Apr 1, 2010

Ranking the world's soccer meccas: No. 3 Old Trafford and Anfield (a draw)

For ranking methodology and other information about the series, see the original post. To read the about the No. 4-rated stadium, the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay, click here. To see all "soccer mecca" entries click here.

No. 3 Old Trafford, Manchester and Anfield, Liverpool
Open since: 1910 (Old Trafford); 1884 (Anfield)
Capacity: ~75,000 (Old Trafford); ~45,000 (Anfield)
Tenant: Manchester United (Old Trafford); Liverpool FC (Anfield)
World Cup hosts: 1966 (Old Trafford)

Deciding not to decide is admittedly a bit of cop-out; but I didn't want to face the wrath of one side's supporters and be accused of harboring anti- (or pro-) feelings toward either club. I also really wanted to make this a top 10 list. Top 11 is not as nice a number, and therefore not as marketable. And as you know it's all about the money for me. Why else become a soccer blogger? If I wanted to do something nice for society I'd be a banker or something. Seriously though, necessity obviously played a role in choosing two grounds for the third-biggest soccer mecca in the world. However, the truth is that a fair objective decision (or what passes for one given the criteria at our disposal) would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible. Compelling arguments exist in support of both stadia. Old Trafford is bigger and played host to a World Cup, goes one. Anfield is older and has more of an "iconic value" in part for this reason, goes another. Well, great. Rather than fight about that let's just discuss both grounds. Old Trafford goes first because it's bigger and hosted World Cup matches. Plus this year is the 100 year anniversary of the ground's opening. The Guardian did a terrific retrospective in February that you should really read for yourself. But here is my bit:

Old Trafford
The stadium was designed by a Scotsman, Archibald Leitch, the same guy who designed Glasgow's Hampden Park (ranked fifth in our list of soccer meccas). For some reason Old Trafford hosted the FA Cup final in 1911 and 1915. The stadium was heavily damaged in World War II, apparently because the Germans wanted to preemptively avenge Bayern Munich's last minute loss to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final. Man United had to play the 1946-49 seasons at Maine Road while Old Trafford was rebuilt--exactly the way it was before the war. It would quickly change, however. Renovations took place in the 1950s and 60s and Old Trafford holds the dubious distinction of being the first ground to erect perimeter fencing, which it did in the 1970s. These were removed when it was converted to an all-seater in 1994.

The 1994 renovation spelled the end of the beloved (by home fans at least) Stretford End, though many still refer to the stadium's west end as such. "Theatre of Dreams," a paper of sorts published on Villanova University's Web site has the following to say about the Stretford End:

"Crammed behind the goal was a heaving mass of almost 20,000 standing United fans who were amongst the loudest in Britain. It was once measured that the roar from the crowd was louder than a Jumbo Jet taking off."

The last game played in front of the famous old terrace was a 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on May 2, 1992.

Old Trafford has hosted its share of famous matches, but the 1966 World Cup games don't exactly make the cut. All were group stage games and none saw very big crowds. In the first, Portugal defeated Hungary 3-1 in front of 37,000. Portugal played (and won) the second match against Bulgaria by 3-0 in front of 26,000. In the third, Hungary saw off Bulgaria by 3-0 in a match that was only significant because it meant defending champions Brazil would not make the elimination round. The Brazilians, with Pele, had earlier lost 3-1 to Portugal in a game played at Goodison Park.

Thirty years later Old Trafford was one of the main stages for Euro 96. Eventual champions Germany played their group stage matches here, winning the first two (2-1 over the Czech Republic and 3-0 over Russia) and drawing the third (0-0 against Italy). As group winners Germany then faced Croatia in the quarterfinals at Old Trafford, winning 2-1 (Croatia would win the rematch two years later at the World Cup quarterfinal in France). Old Trafford then was the stage for a tense semifinal between France and the Czech Republic, won by the Czechs on penalties.

Okay, none of these will exactly go down in the annals of soccer history. In fact, for the first 35 years of its life, Old Trafford saw little that would make the history books. Man United were a "yo-yo club" in the 1920s and 30s, switching between the top two divisions several times. It wasn't until the arrival of Matt Busby in 1945 that this changed for good (well, until 1974 at least, which we'll get to in a minute).

The 1957 European Cup semifinal pitted Man United against defending title holders Real Madrid. It was just the second year of the tournament that is today known as the UEFA Champions League, and Man U's first as a participant. Busby's babes were defeated 5-3 on aggregate but the game presented them with a measuring stick that likely would have been breached sooner had it not been for the 1959 Munich air disaster.

