Adventures in Football #54: Old Trafford
July 6, 2022
ENGLAND vs. AUSTRIA (Women’s Euros 2022)
I tried to get Man Utd tickets last season, as Old Trafford is a pretty important ground in the big scheme of things and one every football fan should be ticking off. However, the process was difficult, and you had to buy memberships to get in. I was going to go to the Villarreal game, as tickets were relatively cheap, and that’s the game Ronaldo scored a 90+5’ winner. Would have been quite the show. Anyway, it never quite came around and I abandoned the idea when the Women’s Euros announced their venues. The opening ceremony and game would be at Old Trafford. So, I got on the UEFA ticketing site and stuck this down as my top priority for the summer. Get Old Trafford done.
The Theatre of Dreams is the most visited ground on FootballGroundMap.com. No stadium in world football has had more groundhoppers go there than Old Trafford (NB: the site is based in the UK, so that may skew it somewhat and the real winner might be Barcelona, just saying). There’s something spiritually special about Old Trafford. Busby’s Babes, Alex Ferguson’s various teams. Old Trafford was always a mecca for football. Possibly even challenging Wembley in that regard. If you prefer club football to Internationals, then this is the peak of British football league grounds.
I’ve been to a game in a major tournament before, having been to a game at Anfield in Euro ‘96 (Czechs vs. Italy if you were wondering) but this is my first opening ceremony and my first time watching England in any capacity. I’ve got the UEFA ticketing gimmick and I’m ready for a nice time at the football.
For a game of this magnitude, we’re expecting around 70,000, we got up to Manchester early. Parking is something I’d weighed up a lot. I’d gone as far as to chat with Manchester local Matt Richards to advise on potential areas to park in. I was very aware of congestion by the ground. The sheer number of people on feet would stop parking anywhere near the ground. Plan A was to find somewhere around a mile from the ground. That we could walk to and then get away from the foot traffic and escape. My plan was Empress Street, which turned up to be a flop as they had anti-car parking bollards in place. We considered street parking around there but it wasn’t clear as to how safe that was going to be. Right then, plan B; head into Manchester and park there. I like plan B and I think it worked ok. We parked on Port Street.
It was £9 to park there all day and we could have stayed for a drink afterwards and still got away before the parking expired. We got into Manchester around 2.30pm and parking was a struggle then, although this was also due to people going into Manchester for normal daily shit as it was a Wednesday. If Maria wasn’t there, I would have definitely taken the train and stayed in a hotel. Having located a parking space we walked over to Port Street Beer House, where we were meeting Carsmile Steve and Meg. Lovely to see familiar faces at the football. They were in the same stand as us but so were 25,000 other people. Chances of line of sight during the game, pretty slim.
Steve has a lot of friends and we gained several members to our little pre-match party and headed over to the Crown & Kettle for a swift pre-match pint. Then we had to negotiate our way to the stadium. Anna, one of Steve’s friends, is a local and therefore understands the complexities of travel around the area. We hopped on the tram at Piccadilly Gardens, which is also where the UEFA approved Fanzone was, and rode five stops on a very crowded tram to Old Trafford before walking up to the ground from the stop, about a mile away. By the time we got to the stadium we had managed to lose everyone! Everyone’s lost but me!
We were seated in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and spent a while walking around trying to find the entrance. It turned out we had hospitality tickets, which I had no idea about because I’d got the tickets in a ballot. On entering our gate, we had our tickets checked and were given wristbands. No turnstiles in here! I’ve never done hospitality before and it’s exactly like you’d imagine. A large central seating area with bars at either end and food places at the sides. It was £15 for food in there. Fifteen quid! We opted for some £7 nachos, which were pretty decent.
Behold, the Manchester Suite. This is where the prawn sandwich brigade hang out. Some people disappeared into here at half time and were never seen again. As soon as I was out of it, I never went back. The only good thing about hospitality is the toilets are clean. I may sneak into hospitality areas in the future just to have a piss. Otherwise, I just don’t see the point. You lose all the atmosphere and bustle of the concourse in here. However, this is how you get the good seats and holy shit, these seats ruled.
Slight to the right of the halfway line, pitch laid out before us, the masses all around. At an optimum elevation for watching the game. They weren’t quite at the level we had at Burnley, which were just perfect, but for Old Trafford I’ll take this view. The seats were comfortable, padded in fact, but there was not much leg room. The tickets cost £79 a pop, which for this view at Old Trafford is decent. I’ve been looking at Man Utd tickets for a year so I know how expensive it is to get in there and get this view.
Opposite us is the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, a stand that rarely makes it onto TV because it has the TV gantry on it. I was surprised to see how shit it looks. Take the name off it, and stick it into a group chat and ask people to name the stand…I don’t think people would know this was at Old Trafford. There are plans to rebuild or expand this stand, which were previously not possible due to the close proximity of the railway line but given modern architectural skills they want to increase ground capacity to 90,000.
