With the arrival of José Mourinho and Paul Pogba, better things were expected of England’s most successful football club, Manchester United, than a League Cup and a Europa League trophy. The 19-point gap between United and local rivals Manchester City in the 2017-18 league campaign told its own story. Mourinho’s dissatisfaction during the subsequent close season did not bode well for 2018-19, despite Pogba having led France to the World Cup in the summer. Come December, Mourinho was out, replaced by ex-United star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The club has not yet put an end to the period of transition since the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. Bowing out after picking up his 13th Premiership in 26 years, the Scot had transformed a club previously transformed by another Scot, Sir Matt Busby, in the 1960s.
Ferguson proved a hard act to follow, first for his immediate successor David Moyes, then for miscast Louis van Gaal. With Mourinho’s arrival in 2016, though United have trailed in the league, at least silverware has been won. A page was turned with the departure of one-time icon Wayne Rooney, offered a cameo last-minute walk-on part in the 2017 Europa League Final. Returning to his first club Everton, Rooney changed places with explosive Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, whose prolific start to 2017-18 soon justified his £75 million price tag.
United were founded as Newton Heath in 1878, a railway team that played in green and gold. In 1902 came the change to the more familiar name, and familiar colours of red and white. Within ten years Manchester United had won the league and FA Cup.
Mediocrity followed until the arrival of Matt Busby as manager in 1945. Placing faith in youth, ex-City stalwart Busby fielded rare talents such as Bobby Charlton and, most notably, Duncan Edwards. These high-scoring pioneers became England’s first representatives in the European Cup in 1956-57 but a season later, on February 6 1958, many of the team perished in an air disaster in Munich.
Busby, so close to death he was given the last rites, then built a team around fellow survivor Charlton and key new signings Denis Law and Belfast-born George Best. Probably the most talented player Britain has ever produced, Best was a mercurial winger and pop icon, typified by his stunning dribbled goal to help United win the European Cup in 1968, significantly ten years after Munich.
Best lost himself to alcoholism, Busby bowed out and United trod water until Ferguson came in as manager in 1986. Inheriting midfield dynamo Bryan Robson, Ferguson re-established United’s credibility and brought silverware back to Old Trafford, in particular the inaugural Premiership title of 1993.
Ferguson’s star figure was Eric Cantona, a Frenchman who lit up the Premiership like no other player. Ferguson also brought in talent from United’s successful youth teams of 1992 and ’93, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. Beckham became a national icon and inherited Cantona’s legendary No.7 shirt.
United became England’s top club and, despite trailing 1-0 for most of the game, dramatically won the Champions League over Bayern Munich with two last-gasp goals in the treble year of 1999.
The following decade was dominated by the highly leveraged takeover of the club by Malcolm Glazer. While Ferguson remained in place, and United shared monopoly of the Premiership with Arsenal and, later, Chelsea, fans dressed in the green and gold of Newton Heath to stage regular protests. Beckham left in 2003, shortly before teenage prodigy Wayne Rooney joined from Everton.
Winners of the Champions League in 2008, and a record 20th league title in 2013, Manchester United remained a huge global brand and European football superpower despite the trials and tribulations post-Ferguson.
With promising young striker Marcus Rashford breaking through, Mourinho had enough quality for a title challenge in 2016-17 but the weight of expectation on €105-million Paul Pogba proved too heavy. Rooney, too, divided opinions, many questioning his true worth despite becoming the club’s all-time top scorer halfway through the season.
In the end, it was veteran Swede Zlatan Ibrahimović who saved United’s season, scoring all three to beat Saint-Étienne in the Europa League, and two to beat Southampton in the 2017 League Cup Final. Injured for the Europa League final, Ibrahimović watched his teammates make light work of Ajax in Stockholm.
‘The Theatre of Dreams’, Old Trafford can accommodate nearly 76,000, making it the biggest club ground in England. If a mooted second tier is added to the South Stand, capacity will reach 90,000.
Unveiled in 1910, Old Trafford, set by the Bridgewater Canal, was conceived by great Scottish stadium architect Archibald Leitch, responsible for Anfield, Highbury and Hampden Park. Seriously damaged by German bombing, it reopened through the 1950s and saw significant renovation for the 1966 World Cup.
A new North Stand was built in time for Euro 96, and smaller later expansions have set Premiership attendance records. The three-tier North Stand above United Road, since named after Sir Alex Ferguson, houses the Red Café and Manchester United Museum. The facing smaller South Stand accommodates VIPs, media and the dug-outs. The West Stand is the former Stretford End, home of United’s hard-core following, while the East Stand houses the United Megastore.
Away fans are allocated a corner (currently sectors STH229/E230-233), between the East and South Stands. Outside the East Stand, on Sir Matt Busby Way, stand statues to Best, Law and Charlton, and Busby himself.
