Exclusive: Manchester United putting history ahead of expansion at Old Trafford

Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward says United will 'regenerate, rejuvenate' but not ruin the appeal of the biggest club stadium in Britain

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Old Trafford is the biggest club stadium in Britain and has been sold out for league games since 1992 – and it’s the history of the ground that Manchester United are so keen to preserve.

While Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal have moved to new stadiums, Liverpool have increased their capacity, and Chelsea have long considered moving location, United are adamant that Old Trafford is such a historic ground that radical changes could do more harm than good.

United's home turf has not seen any major developments since 2006, and despite calls for improvements – especially after the roof was found to have a leak last season – club executive vice chairman Ed Woodward revealed in an interview with the 'United We Stand' fanzine that there are no plans to expand the 76,000 capacity.

“If you totally change it then you can change the feel of it,” said Woodward.

“We’re looking at an investment plan while maintaining what makes Old Trafford special. Part of the allure of United or Old Trafford is the fact that it’s a stadium that was built in 1910.

“Our vision for it is that we don’t want to radically change that look and feel. If you have Old Trafford and you regenerate, rejuvenate and keep it modern but keep it feeling like it’s Old Trafford, then that’s the perfect solution for us.”

Woodward maintains they have invested “£100 million (Dh 471m) in the last decade, including £20 million in 2019".

While outlining what had been spent on the stadium, Woodward did concede: “We recognise that we need to do more.”

Asked if United were considering increasing the number of seats at the venue which is heavily oversubscribed for the majority of league games, Woodward said: “There are no plans at present.”

When it was pointed out to Woodward that the lack of big infrastructure projects is why some fans might doubt the long-term commitment of the Glazer family who own the club, he countered: “We’re doing a big review in terms of where we are and what we need to do. We’re also looking at the training ground, The Cliff, Old Trafford and Littleton Road.”

Woodward added: “Our objectives for the stadium are for it to be safe, full and noisy. Adding more seats can influence the third one but has to be done in the right way. There are no plans currently to increase capacity, but I’m not saying it can’t happen long-term.”

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 17, 2018 Manchester United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward takes his seat for the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United at the John Smith's stadium in Huddersfield, northern England. Like any coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is an ideal culprit to explain Manchester United's poor start to the season, but the responsibilities are widely shared and save almost no one. He is less visible, the executive vice president and real boss of the club Ed Woodward, but critics also focuses on him more than the coach. - TO GO WITH STORY BY Frederic HAPPE   /  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications.
 / AFP / Oli SCARFF / TO GO WITH STORY BY Frederic HAPPE   /  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications.

Asked if they had discussed building an additional smaller stadium, like Manchester City, Real Madrid or Barcelona have, where the reserve or women’s team can play, Woodward replied: “It’s something we’ve looked at, but not currently.”

United do plan to continue to push for the introduction of safe standing areas at Old Trafford.

“We support it,” said Woodward. “I can genuinely envisage it in sections of the ground and we’re looking at feasibility around a trial of rail seating.”

United have also been working with fans to improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford with the Red Army group successfully establishing a vocal area in the support’s traditional heartland of the Stretford End.

“The Stretford End Right Side has been fantastic and I hope that continues and spreads,” said Woodward. “Safe, full, noisy. A lot of clubs have come to us to see how we do safety. And we’ve frozen season ticket prices for a long time.”

There is development currently going on behind the Stretford End and it will start in three other areas of the ground which will lead to 118 new wheelchair positions and 158 new amenity seats which will offer a much greater choice of vantage points for disabled fans at different levels and price points.

United point out that the other areas of investment include an upgraded ticketing system to improve support service, improved press facilities, upgrades to the kiosks and concourse environment for the new ‘Stretford End right side’ section, upgrades to facilities for casual match day staff and a new VAR production room.

Of the £20 million invested this year, £11 million has been for improvements to accessible facilities, £4 million on security upgrades and £4 million on the refurbishment of hospitality areas. But given United’s turnover this is relatively modest stuff and only a major upgrade of the stadium would show the ambition and the future intentions of the owners.

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