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Improving Match Atmosphere at Old Trafford

By Julian Spencer and Phil Holt for the IMUSA Committee
February 2001

Submitted for consideration to Manchester United PLC

West Stand Tier 2
Major Stadium Reconfiguration
Stewarding and Security

1. Introduction

This report has been drafted as a result of a belief amongst Manchester United supporters that the poor atmosphere at Old Trafford must be addressed as a matter of urgency. It is an issue that has been prevalent amongst supporters' concerns, and central to the agenda of IMUSA, for several years. Recently, both the manager and captain of the club have become so frustrated with the lack of atmosphere, that they have been forced to bring the issue into the public domain. Undoubtedly, this situation is unacceptable.

IMUSA acknowledges that for several years the redeveloping of Old Trafford may have hindered the opportunity to provide an ideal configuration of the ground. IMUSA believes that with no rebuilding planned for the foreseeable future, that now is an ideal opportunity to reconfigure the ground and create an atmosphere which players and fans can be proud of.

As such, the report will ostensibly deal with the configuration of the ground, ticketing issues, and the role of the stewarding of supporters. IMUSA has supported the introduction of safe terracing, a development that we believe would greatly enhance the atmosphere in the ground. However this is not a subject that will be addressed in this report, which will instead focus on proposals that can be achieved in the short term, ideally before the commencement of season 2001-2002.

We hope that the areas of concern will be acknowledged by the board, and that the proposals be implemented so that Old Trafford will once again become famous for its passion, noise and verve.

2. West Stand Tier Two

IMUSA congratulates the club for having listened to the supporters and created the 'fanzone' in Tier two of the Stretford End. Whilst we believe that all supporters should feel encouraged to vocally support the team, in all parts of the stadium, IMUSA welcomes the initiative to create a 'popular-end' in West Stand Tier 2 (WST2.) We appreciate that the venture is still in its infancy, having only been implemented at the start of season 2000-2001. However, from the experiences of our members that are located in this stand, it is clear that significant improvements are required so that this particular section of the ground can continue the progress that has been made.

One of the repeated comments made about WST2 is that despite the atmosphere appearing to be improved within the section, the noise cannot be heard by the rest of the ground and subsequently the players. IMUSA has proposals that will deal with the expansion of this area, that are covered in section 4 below; thus this section will focus on, and make proposals for, WST2 as its own entity.

2.1: Acoustics

In the first instance IMUSA would urge the club to investigate the acoustics of the section in order to ascertain whether any improvements can be made to the filtration of sound to the rest of the ground. The benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, the improvement in atmosphere would be more notable to all concerned, resulting in a greater matchday experience for all and the obvious support given to the team. Secondly, the noise created in this section should then act as a trigger to other supporters in other sections of the ground creating a stadium wide atmosphere.

2.2: Defining WST2

The second proposal IMUSA believes is central to the success of WST2. It is IMUSA's opinion that the nature of this section should be advertised widely; as an area that is specifically reserved for the more active members of United's support. This should be publicised in all future renewals of season tickets and LMTBs, to both inhabitants of WST2 and elsewhere, and also in any information relating to applications for day tickets. Many supporters have complained that attempts to create a better atmosphere in WST2 have been thwarted by a lack of like-minded supporters around them. A clearer definition of WST2 would help eradicate this, whilst also encouraging our more vocal support to join this section.

IMUSA would also urge the club to put the mechanics in place to allow supporters willing to join this section next season to apply with existing ticket holders. A great number of supporters have expressed an interest in joining this section but are hesitant in giving up their seat elsewhere to be sat on their own in a new stand. Instead we would propose that they be allowed to join groups of other supporters, and similarly existing ticket holders in WST2 should be allowed to congregate.

