Old Trafford has come a long way since it first opened its gates for Manchester United Football Club on 19th Feb 1910.

Roll back eight years to 1902, United were known as Newton Heath, and played their football at North Road and then Bank Street in Clayton. Playing conditions at these grounds were particularly poor as the pitches varied from gravel to marsh, with Bank Street suffering smog clouds from local factories.

In 1909, after surviving near-bankruptcy and a subsequent renaming, the new chairman John Henry Davies decided that Bank Street was unsuitable for a team that just won the FA Cup and also the First Division the year before.

Davies donated £60,000 of his own money for the construction of a new ground, which was designed by Scottish architect Archibald Leitch, the mastermind behind Hampden Park. The stadium was completed by the end of 1909 and a few months later over 45,000 people packed in to witness United’s inaugural match, a seven-goal thriller with Liverpool that ended in a 4-3 defeat.

Over the course of the next 30 years, Old Trafford hosted a number of different events including Rugby Union and Rugby League. The stadium was also home to the FA Cup Final before Wembley was built in 1923.

Following the outbreak of World War Two, Old Trafford was requisitioned by the armed forces to be used as a military depot. United did continue to play at the stadium but a German bombing raid on 22nd December 1940 caused extensive damage resulting in a Christmas day fixture against Stockport County being switched to Stockport's ground.

United returned to Old Trafford on 8th March 1941, but another German raid, only three days later, destroyed much of the stadium, decimating the main stand (now the South Stand). After pressure from United chairman James W. Gibson, the War Damage Commission granted United £4,800 to remove the debris and £17,478 to reconstruct the ground.

During the rebuild of the stadium, United played at Maine Road, the home of their cross-town rivals, Manchester City. The arrangement cost £5,000 a year and took a percentage of gate receipts, leaving the club with debts of £15,000 a far cry from the club’s current financial situation.

Old Trafford was not reopened for nearly 10 years, with United's first game back at home being played on 24th August 1949, with 41,748 fans watching a 3–0 victory over Bolton Wanderers.

The ground experienced extensive redevelopment and improvements over the next 15 years. A roof was erected around the stadium and in 1957 the club spent £40,000 on proper floodlight installation.

The next stage of renovations was in anticipation of the 1966 FIFA World Cup. The North Stand’s old roof pillars were replaced in 1965 with modern-style cantilevering on top of the roof, allowing every spectator a completely unobstructed view. The stand was also expanded to hold 20,000 spectators costing £350,000 and housed the first private boxes at a British football ground.

Old Trafford hosted its third FA Cup Final, a replay between Chelsea and Leeds in 1970 with an attendance of 62,078. After the dramatic rise of football hooliganism in the 1970s, the club erected the country's first perimeter fence, preventing fans from entering on the pitch.

By the 1980s, the capacity had decreased from the original 80,000 to around 60,000. The capacity dropped further in 1990, following recommendations by the Taylor Report demanding all stadia used by First and Second Division clubs must be converted to all-seater.

The stadium helped stage the 1996 UEFA European Football Championships by hosting three group games, a quarter-final and a semi-final.

Following the demolition of the old Wembley Stadium, from 2003 to 2007 Old Trafford hosted 12 of England's 23 home matches, more than any other stadium. The ground also hosted the 2003 UEFA Champions League Final between AC Milan and Juventus with an attendance of 63,215.

Recent redevelopment has seen the capacity to rise to 75,957, the highest in British club football. However the club is keen to press on with further expansion to 95,000 which would eclipse the new Wembley Stadium and truly live up its name as the Theatre of Dreams.

Posted on 19/02/2010