Old Trafford is something of an iconic landmark for Greater Manchester. For some, it is the home of their favourite football team in the world, it’s where some of their greatest memories are made and trophies are won.
For others, it’s the home of the team every other football fan loves to hate.
Allegiances aside, it is undisputedly one of the most recognisable and well-known stadiums in the world. Fans from all over the world flock to visit the ground.
Match day attendances alone average 75,290 for this season according to the Express.
This is further boosted by the stadium’s museum, as Mark Wylie, the museum curator at Old Trafford says: “the museum alone tends to have 330,000 visitors per annum”.
As the stadium stands today, there is space for 170 disabled supporters with free seats for their carers in the East stand and South East corner.
The East Stand is arguably the most recognisable side of Old Trafford, with the Megastore being found here, along with statues of Sir Matt Busby and the ‘Holy Trinity’.
However, it is due to see some changes happen over the next three seasons, with 2,600 supporters being reallocated around the ground.
The Scoreboard End
A majority of those supporters being moved are those who sit in the East Stand, or the Scoreboard End as it is informally known.
Some of those affected by the plans have sat in the same seats, or area in the East Stand, for decades which has led to something of an outcry.
The stand gained its colloquial name due, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the fact that a large old-school scoreboard was found at the top of the terrace.
The Scoreboard End, and nearby K-Stand, was where the more vocal United supporters could be found on a match day up until recent years.
As the Stretford End added a second tier in 2000, many of the Scoreboard End and K-stand fans have moved there.
However, some still remain in their original seats and have openly voiced their dissatisfaction with the plans to reallocate them.
The changes, and how Old Trafford will look in the future
Late in January this year, Manchester United announced plans that would see changes made to their iconic stadium, with the following video:
Under the new plans, the current stadium capacity will be reduced from 75,635 to around 73,300 in order to make room for 300 new positions for disabled supporters.
Below is a comparison to Old Trafford now to how it will look once the work is fully completed in time for the 2020/21 season.
In a booklet published alongside the plans, it states: “More than 300 new positions for disabled supporters will be created at Old Trafford.
“The current East Stand accessible platform will be extended across and into the Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton Stands, and new amenity seating will also be added in these areas.
“When complete, the total number of wheelchair user positions at Old Trafford will increase from 120 to 277, and the number of amenity seats will increase from 126 to 278.
“All structural work will be complete ahead of the 2017/18 campaign, allowing all the new accessible facilities to be used immediately for friendlies and some cup games not included in the automatic cup scheme. ”
Manchester United’s Disabled Supporters Association (MUDSA)
Manchester United work closely with their disabled supporter group, MUDSA, whose members will benefit from the future changes.
Speaking at the time of the announcement, Chas Banks, Secretary of the Manchester United Disabled Supporters’ Association (MUDSA) told ManUtd.com:
“I’m filled with pride that the club I’ve supported since first coming to Old Trafford as a little boy in 1957, is leading the way in increasing accessible seating to meet the standards set out in the Accessible Stadia guide. It’s a dream come true for me and many other disabled United fans.
“This is a huge task and it can’t be completed overnight. However, it will be completed faster than most believed possible. More importantly, this expansion is the beginning of a process, not the end. Manchester United is constantly looking to improve in every area and I’m confident they will apply that same ambition towards their disabled fans.
“Finally, on behalf of all the disabled members, I’d like to send my sincere thanks to all of our fellow fans who have to move to allow this expansion to happen. Without your cooperation, our dream couldn’t come true and we thank you for your help and patience.”
What have the club said regarding the changes?
Speaking in January, Manchester United’s Group Managing Director Richard Arnold told ManUtd.com:
“Old Trafford is a home for all United fans and these changes will help many more of our loyal disabled supporters to attend games to watch their heroes.
“Manchester United prides itself on its work in this area for more than 25 years, and will continue to ensure that it remains at the forefront of our thinking.
“We have worked openly and continuously for over a year with the EHRC, MUDSA, architects and a significant number of stakeholders, including Level Playing Field, supporters’ groups and the club’s Fans’ Forum, to make sure that these improvements take into consideration all affected fans.
