owners have won a record 20 times.

Tottenham's fabulous new London gaff is now the envy of every leading football club in the world, a breathtaking £1bn glass and concrete citadel.

Yet the last time Spurs won the title, The Beatles hadn't earned a recording contract and Boris Johnson was still three years away from soiling his first nappy.

Compared to the 'Tottenham Hotspur Stadium', neighbours Arsenal's Emirates, which is only 13-years-old, looks positively dated, while Wembley, the so-called jewel in English football's crown, fails to sparkle when set against the jaw-dropping gem Spurs have built for themselves 14 miles away.

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So where does that leave Old Trafford? It still looks imposing on the approach and stirs the blood of its fans - although 95% of them have never been there - but, comparatively speaking, it's a dump.

The Borough of Trafford venue still has the jump on Spurs when it comes to club ground capacity - 75,000 to just over 62,000 - but those rows of red plastic seats are packed tightly together, plane-like; try squeezing past that myriad of knobbly knees when you're keen on getting a beer in at one end or out the other (at least NI Manc Keith Norris knows his iconic 'Big Lily' flag covers more fans at OT than anywhere else...).

The Sir Bobby Charlton Stand (the one that backs onto the railway line; the one you never see on telly) was built in the '70s and regularly leaks - not exactly a selling point in rainy Stretford but no impediment to the countless rodents who have made OT their home (just Google 'Old Trafford rats' for further details).

Old Trafford
Old Trafford

There's even a negative for those cretins who prefer to stare at phones rather than watch the match - the stadium's Wi-Fi is particularly poor; it even cost Paul Pogba the United captaincy last year after a delayed social media post appeared to show him enjoying a home defeat by Derby, but was actually shot long before the game ended.

And speaking of screens - yes, where ARE they? Fun fact: The four mammoth ones at Spurs cover a bigger area than of the rest of the Premier League clubs combined.

I was never an advocate of these monstrosities - the last two Fifa World Cups proved that many fans are more animated by seeing themselves on screen than what's happening on the pitch - but, with the advent of VAR, such technology is now a necessary evil.

But where to put them; in the 'quadrants'? Behind the goals? No and no, because hundreds of fans couldn't see past them, and a stand roof's a non-starter as well because no one in the ground could view them.

To be fair, that lot from down the East Lancs Road have a similar issue with Anfield.

As a Man U fan of half a century and counting, it's yet another layer of dismay after tolerating the non-stop 'rebuilding' of a chronically underachieving club in the post-Fergie era.

Once the undisputed kings of the Premier League, United were also pioneers when it came to their HQ.

'Cold Trafford' had heated executive boxes before other clubs had even considered them, and the introduction of their huge cantilevered stands blissfully coincided with the emergence of Bestie in the mid-60s.

Even now, one of those stands still boasts a bigger capacity than Watford, Burnley or Bournemouth.

The United Megastore was radical for its time, as was the club museum.

But their two principal rivals for the title of 'world's biggest football club', Real and Barca, have now embarked on major revamps of the Bernabeu and Camp Nou respectively.

Milan's San Siro, once regarded as space-age, is being rebuilt, while Bayern, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and - ahem - the current Premier League champions have all moved into shiny-button new homes since the Glazer family bought MUFC.

But are the club's detested Yankee owners to blame?

It would be such a lazy excuse to proffer but, under the Glazers and despite the gargantuan start-up debt, United are still a fabulously wealthy, envied embedded global brand, and regularly set benchmarks when buying and paying players.

And let's not forget that the Glazer family's other major sporting asset, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had one of the finest NFL stadiums in America (the Raymond James, or 'Ray-Jay') purpose-built for them shortly after the takeover.

So what hope for a New Trafford?

I'm told by a source at the club that it's "in the Glazers' long-term thoughts" and that money is not an over-riding issue but, because of that damned railway line, the existing stadium would have to be razed to the ground and relocated to a new venue boasting ample parking space for something like 60,000 vehicles.

What about moving to Manchester? Now there's a novel idea…

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