On match days, the Manchester Utd Football Ground (FC Halt) rail station, near the South Stand, serves untimetabled trains from Manchester Piccadilly, one stop after Deansgate (10mins, single £3, returns £3.50). From Piccadilly, you can also take the Metrolink light rail line 2 (purple) or pick up line 1 (green) at St Peter’s Square, direction Altrincham, to Old Trafford (15-20mins, single £2.80, return £3.90).
Exit the station into Brian Statham Way with Old Trafford cricket ground on your left, head up Warwick Road until the junction of Chester Road and Sir Matt Busby Way. The stadium is ahead. Allow 15 minutes.
The sat nav code for Old Trafford is M16 0RA. There’s no parking at the ground, and limited street parking nearby. The best option is to use the Lowry Outlet mall (M50 3AH) at Salford Quays, which charges £4 for up to four hours, £6 for up to five. For away fans in colours, Salford Quays is the easiest option for pre-match drinks. From there, it’s a 15min walk to the ground – or ride the Metrolink (light blue line 3/orange line 7) from Salford Quays to Pomona 500 metres from Old Trafford.
Further up line 3 at Ladywell (M5 5AT), there are 250 free secure parking spaces at the Metrolink station, open until midnight/1am. From there, it’s the same logistic as Salford Quays, Pomona 20min away.
Unless you’re an away fan, currently charged £30 (£20 under-18s/over-65s, £15 under-16s), the only way you can get into a Manchester United game at Old Trafford is by laying out serious money on a hospitality package, paying for a hotel-and-match deal with Thomas Cook – average prices £139/£169 – or by ballot if you’re a club member.
A season’s membership is £32 (£27 16-17s/over-65s, £22 under-16s), the Lite version £20 (£18/£15). Both Full and Lite members are offered exclusive access to Premier League games and priority for cup matches – the pricier deal simply provides you with more MUFC paraphernalia. By registering your interest for all or up to three fixtures, you will be contacted by the club should any tickets become available. Availability and pricing are frequently updated online.
Should tickets be available, pricing is categorised into nine colour codes, the average being around £40 in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand (18-20s around £30, 16-17s/over-65s £20-£21, under-16s £13 anywhere in the ground). On extremely rare occasions when non-members may buy tickets, it’s £5 dearer in each category and age group.
The club also offers a number of hospitality packages, from the cheapest (post-match drinks in the Red Café/£200, pre-match drinks in the Red Café/£375), right up to the No.7 deal (£700) involving vintage port and a Q&A session with a former player.
Beneath the East Stand, the Manchester United Megastore (Mon-Sat 9.30am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm, match days from 9.30am, closing times vary, store closed during match) attracts a million customers a year, drawn by some 800 products, including heritage footballs, posters of Paul Pogba, iPhone covers, leather passport holders and T-shirts designed by Stanley Chow depicting De Gea, in goalkeeping green, of course.
There’s also an official match-day merchandise kiosk behind the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
Tour & Museum
The Museum & Tour Centre (North/Sir Alex Ferguson Stand) operates daily 9.30am-5pm. Hour-long tours run 9.40am-4.30pm except on match days. Museum and tour is £18/£12, museum-only £11/£8.50, plus £1 booking fee. An eight-language audio guide is £3.
The huge, three-floor museum contains rooms dedicated to Sir Matt Busby and Munich, and an impressive walk-through exhibit presenting the story, game-by-game, of the 1999 treble. You can get your hands on Wayne Rooney’s boots at the Learning Centre and type in your name for a free personalised certificate of your visit.
Other tours include ‘Legends’ led by an ex-player, and stadium visits coupled with a barge cruise or a meal at the Red Café.
Away fans in colours are best directed to outlets at the Salford Quays, a 15-minute walk from the ground. Here you find independent Craft Brew, and chains such as Matchstick Man, festooned with TVs. Further down, Quay House is a Beefeater and can provide a decent pre-match steak. The Water’s Reach bar at the Premier Inn hotel is another popular pit-stop.
On Chester Road, classic pre-match pubs for United fans and neutrals include The Trafford (No.699, reopened in 2017), decked floor to ceiling in United memorabilia (even down to the red pool table), and The Bishop Blaize, a screen-lined Wetherspoons whose bar features the oar swiped from the final scene of Ken Loach film ‘Waiting For Eric’, signed by Cantona himself.
For a quick bite, the Lou Macari chip shop, Theatre of Food and United Café (with seating inside) await as you approach the East Stand.
On the third floor of the North/Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, the themed Red Café by the museum exit can provide steak or fish and chips (£9-£14) before United and City do battle on the table football table. Draught beers include Singha lager and Worthington’s bitter. Match days are reserved for VIP packages.