“We know that many of the affected Season Ticket holders have held their seats for decades and it will be a sacrifice to give them up. But we also know that the vast majority will understand and support this expansion.
“We are committed to finding a new home for every Season Ticket holder, either in an equivalent area, or if they choose a better seat our goodwill package will ensure they pay no more in the first season for having to move.
“We recognise how unsettling it can be for fans to move, not least because of the communities that develop within the stadium over many years and so we are giving fans the chance to try to relocate groups of Season Ticket holders together, in order to find the best possible solution for everybody.
As mentioned in Arnold’s statement, the club has devised a goodwill package for season ticket holders who will have to be relocated.
This includes covering any difference in cost (if seats cannot be found in an equivalently priced area) and free cup tickets for all ties played at Old Trafford for a year.
The changes will be implemented over a three-year phased programme, which will gradually see the relocation of fans around the ground.
Around 800 fans will have been relocated by the time the 2017/18 season kicks off in mid-August, making way for 100 of the 300 new positions for use in Premier League and some cup games.
By the time the 2020/21 season kicks off, all 2,600 Season Ticket holders.
This was also covered by Arnold, who said at the time: “We have a unique situation at Old Trafford in that we have some 55,000 Season Ticket holders and enjoy sell-out crowds for every game, and the number of seats that become available each summer is very small.
“This makes moving large numbers of fans to similar seats within the stadium impossible in a short space of time.”
The reaction from the fans
Fans have met the plans with something of a mixed reaction, with fans claiming that the club are very much out of touch with fans.
A petition has been launched online entitled “Save Our Scoreboard”, which has so far got close to 1,500 signatures.
A legal fund has also been set up to help the fans fight the decision.
The fan behind the petition, who wished to remain anonymous, said the following: “The alternative plan, originally preferred by the disabled supporters themselves, was along the bottom of the main stand and Stretford End by the family stand – basically the bit that the players walk past from the tunnel.
“Although there was 28 options, provided by architects, and the club chose the easiest one for them.
“It’s also the 2nd cheapest and the quickest to implement so they don’t fall foul of the Premier League deadline.
“The last Fans Forum spent a considerable amount of time choosing which pies should be on offer next season, and no time discussing the Scoreboard End, or early renewals.
“That alone shows their priorities.”
One fan, Sam McNulty, backed the petition, saying: “Why should I be moved from my life long seat, because of the clubs failings to ensure adequate seating for disabled?”
But it was not met with a totally negative reaction, with some fans praising the club on social media:
Bill Bush, the Executive Director for the Premier League, also released the following statement:
United Discriminate’s view
United Discriminate are an organisation set up to “help make football more accessible for disabled fans”.
A spokesperson for the organisation said: “A WC space can cost around 8 standard seats. Old Trafford has to reduce in capacity to cater for the additional seats.
“Naturally, they have gone for the cheapest Season Ticket seating area, the Scoreboard End.
“Sadly, United let MUDSA deal with disabled issues for many years. They were ill-informed and upset lots of people.
“The club have now taken all that control back, but are now learning fast. Doing nothing for 10 years has really caught up with them.
“Now, they have upset able and disabled fans. United are in a situation that is rare. They have a sell out stadium week in, week out, but they’re reducing capacity.
“So if they lose a few fans, maybe it isn’t an issue to them?”
Calls for alternative plans to be put in to action
Several fans have called for the plans to be redesigned or altered.
Across social media and on the petitions, fans have called for the Scoreboard End to remain as it is today.
Alternative suggestions and plans have called for the platforms to instead cover more of the South Stand.
Or, as the fans originally wanted, along the bottom of the Main Stand and Stretford End by the Family Stand.
One version of the plans that a fan suggested can be seen below:
Whilst the club look to move in to the future in terms of accessibility, fans are growing increasingly worried the club is forgetting about its past.
Several people at Manchester United and MUDSA, were contacted regarding the story, and potential changes to the plans, but all declined to comment.