Less than two weeks after the tragedy, United returned to Old Trafford. The matchday programs of what would become a 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday read "United Will Go On". Blank spaces were left where the names of the eight deceased players would have been.

In 1965, Busby's side won their first championship on a Monday night at Old Trafford on goals by Denis Law (2x) and George Best.

Three years later, their first European title would finally follow. The European Cup semifinal against Real Madrid was one of the most epic match-ups in the history of club football, though most of the drama took place at the Bernabeu in the return leg. Man U won the first leg at Old Trafford on a goal by Best. Busby's side advanced after a 3-3 draw in Madrid and went on to defeat Benfica for the first-ever European Cup won by an English club.

The 70s and 80s were a tough time for United, but there were a few moments of glory at Old Trafford nonetheless. In 1984, Ron Atkinson's Red Devils faced Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the old Cup winners' cup. They were given little chance against a side that featured Diego Maradona (by then the consensus best player in the world, or close to it), especially after losing the first leg at Camp Nou by 2-0. But led by Bryan Robson, Man U rallied and five minutes after halftime the sides were level. Frank Stapleton got United the winner. They would lose the semifinal to Juventus (with Michel Platini). The BBC revisited the encounter a few years ago. Check it out.

Man U and Real Madrid would meet again in 2003 in the Champions League quarterfinals. This time Real came out winners. After winning the first leg 3-1, the return leg at Old Trafford became one of the more thrilling games you'll witness anywhere. In the end Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) proved too much for Red Devils, scoring thrice. David Beckham came on as a substitute and scored twice but it was not enough. Man U won the return leg 4-3 but bowed out on aggregate, 6-5. Too bad, because that was the year the Champions League final was played at Old Trafford. In May 2003 it hosted a rather anticlimactic affair between AC Milan and Juventus, which Milan won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Of course some of the most spirited matches were domestic--or even municipal--battles.
The Independent has a series of the 10 best Manchester derbies of all time. Rather than plagiarize reference it in part we suggest you read it in whole at the source itself. Among matches played at Old Trafford, the following stand out (only the Denis Law game is on the Independent's list. The rest were located via independent research):

In 1926, Manchester City won 6-1. I don't believe either club has scored that many goals in the Manchester derby since. The margin of victory was itself a record for nearly 30 years until...

...it was matched in 1955, with City winning 5-0.

On April 27, 1974, United hosted City on the penultimate matchday. In what became known as the Denis Law game, the Scotsman (and former United man, as we have seen) scored his last goal ever as a professional. The cheeky backheel (links to YouTube clip of the goal) won the game for City 1-0. United were relegated to the old Division Two, though not as a result of that game as is often reported (they would have gone down regardless).

In March 1991, a 17-year old Welshman by the name of Ryan Giggs scored the first goal of his career in a Manchester derby. The goal decided the match in United's favor (1-0).

The following December, a certain Frenchman named Eric Cantona made his debut for United in the first Manchester derby of the Premiership era. Cantona went on to score eight goals in eight Manchester derbies over the following four seasons but he was kept off the scoresheet that day (United didn't need the help; they won 2-1).

In the first derby of the new Millenium in 2001, Roy Keane very nearly ended the career of Alf-Inge Haaland with a vicious tackle. The tackle, which was swiftly red-carded, was revenge for an injury Keane himself sustained at Haaland's expense (kind of. In 1997 Keane was injured when he attempted to tackle Haaland. Only Roy Keane knows why he needed to avenge an injury caused by Roy Keane or why he needed to boast about it in his book. The latter move cost him an additional fine).

Interestingly enough, Liverpool were not Anfield's original tenants. That honor goes to Everton, who built the ground in 1884 and called it home for eight years. They left over some internal dispute and Liverpool were formed with the express purpose of occupying Anfield. So Liverpool is very much the house that Anfield build, not vice-versa. I'm sure Everton fans never remind their Liverpool brethren of this.

The (in)famous kop was not part of the original construct either. In fact, no stands were. For the first two years, players had to walk down a road from an off-site locker room to the pitch, according to Liverweb.org.uk. The site also supplies this tidbit from the ground's very early days:

In 1894 following some early success the club decided to build a proper main stand which would incorporate dressing rooms. The stand was built and cost a total of £1,000. The stand was made of timber and remained relatively unmodified until the 1970's when it was to become as it is in modern times. The stand was at the time considered extremely good for the football ground. In the middle of the stand roof was a mock semi-circular gable in red and white. A large plaque was later place on this area reading 'Liverpool Football Club'. Today though the only thing left of it are photographs as the original itself was lost in development of the stand. It is likely to have been placed in a builders skip.

