Were they to see Old Trafford today - on the 100th anniversary of its first match - then John Henry Davies and Archibald Leitch would surely nod in approval.
It was the foresight of football club chairman Davies and the know how of ‘Engineering Archie’, that most artful of architects, that realised the construction of what we now know as the Theatre of Dreams: the glorious, inspirational stage on which our heroes now strut.
Davies had already overseen changes both in the club’s colours and name from the financially stricken Newton Heath to Manchester United. He had also had a roof put the country’s first covered stand on Bank Street (the club’s second ground, having started out at North Road in Monsall). However, under equally go-ahead manager Ernest Mangnall and his twinkle-toed wing commanders, Billy Meredith and George Wall, United needed a home fit for his title heroes, a declaration of the club’s intent. He would ensure they had one.
The move to a new stadium - five miles away in Trafford Park, on the doorstep of Lancashire County Cricket Club and the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal - was mooted in 1908. It was the year of United’s first title triumph and details were published in March 1909, just weeks before the club’s first FA Cup win. The site was ideal. Though the move was at that time the furthest a team had decamped from its original home, the area had decent transport links via tram. Crucially, it was also perfectly suited for expansion - foresight many other clubs lacked.
Davies enlisted Leitch, the brains behind Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium, to realise his grand design. With leisure time in Edwardian England on the up and a burgeoning city population rising beyond two million, Davies envisaged a playground to match the city’s buoyant music halls and theatres. With land acquired for £60,000 by his Manchester Brewery Company, Leitch, with Manchester builders Brameld and Smith, would make it so.
‘Create the finest stadium in the north’ was the bold creative brief. Although Leitch’s plan to produce a 100,000-capacity venue was ultimately scaled down following overspending of £30,000, it didn’t disappoint. When the stadium staged its inaugural fixture on 19 February 1910 – we’ll gloss over the 4-3 defeat by Liverpool, naturally – Old Trafford was hailed a ‘wonder to behold’. The correspondent from The Umpire was bowled over by the pristine playing surface and wrote: “I know