I’ve included some snaps from the opening ceremony and you can see it was all designed around facing the TV cameras, which means turning your back on the largest section of the crowd. We’re just a backdrop, lads. The game got underway and England weren’t particularly convincing. Maybe there’s a bit of pressure there. England are considered among the favourites for the tournament and that added home crowd maybe amped it up a bit. The crowd were supportive though and the makeup of the audience being mainly women and children (certainly compared to a Premier League game) made for a positive and enjoyable experience all round. Although, and I can’t say this enough, Mexican waves are disrespectful to the players and a needless distraction. You start a Mexican Wave because you’re bored. To start one some 20 minutes into the game is an insult. The Stretford End fans trying to get them going every couple of minutes got really annoying, really quickly.
We had colourful panels attached to our chairs with elastic bands. The guys behind the goals got GOAL panels so when England scored they could put them all in the air, like at the cricket.
Here’s our piece of plastic that we held up, with instructions on to keep an eye on the big screen. The big screen at Old Trafford is quite small and there was smoke everywhere so I don’t think this worked. I certainly missed our “cue”. They probably should have announced it beforehand. Maybe they did and I hadn’t got to my seat at that point. Hey, those nachos won’t eat themselves. I’ve watched video from the other side and they set off so many fireworks you can’t even see the stand anyway.
England took the lead through Beth Mead, her shot being cleared from just behind the line and off the underside of the bar. VAR then decided to have a look at it and I’ve never heard a positive response to VAR in a ground. Never. It’s entirely for the TV audience. We don’t get any replays in the ground and we don’t know what’s happening. There’s no communication at all. I support the use of VAR but the application needs to seen in the ground. Or at least communicated. Get microphones on the referees like they did in the XFL.
1-0 at half time and as you can see from this shot, a) it was packed in here and b) most people didn’t notice the purple signs they were supposed to hold up. Again, not communicated to the fans. Most of them remain taped to the back of chairs. What a crowd this was though. 68,000+ in a heaving Old Trafford, breaking the attendance record for a women’s Euro game and the final will almost certainly break the record again. They were noisy throughout and supportive of the home team. Hopefully the interest in the tournament continues.
The second half was lacklustre with England failing to impose themselves on the game and giving openings to an inferior Austria team that let them get back into the match. England should have won at a canter but their choices in the final third were lacking. Ellen White missed a decent header that could have made it 2-0 and put the game beyond doubt. This England team has been bullying smaller nations, famously putting 20 goals past Latvia, but lack the spark in the final third to undo teams who can actually defend.
Hey, I had a lovely time at Old Trafford. Let’s see how it scores on the scale!
Constant noise. The England fans never stopped chanting and cheering. This is common at women’s England games. The visiting Austrian fans, who were mixed in and around in little groups, tried to combat it and I could hear them. Good effort all around. ****
When I applied to the ballot for this, I said I’d sit anywhere at any level and that got me the CAT1 hospitality tickets. It wasn’t intentional. I’m glad we did because the seats were excellent but as far as costs go, this is a ground that will price gouge you. With that in mind I’ll go **
The game was fine. I’ll see better football games this season, there’s no doubt of that. It wasn’t terrible. **½.
EASE OF ACCESS:
A nightmare! You can’t park anywhere near the ground unless you want to be stuck in a traffic jam. You can’t get the tram out of Stretford without being crammed in like sardines. You can get away with parking in the city but it’s three miles away. *
The Theatre of Dreams is a majestic old building. Sweeping across your eyeline regardless of your location inside the building. It has a rich feeling of historical importance and I bet it’s fucking rocking in there when Utd play well. I appreciate the statues and various historical murals and shit like that. Every establishment nearby is Man Utd themed too. The Trafford pub, the United bar café, the Theatre of Food, the Red Devils chip shop, Lou Macari chippy. It’s a proper tribal red half of Manchester experience around Old Trafford. ****½.
Like all huge grounds, it’s not accessible enough but gives you breath-taking views inside of the ground. Manchester doesn’t have the public transport network to allow this mass of fans to escape the Stretford area. I was impressed at how the staff inside the ground dealt with throngs of people and got them where they needed to be. Everything was reasonably efficient, but the sheer number of people is what causes issues outside the ground. I don’t think there’s a logical fix to this either with the trams running as frequently as possible as it is. I will say that Old Trafford is a ground you have to go to, or you can’t really call yourself a football fan or groundhopper of any kind of repute. It’s simply one you have to tick off your list. It was my top priority this summer and I’m glad I’ve been. Would I go back? Hey, never say never (unless it’s Anfield).