The Stretford End embodies the passion of being a Red

Monday 23 January 2023 14:00

The first Manchester United goal I ever saw live was scored at the Stretford End.

It was October 1994, and I was eight years old, when Mark Hughes headed Lee Sharpe's cross home to put us 1-0 up against John Cruyff's mighty Barcelona 'Dream Team'.
I remember only a few things from the night: the drive through misty, murky Salford to get to the stadium; the overpowering smells of chip-van fat and cigarette smoke; my first sighting of a green pitch that was shockingly luminescent.
But best of all was the feeling, the rush, the noise, when United burst towards that Stretford End goal throughout the first half.
This Stretford End header by Mark Hughes, against Barcelona in 1994, was the first goal our writer saw live.
Every time Sharpe careered down the left, you heard a clatter as thousands of fans simultaneously rose and their seats flicked back up. I recall my dad hoisting me on top of my own seat, so I could see over the heads of the taller adults below.
But the noise was the thing. Whenever United got close to goal, there was a roar that seemed to rise from deep beneath the stadium; a primal, guttural eruption that sounded like nothing else. 
That was the sound of the Stretford End. And nearly 30 years on, I've still heard nothing else that compares.
Though my first taste of the Stretford End came on my maiden visit to Old Trafford, my first regular seat was in the North Stand – now the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
That was where my dad and grandad had sat since 1966, and I inherited my dad's season ticket permanently, aged 16, during the 2002/03 season.
But I always gazed on the Stretford End with wonder. It loomed to my right, grand and imposing, like Old Trafford's Mount Olympus.
I can remember watching it burst to life as United chased late goals in those madcap Sir Alex Ferguson years. Rio Ferdinand's last-gasp header against Liverpool; Federico Macheda's season-defining winner against Aston Villa in 2009.
It was an awesome sight. It still is. What must it be like for an opposition player? I've seen countless visiting teams wilt under its intensity and pressure – check the second half of the recent Manchester derby for a contemporary example.

Executive seats to be removed from Stretford End


Read about some important changes that will be taking place at Old Trafford at the end of next season.

I decided to move to the Stretford End in the summer of 2009. I could use a bit of creative licence here and claim this was for emotional or spiritual reasons but, honestly, it was because I needed to save cash. I was a student at that time, and skint. Season tickets were simply cheaper in the Stretford End than the North Stand.
But I felt a real pride in moving there. The Stretford End is acknowledged, worldwide, as the beating heart of Old Trafford.
That reputation derives from the 1960s and the 1970s, I think, when the youngest and most passionate fans used to pack themselves in there, lending the team a unique kind of delirious, wild, devotional support.
You can see it on old footage. Hear the noise that follows Denis Law's famous non-goal in the 1969 European Cup semi-final against AC Milan; or the wild, swaying celebrations that greeted Sammy McIlroy's winner in a legendary 3-2 win over Sunderland in November 1974. That latter game was in the Second Division, in front of 60,585. 
United were the best-supported team in the country that season, after being relegated! And the Stretford End was the most visible symbol of that delirious, devotional, unmatched support. The stand embodies the mad passion of being a Red.
‘The heartbeat of Old Trafford’ Video

‘The heartbeat of Old Trafford’

Iconic Stretford End moments feature in a special video narrated by Cantona, Robson, Rashford and more…

Liverpool's Kop probably gets more attention from the media, probably because of the performance aspect of the pre-match singing of You'll Never Walk Alone.
The Stretford End has never gone for anything as prescriptive as that. It is there to inspire and be inspired by the team. And when that happens, as it did in the recent win over City, something organic and indefinable develops.
You can feel it as you sit or stand there during a match. It can come from nowhere, forcing mistakes from opponents, inspiring United players to dredge that bit extra from deep within themselves. It swells belief and confidence among supporters.
Even on days of sorrow, when United have been getting a hiding, it often consoles. I can remember us being 3-0 down to Liverpool during the 2013/14 season, and yet thousands of us left the Stretford End buzzing, after spending the last 20 minutes chanting non-stop about the pride we have in our team; about winning 20 titles playing football "the Busby Way".

Rashford: The Stretford End gave us energy


Marcus Rashford says the roar of the United fans gave the Reds a "lift" during the Manchester Derby.

Fans have been campaigning for years to remove the executive seating from the heart of the Stretford End. Former chairman Martin Edwards has accepted, in the years since, that the original decision to install that section negatively affected the atmosphere. So this feels like a really positive step, after all these years.
The Stretford End always remained special, even with those exec seats. But it's absolutely right that the club's most famous end should be given over to match-goers paying for standard admission tickets and, in particular, young supporters. They will power the Stretford End of the future.
It remains Old Trafford's guiding star – the stand that sets the tone, that can swing a contest in the Reds' favour, that can inspire a mad cacophony of love and noise.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.