A visit to Manchester United is more than going to just any football match. It’s an occasion. It’s a sporting experience. This is, after all, perhaps the biggest, most famous football club in the world.
Yes, there are clubs with higher stadium capacities and more European trophies in the cabinet. But few clubs can fill stadiums wherever they travel, whatever the occasion, and it goes without saying that the ‘sold out’ signs go up outside Old Trafford for every single fixture.
Britain’s biggest club has fans throughout the world and it is often ribbed by opposition fans for having a lack of Manchester-based supporters. However, it is a myth. Yes, United have fans everywhere – but that includes Manchester. You are just as likely to find yourself sitting next to someone from Salford as you are from a fan from Singapore.
Old Trafford is Britain’s biggest club ground, a gigantic coliseum that houses 76,000 fans. Three sides of the stadium rear up with massive new upper tiers including the Stretford End, where the home fans traditionally gather. The fourth side, the main stand, is the oldest part of the ground – it is not as big, but there are expansion plans in the pipeline.
If you arrive by tram from Manchester city centre to the Old Trafford stop you’ll see some floodlights straight away. Don’t be fooled though – the floodlights looming up to your right belong to Old Trafford Cricket Ground, this bowl is the home of to Lancashire County Cricket Club and is frequently host of the England cricket team.
Burger and hot dog vans are part and parcel of any British football day. However you’ll probably never see as many as you do around Old Trafford on a matchday – you can smell the frying of burgers and onions a mile from the ground. And Old Trafford has a growing reputation as the home of the ‘half and half’ scarf – a popular souvenir featuring the match date and both club crests, with thousands being sold even for a regular league fixture.
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The club itself just gets bigger and bigger. The first dynasty was built by Sir Matt Busby, whose name adorns the road leading up to the stadium, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the legends of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Dennis Law bestrode the turf.
A long period in the wilderness followed but then, in the mid 1990s, the powers-that-be decided to put their faith in an up and coming Scottish manager – Sir Alex Ferguson. The rest is history as 38 trophies – 13 English league titles and 2 European Cups among them – followed over a 26 year period.
Since Sir Alex retired three seasons ago the club has been rebuilding, but this summer the board appointed Jose Mourinho as manager. With Pep Guardiola in the dugout across town at Manchester City, this promises to be a season to remember with surely some big signings heading to Old Trafford.
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Of course when there are 76,000 fans heading out to a match, inevitably it’s going to be hectic journey getting from the city and back.
Here’s my tip for a more relaxed journey: Take the trip to the lesser used tram stop in Salford Quays. Pop into the Matchstick Man bar and restaurant next to the stop before or after the match – they’re used to football crowds and the service at the bar is speedy.
From there it’s a 20 minute walk back down the main road and across the river to Old Trafford. It’s worth making the return journey too as the queues for the Old Trafford tram stop and Manchester United train station are lengthy.
And while you are in Manchester, you may want to check out the National Football Museum in Cathedral Gardens. Located in the striking Urbis building, it is spread over 6 floors and givens you a fascinating insight into all aspects of our beautiful game.
It’s open seven days a week and entry is free – you will find it close to the tram stops Victoria Station and Exchange Square.