We all know that Manchester United play their home at Old Trafford, a multi-purpose stadium that is full every other week when United play at home. What you may not know is that Manchester United haven’t always played at Old Trafford. Manchester United started as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club and they played at North Road from its foundation in 1878 until 1893. The site was owned by Manchester Cathedral authorities.
The North Road ground initially consisted of only the pitch, around which an estimated 12,000 spectators could gather to watch the matches. North Road was situated next to the wagon works of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. In the summer the pitch would bumpy and stony, whilst the in the rainy months it would be muddy and a heavy swamp.
As the ground was next to the railway line that was operated by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, the ground was often clouded in a thick mist of steam from the passing trains. Players would have to get changed in the Three Crowns public house, this was few hundred yards away on Oldham Road. The first recorded matches at the ground took place 1880, two years after the foundation of the club. Most of the early matches at the ground were friendlies. The first competitive match held at North Road was a Lancashire Cup first round match against Blackburn Olympic’s reserve team, this game was played on October 27th 1883. Newton Heath lost the game 7-2.
The original capacity of the ground was 12,000, club officials decided that this was not enough to give them any hope of gaining entry to the football league. Some expansion took place in 1887 and in 1891 Newton Heath used what little financial reserves they had to purchase two grandstands, each able to hold 1,000 spectators. These purchases put the club at odds with Railway Company, who refused to contribute any finances to the deal. The two organisations began to drift apart and 1892 the club attempted to £2,000 in share capital to pay off the debt that had been incurred by the expansion of the ground.
The split also led to the railway company to stop paying the rent due on the ground and at the same time, the rent was put up. With the Newton Heath club under increasing financial pressure, especially as the cathedral authorities felt it was inappropriate for the club to charge admission fees to the ground. An eviction notice was served to the club in June 1893, the club’s management had been searching for a new ground since the first eviction notice had been served in May of the previous year. They were able to move to a new ground on Bank Street.
The highest attendance figures for the North Road ground was approximately 15,000 for a first division match against Sunderland on March 4th 1893
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