Manchester United consider expanding Old Trafford capacity to hold 80,000
Two of the most famous quotes about Old Trafford came from Sir Bobby Charlton and Johann Cruyff. Charlton coined the term "Theatre of Dreams" while Cruyff said of Manchester United's home that "it is impossible to play badly in a stadium like Old Trafford." (His fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal has overseen a team that has somewhat contradicted that statement, but we get Cruyff's point.)
Old Trafford, for all its faults such as limited legroom between seats, is considered one of football's great venues and, before Sunday's game against Everton, its main stand will be officially named after Charlton. The move was planned last year and met with great approval from the Charlton family, who were keen to see the renaming done this season.
With 9,800 seats in varying shades of red, the main stand is the smallest of the stadium's four and is Old Trafford's only single-tier structure. It was bombed out of use in 1941, then patched up, expanded and reopened after World War Two ended. It has been modified several times since, with a new cantilever roof added and seats replacing terracing at the front.
The changing rooms have been moved as well but the base of the main stand remains the oldest part of the ground, dating back to 1910. The seats near the benches at the front have the shallowest rake of any at Old Trafford which meant that, until the camber was removed to level the pitch, fans couldn't see the ball when it was on the opposite side of the pitch.
It's the only stand without words picked out in white and is where the directors, press and managers sit. One of the best things about Old Trafford is that fans can sit right by the benches and, from Sunday, they'll be in a stand named after Charlton, who played the second-highest number of games for the club -- 758 -- and who, for now, has scored more goals -- 249 -- than any other United player.
Naming stands after players and managers is better than naming them after sponsors and it's to United's credit that the ultra-commercially minded club have not cashed in on naming rights for their home, as many feared after the 2005 Glazer family takeover. Charlton will be applauded by another full house on Sunday, including Evertonians who know how to conduct themselves when occasion demands, as they showed when they were the first visitors after Sir Matt Busby's death in 1994.
What happens to club legends of the future, though? There are only four stands; two have been named after Ferguson and Charlton, while the Stretford End will always be the Stretford End. Whoever gets that last one named after them had better be special.
Whatever, Old Trafford faces more change. New regulations mean United have to substantially increase the already-large disabled section and that will reduce the overall capacity, currently 75,653, by approximately 3,000 seats. The work is set to take place in the summer of 2017, with five different, complicated and expensive options having been considered.
Given United sell out for almost every game, the reduction in capacity is something to be addressed. As such, and despite consistently denying they are planning any significant development, the club have been weighing up various options to increase the capacity.
An extra tier of around 7,500 seats above the Sir Bobby Charlton stand is being considered. It would be of a similar size to the second tier in the Sir Alex Ferguson stand opposite, although the main stand would not have a third level.
The capacity will then be around 80,000, with a further option to build two more quadrants which, if they replicate existing ones on the other side of the ground, would boost the capacity by 4,000 each, swelling Old Trafford to an 88,000 capacity -- the second biggest in Europe after Camp Nou. Any increase would also allow for more executive facilities, which bring in so much more income than normal seats.
Behind the main stand are the Munich Tunnel and a train station used only on match days. The railway line and housing on Railway Road behind it have been the main obstacles to building but improvements in engineering mean the extra tier could go above the railway without the need for a costly tunnel. Plus, several properties have been demolished and the club own others.
United have continually spent money on their home to keep it the best in England, but this summer marks 10 years since the last major Old Trafford expansion, which saw the aforementioned quadrants open, at a cost of £42 million, to boost capacity from 68,000 to almost 76,000.
Ferguson was so impressed by how the new structures linked up the Stretford and Scoreboard Ends that he suggested the roof of the main stand should also be raised to match the rest of the stadium. The then-manager also joked that journalists could be strung from its top.
The new roof is set to happen and would mark the first major redevelopment project under the Glazers (the quadrants had already been agreed before the family took over).
The credit crunch was a factor for the lack of expansion, as was the fact that the club seemed to have reached a point of equilibrium where some games only just sold out. Uncertainty over kickoff times didn't help, either, and nor did extensive TV coverage and a big increase in air fares from Ireland.
In the meantime, Manchester City and Liverpool expanded their homes, while Arsenal have built a new stadium. Tottenham plan to do the same, Liverpool have plans for Anfield and Chelsea will redevelop Stamford Bridge. West Ham will increase capacity when they move to the Olympic stadium next season.
60,000-seater stadia will increasingly become the norm in the Premier League while, in Spain, huge stadium redevelopments will take place at Real Madrid and Barcelona; the Camp Nou's capacity will be boosted to 105,000.
With record revenues and demand still high to attend matches, plus the need for reconfiguration to the disabled section, it's the right time to expand Britain's biggest club stadium.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter @AndyMitten.