2.3: Seat Allocation

Two methods are proposed to assist like-minded supporters to sit together:

  1. A method of block applications, allowing groups of friends to make block applications for seats

  2. The introduction of unreserved seating areas. Under this second proposal it is envisaged that Season Ticket or LMTB holders will be able to self-select for a block of seats allocated to more 'active' supporters who wish to create an atmosphere and get behind the team from whistle to whistle.

IMUSA envisages that at least one whole block of seats, or preferably the front section of a number of adjacent blocks, be allocated as unreserved seats. The club would issue season ticket and LMTBs for these sections in the normal manner except that the 'book' would only be allocated for a designated block of seats as opposed to a specific seat as at present. At the turnstile the holder of the LMTB or Season Ticket would hand over the relevant match voucher and then be handed a ticket in return on which would be printed the allocated seat number.

Additional benefits of the unreserved seating system:

  1. Groups of friends who wish to sit together arrive together

  2. Fans arriving and entering the stadium earlier to obtain the best seats with the consequential safety implications.

  3. Fans arriving earlier allows the atmosphere to build before kick off.

  4. Ease the issuing of season tickets and LMTBs as groups of individuals can be allocated a block as opposed to a specific seat.

Without a system of seat allocation problems of 'orphaned seats' may occur as has been witnessed with unreserved seating experiments at other grounds. IMUSA believes that by using the methods of seat allocation similar to those used at Old Trafford prior to the stadium becoming all-seater such problems would be avoidable.

IMUSA recognises that some fans cannot afford the initial outlay for a season ticket or LMTB. This problem is particularly acute for younger supporters who may not have access to cheque books or credit card facilities it is therefore recommended that some seats in the unreserved blocks be allocated as junior 'day tickets' that are applied for on a match by match basis.

2.4: Catering Facilities

To encourage fans to enter the stadium earlier the facilities and catering on offer on the concourse under the stands must be improved. IMUSA would recommend a sample survey of fans using this section of the ground to ascertain their needs.

IMUSA has conducted its own, admittedly, unscientific survey and the following are suggested as a starting point:

  1. Quicker service, using more sophisticated methods than a member of staff opening a can and pouring a drink into a beaker.

  2. A wider selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, including different beers and cold drinks.

  3. A wider selection of hot and cold food.

  4. Televisions

  5. Provision of shelves on which to place a drink or food

A simple survey of fans would be able to gain a greater insight into their needs and if conducted in this one section of the stadium then any changes to catering provision could be tried and tested before being rolled out elsewhere.

Many fans congregate in the pubs and clubs in the locale in order to meet with friends and family who may be sat in different parts of the ground. It makes sense from the club's point of view if this extra catering custom could be encouraged to enter the stadium earlier and spend their money within the ground. Without vast improvements in the facilities on offer and the ability for friends to transfer to the same stand this will not be possible.

2.5: Summary

  • Allow large pockets of supporters across the whole of the stand, by means of block applications and unreserved seating, and widely advertise this option in advance of renewals being sent out.

  • Reserve any day tickets for an age bracket such as U-18 and the introduction of junior LMTB/Saeson Tickets in the 'popular end' . This would also benefit from encouraging the next generation of United's support to be more vocal in their support.

  • Improved catering facilities

IMUSA believes that these configuration proposals, coupled with an investigation into the acoustics of the stand and a clearer advertised definition of its nature, would greatly improve the atmosphere within the popular end.

IMUSA would be willing to aid the club should any survey or research of fans' opinions be required.

3. Major Stadium Reconfiguration

As stated in the previous section, IMUSA congratulates the club for the introduction of the 'popular-end' area in WST2, and wishes to contribute to its success. In addition to the recommendations already made in section 2, IMUSA believes that this principle should be extended to the entire West Stand, as soon as is practical. This section aims to highlight the need for this initiative, and to provide details of a design that is acceptable and beneficial to all parties concerned.

