Old Trafford is ready as 75,000 Man United fans return against Leeds

After 17 long months, Old Trafford will be full again when Manchester United take on Leeds on Saturday… with 750 sanitation stations, 1,500 rail seats, new changing rooms and a digital ticketing system, the Red Devils are ready to host 75,000 fans

  • Man United will have a full house for the first time in 17 months on Saturday
  • The Red Devils kick off their new Premier League campaign against rivals Leeds
  • Staff have been working tirelessly in the off-season to get the arena Covid ready
  • A digital ticket system and 750 sanitation stations are just some of the changes
  • There are also new changing rooms, better floodlights and rail seating in place 

The Theatre of Dreams is slowly beginning to wake up.

It’s been 17 months since Old Trafford last played host to a capacity crowd. That day Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-0 in the Premier League but days later the doors were shut as Covid-19 took hold.

Now there is light at the end of the tunnel. Around 30,000 and 55,000 United fans returned to their home in recent friendlies against Brentford and Everton but on Saturday, in their Premier League opener against Leeds, it will be full again.

Manchester United are preparing to host 75,000 fans for Saturday’s game against rivals Leeds

United have been working around the clock to get Old Trafford ready for the return of fans

A lot has changed since Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay scored to give United local bragging rights on that afternoon in March 2020. Not just away from football, but also in and around Old Trafford.

In recent months, United have been working tirelessly to ensure their famous arena is Covid secure and safe for fans to enjoy the action on the pitch. Some exciting changes have been implemented to get ready after 17 months of emptiness. 

Among them is a partnership with hygiene specialists Ecolab, who will ensure the stadium is sanitised to the highest level, as well as a remodelling of both the home and away changing rooms and the introduction of rail seating.

Collette Roche, the club’s Chief Operating Officer, has overseen the transformation in recent months and believes everything is set for a memorable Old Trafford return for supporters this weekend.

Asked if she was excited for the long-awaited return of fans, Roche told Sportsmail: ‘Absolutely. It’s been a long time. The good news is we’ve managed to have a couple of successful dry runs in terms of our friendlies against Brentford and Everton.

United signed a deal with Ecolab, who will ensure the stadium is sanitised to the highest level

‘But we’re absolutely delighted and excited to have a full house on Saturday with Leeds. I think it’s fair to say a lot of preparation has gone in to try and make it as smooth, safe and seamless as we possibly can. 

‘I almost liken it to a re-opening ceremony and bringing everything back to life at Old Trafford.

‘We can’t say there won’t be teething problems but I can say we’ve certainly done everything over the last couple of months to test, re-test and make sure everything is working as it should be.’ 

While society is slowly returning to some level of normality, there is still a need for caution and United hope their efforts to get Old Trafford ready will give fans and staff a sense of safety when attending matches.

All areas of the stadium from seating areas, hospitality boxes and kitchens, to the dressing rooms, training facilities and office spaces, have been equipped with hand disinfectant. There are 750 sanitation stations across Old Trafford.

There have been a number of Covid protocols put in place ready to welcome fans back inside

There are 750 sanitation stations across Old Trafford and more at the club’ training ground

Originally opened in 1910 and rebuilt after World War II, Old Trafford is not exactly designed with Covid protocols and social distancing in mind.

‘I think it’s always going to be a challenge, particularly in Old Trafford because obviously our stadium is not a brand new one,’ Roche added.

‘As a result some of the concourses are quite narrow and we know that it’s important people are well spaced and ventilation is key as well. So we’ve spent the last couple of months measuring through how we can get people in, avoiding queues and how many people we should have in each of the different areas of hospitality 

‘It goes without saying, top of our list is making sure we can carry on playing football and we’ll only do that if we have a safe environment and we can control any spread of the virus.’ 

One of the other major changes to the match day experience at Old Trafford is the introduction of a new digital ticketing system.

Fans are being urged to arrive early on Saturday with a new digital ticketing system in place

Designed with just a single sign-on across the club’s various platforms, it’s hoped the system will simplify how fans are able to apply for, purchase and assign their tickets and address issues United fans have raised in the past.

But, as we saw at Anfield earlier this week when kick-off was delayed in Liverpool’s two friendlies because of teething problems with a similar system, United fans are being urged to arrive early for Leeds.

‘We’ve made sure we’ve put more staff around to talk to our fans around how they enter the stadium, how to use the smartphones because it is very different to the traditional way of entry,’ said Roche.

‘We’ve started to see the take up and adoption of that has been really positive. I think it’s fair to say it’s still a big change to happen and as we lead into Leeds we know there will be new people who are unfamiliar with that process.

‘So we do encourage people to arrive earlier so they’ve got plenty of time to get into the stadium but we’ve fed all those lessons in. It’s really unfortunate what happened in Liverpool earlier this week. Probably similar to them we did a lot of dry runs and testing. 

The playing surface  at Old Trafford has been completely overseeded for the new campaign

‘We actually got our staff to run through the process and we’re continuously doing that across all the turnstiles. We’ve done a lot of communications to our fans in advance and videos as to how to use the new tickets and we managed to run it safely and efficiently in the two friendlies we’ve had.

‘We just need to make sure the stewards are in place, there’s plenty of them and they can take the fans through that process.’

While Covid protocols have been at the forefront of plans to get Old Trafford back up and running this summer, the club have also taken advantage of the time to make some other changes to the stadium.

The playing surface has been completely overseeded for the new campaign and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad will have the luxury of bigger changing facilities. However, there’s a completely new away dressing room as well so their opposition will be more comfortable.

United have also invested £11million to upgrade their accessibility facilities after a lot of consultation with the club’s disability supporters’ association. There’s also 1,500 rail seats for fans in the north east quadrant and the club’s atmosphere section in the Stretford End has been expanded by around 50 per cent to 2,500 seats.  

Harry Maguire and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have new home changing rooms to look forward to

A new LED floodlighting system has also been installed. It’s thought this will improve the experience for players and fans at Old Trafford and make a huge difference to the quality of the broadcast picture for those watching on TV. 

At the club’s Fans’ Forum back in June, it was put to United owner Joel Glazer that the club needs to significantly increase investment in and around Old Trafford, as well as the club’s training complex at Carrington.

More improvements are expected to be made to Old Trafford in the years ahead as the club tries to ensure their grand stadium keeps pace with Tottenham’s £1billion arena and Real Madrid’s new-look Bernabeu.

Despite that, Roche says it’s vital the club retains the ‘heritage and charm’ of the Theatre of Dreams. 

She added: ‘We are at the phase where we do need to think about what is next for Old Trafford and to embark on a much more transformational development of the stadium.

United have installed 1,500 rail seats for fans in the north east quadrant to make use of

‘All of the improvements we’ve made over the summer are great, that’s positive for now but it really is the start and not the end. So what we’re going to do is work with our fans and what they want out of the stadium of the future.

‘Then we can start to develop plans to be able to take us to that next level and make sure we’re ahead of the game in terms of European or world class stadiums.

‘It is a fine balance, though. The conversations we’ve had with our fans is that they really do like the charm of Old Trafford. It is historical, it is special.

‘So for us it’s going to be a really fine balance and a challenge to make sure we can keep that heritage and that sense of what makes it the Theatre of Dreams while modernising it and introducing digital technology and making sure we’ve got some leading edge facilities in there.

‘It’s something we’re really excited to work with our fans on, to retain the charm but make sure we can transform and modernise the match day experience.’ 

A full house at Old Trafford on Saturday will be a sign things are finally returning to normal. After months of preparation off the pitch, United’s attention will now be on finally delivering a piece of silverware on it.  

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