Football's greatest colosseums - Part 1: The Theatre of 'Dreams'
Yes, dream. These words may have been one of the many to be uttered from the mouth of fans and owners alike. Ordinary people from the mid ’90s that would look up to this place with honour, pride, passion and gusto. Ah! Old Trafford, ‘The theatre of dreams’.
It is one of football’s greatest stadiums, and one of the world’s most beautiful, a true colosseum of the beautiful game. A testament to the then president of the board of the ‘Red Devils’ – John Henry Davies, was born out of a mere consequence of the previous stadium – Bank Street. It was becoming a very difficult place to play football, let alone set up shop for perhaps the greatest team in all of England at that point, having won both the FA cup and the First Division. Industrialization was at an all time high then, and the impeding shift from Bank Street was imminent.
John Henry Davies, the man who took over at the helm of newly christened Manchester United, who had changed their name from Newton Heath, decided to provide funds to build a new stadium, which his team could call ‘home’. He searched all over Manchester for a piece of land to purchase. He finally settled for some land adjacent to Bridgewater canal, on the north side of Old Trafford.
After providing funds, he recruited the famous Scottish architect Archibald Leitch; seems Man Utd and Scottish people go way back.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”
The stadium, of course, wasn’t very easy to build,;even with the new found funds, the stadium was originally meant for around 100,000 spectators along with the terrace and uncovered stands. But like mentioned before, industrialization was at an all time high, and as such, the prices were beginning to sky rocket. Subsidies did arrive later, much to the relief of the architect and construction company alike.
The construction was carried out by Brameld and Smith of Manchester. The ground was finally built and completed around 1909. It hosted its inaugural match somewhere in the August of 1910. It was an important fixture, Manchester United vs Liverpool. Liverpool, however, took away the honours as the Red Devils couldn’t capitalize on home support. It was a stadium unlike ever seen by many across the globe.
“Beauty lies within everyone and everything, its how we perceive it that matters”
Old Trafford was built to assess the growing concerns that champions Manchester United didn’t have an awe-inspiring stadium to oppose themselves on the opposition. The older stadiums were very volatile and as such, were equally dangerous to contest football matches. How the architect designed the place, not many know, but how well he designed this holy haven of football, keeping in mind the beauty of the game and the connection of the fans with the players!
To feel their sorrow when the team looses, to feel the happiness when their team wins, that is something no ordinary person, let alone an architect can feel. He cannot understand the anguish and the remorse when a rival wins, he cannot understand the elevation of mind and soul when the team wins. That feeling is reserved for a fan, a player. Its a feeling that takes you closer to god. The third void is non existent when you’r in a football stadium, to smell the turf, to feel the anxiousness, to hear the songs, and to do the Mexican wave. These rituals are ones which make the experience, a truly memorable one. Everyone’s notion of beauty is different, most reserve the word ‘ beauty ‘ to actresses or sometimes sceneries. My notion of beauty is one where is get to see the worlds most talented bunch of footballers meet at Old Trafford for an old fashioned brawl of class and trickery.
Old Trafford isn’t built on lame ideologies, it’s built on sane thoughts that make you wonder why you didn’t try your hand at the game. The hard work of the team, the joy, happiness, victory, defeat, all so seamlessly woven into its bright green pitch. The love, hate for the opposition, commitment of the fans, the very particles of leftover banners and posters, sweat and tears, all so intricately protected in the stands: the fans’ legacy, if you must.
Every part of the stadium is glowing with pride, whether its showing off trophies in the museums, putting up pictures of its triumphs in the hallways, or selling memorabilia for the fans, it personifies what this magnificent team has achieved over these many years. Its ever growing fan base is a testimony to its brilliance, no mean feat to achieve mind you; even Barcelona with its Nou Camp don’t have the kind of following that Man Utd have with Old Trafford.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”
Even as I go on and on about how beautiful it is to play at Old Trafford, I keep remembering all of those magnificent ‘pillars‘ of football that have chosen to make Old Trafford their home for most of their time in the game. Quoting Shakespeare, my sole purpose was to reiterate the importance of a platform for people to step up to and perform, not matter how important they already are.
Messrs David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Schmeichel, Best, Cantona, etc are just some of those names that I was talking about. These guys used Manchester United and Old Trafford to not only make a living, but also fuel ambitions of achieving everything in the world of football. Greats of the game they may be, but they too have to credit the fans, and most importantly, the managers that have taken care of them over the years, to have made them this indispensable to the game.
The feeling of walking down the Old Trafford tunnel, to walk out into the bright Manchester sun and listen to the crowds roaring is a feeling so surreal, it’s almost impossible to explain; to simply feel and breathe the energy and fierce competitiveness of the Old Trafford air is unparalleled.
This ground has seen some of the greatest names to have adorned the game, both players and managers alike. Sir Matt Busby was one of the most magnificent managers to have coached a Man Utd team. His ‘Busby’s Babes’ will forever be remembered. His statue overlooks the East stand forecourt. His achievements and time at the helm are only surpassed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be remembered as one of the greatest advocates of the game, and a special tribute was put up on 23-Nov-2012 when his statue was put up outside his very own stand as a tribute to him for serving as United’s longest manager for 25 years. He will forever be remembered as one of the game’s greats, and United’s greatest. Putting together teams of pure class was his cup of tea, and he did it tirelessly for a quarter of a century.
In May 2008, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Manchester United’s first European Cup title, a statue of the club’s “holy trinity” of Best, Law and Charlton, entitled “The United Trinity”, was unveiled across Sir Matt Busby way from the East Stand, directly opposite the statue of Busby. This statue, till date, brings back memories of the past when United were Europe’s most dominant force.
Everything said, I finally find myself at peace after having told you about this monument, this cathedral, this colosseum of modern football, “Manchester United Football Ground” – or simply, Old Trafford – The Theatre Of ‘Dreams’.