Amongst supporters' reservations regarding WST2, is that the distance from the pitch and the rest of the stadium dilutes the atmosphere-generating effect of the 'popular-end.' In particular, IMUSA believes that the presence of both executive and family facilities in the lower tier have an adverse effect on attempts to resurrect atmosphere in the West Stand. Detailed below is a package of proposals advocated by IMUSA as resolutions to this issue:

3.1:    Relocation of the Family Stand

IMUSA believes that relocating the Family stand would not only release a large number of seats in the West Stand for active supporters, but also allow the Club to capitalise on a commercial opportunity.

It is proposed that family facilities be relocated to the East Stand second tier. IMUSA suggests that those using the family have a greater propensity to frequent the Megastore and that closer proximity to the store would induce a positive commercial result.

3.2:    Relocation of Corporate Seats

IMUSA suggests that the current positioning of executive seats in the West Stand is an anomalous location for premium facilities. Not only does this dilute the atmosphere generated within the stand, but results in a commercially sub-optimal outcome. IMUSA proposes that these seats be relocated to a more premium location, such as in North Stand Tier 2. This would allow the Club to achieve synergies with the existing corporate facilities within that stand, and also to generate more revenue per seat. We believe that improvements and additions to the executive facilities in the North Stand should be undertaken to enable these extra seats to be absorbed.

The subsequently vacant executive the facilities under the Stretford End could be turned into a club for the use for supporters for functions pre and post-match as well as for non match day events.

3.3: Summary

  • Relocation of the Family Stand

  • Relocation of executives

  • Reallocation of season tickets within the West Stand

IMUSA recommend that the above package of proposals be implemented in its entirety as soon as practicable.

Whilst we believe that to provide a large 'popular end' occupying one end of the stadium would give rise to a significant improvement in the atmosphere at Old Trafford in time we would also like to see the proposal of unreserved seating sections extended to other parts of the ground.

Our final recommendation is that the new end be renamed "Stretford End" in keeping with the wishes of our members and to mark the return of a permanent base for enthusiastic support.

4. Stewarding and Security

In principle IMUSA recognises the need for the Club to enforce its Ground Regulations (GRs) as part of its entertainment license. In addition, it is appreciated that the presence of a private security firm reduces the need for policing inside the stadium. However, the actions of Special Projects Security (SPS) have long caused offence amongst supporters, and have frequently been the source of unnecessary conflict between the Club and fans. The majority of our members perceive SPS as confrontational; this is substantiated by numerous complaints of heavy-handed and over-zealous behaviour. This report does not deal with individual incidents, but the fact that many supporters feel this way is itself a problem, which must be addressed.

IMUSA believes that many supporters feel intimidated by SPS officers, and that this stifles attempts to start and join in with songs. There is a perception that any enthusiasm will be misinterpreted by SPS, resulting in possible ejection.

IMUSA recommends that the Club should implement a strategy that better reconciles the wishes of vocal supporters with the need to enforce GRs. The following measures are proposed to improve this relationship.

4.1:    Lower-Profile Role

SPS officers should take a less prominent role within the stands, on call rather than on view. Ordinary match stewards should always be the first stage in response to breaches of GRs.

4.2:    SPS Charter

A charter should be implemented so that supporters know what to expect from SPS, and similarly, clarification of exactly what behaviour is deemed unacceptable. In order to restore trust and confidence, this should include a policy to discipline SPS officers when they breach this charter or use inappropriate tactics.

5. Conclusions

IMUSA would urge the club to consider and implement the proposals outlined in this report, as a failure to address the issue of atmosphere has frequently been the source of unnecessary conflict in recent years.

  • Review the acoustics, definition, and configuration of WST2.

  • Seriously consider the extension of the WST2 principles into the whole West Stand.

  • Examine the role of stewarding and security and their effects on atmosphere.

  • Canvas the opinion of supporters and promote relocation possibilities well in advance of season ticket renewals for season 2001-2002.

IMUSA believe that implementation of the above, as detailed in this report, would make a substantial contribution to the improvement of match atmosphere at Old Trafford. We believe this would be beneficial for all supporters, the players, and the club.