The "kop" stand was built in 1906 and named after the Spion Kop, a hill in South Africa where a local regiment suffered heavy losses during the Boer War. The roof was added in 1928. The kop can rightfully claim to be the most famous soccer stand in the world. It was here that the singing we associate today with football supporters came into being. "While cheering and the occasional singing at English football matches was nothing new, the spontaneous, collective songs of the masses in the Kop was something never before seen," writes Albion Road.

This alone makes Anfield a legend among soccer stadia. Its status as a soccer mecca is cemented by the fact that it also berthed soccer's most famous song. "You'll never walk alone," has since been adopted as the anthem of virtually every club not named Everton and Manchester United. The song has existed since 1945. It started as a Broadway show tune if you can believe that (probably one of very few links between the world of Broadway musicals and soccer--or professional sport for that matter) and was covered by everybody from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley. It was first heard at Anfield around 1963 when Merseyside group Gerry & The Pacemakers made it popular in Britain. It appears to have become the club's official anthem shortly afterward (I found a YouTube clip from 1964).

A wave of renovations were spurred by the arrival of Bill Shankly in 1959. "He was livid at the conditions and said that the ground was not good enough for the fans who supported them each week," writes Liverweb.

In 1971, Anfield had the dubious distinction of hosting a Man United match. This Web site explains why. So Anfield has actually held home games for Liverpool's two fiercest rivals!

Still, nobody can argue that the team that gets the most inspiration from Anfield is Liverpool. From 1978 to 1981, Reds did not lose a match at their home ground.

From the mid 1960s to late 1980s the club celebrated a lengthy golden age. In 1973 it hoisted its first European trophy, the UEFA Cup, and won the first division for the "double." The first leg of the UEFA cup final was in fact played at Anfield (back then two legs decided the winner). Reds won 3-0 over Borussia Moenchengladbach with Kevin Keegan scoring two goals within a nine minute span of the first half. In fact, Keegan had a chance for a hat trick but missed a penalty. Liverpool had to hang on for dear life in the return leg; at halftime they were down 2-0. But they pulled it off. '73 was also Shankly's last year in charge at Anfield. Three years later, with Bob Paisley now in charge, Reds won the league and UEFA Cup again.

The first leg of the 1976 UEFA Cup final against Belgian side Bruges was probably one of the best games ever played at Anfield. After just 12 minutes Reds were down two goals. They got three goals in the last 30 minutes of the match (the third on a Keegan penalty) to take the first leg 3-2.

The following season Liverpool took their first champions cup (forerunner to the Champions League). Between 1977 and 1985, they would reach the final five times, winning the first four.

Of course Liverpool also has a few memorable losses at Anfield. The most painful may be the April 1989 league championship decider with Arsenal. Gunners needed to win by two goals on the final matchday. Michael Thomas got Arsenal's second goal in the final minute of the match. Liverpool has not won a league title since.

Like Old Trafford, Anfield also hosted Euro 96 games; three group stage matches and a quarterfinal between France and the Netherlands that ended scoreless (France advanced on penalties). The most interesting of the group stage matches was probably Russia's 3-3 draw with the Czech Republic in the third and final round. With zero points from its first two games, Russia had no hope of advancing, but they could spoil the Czech Republic's quarterfinal qualification with a victory. It didn't start well; after just 19 minutes Russia was down two goals. But they rallied at the start of the second half and by minute 54 had tied the game up. Then, five minutes before time Vladimir Beschastnykh put the Russians up, before the Czechs equalized three minutes later. They would go on to make the finals of the tournament and lose in extra time on a disputed "golden goal" by Oliver Bierhoff.

Man United v Liverpool
The "Northwest derby" between Liverpool and Man United is one of the most spirited affairs in all of sport, so we are devoting an entire section to it. All but a handful of these matches were played at Old Trafford or Anfield. Liverpool drew first blood in their first meeting in 1895; the 7-1 victory at Anfield remains the widest margin of victory in these games.

There have been so many memorable matches since then, it's hard to pick a select few that stand out. But for historical significance's stake, perhaps none is greater than the 1999 FA Cup tie at Old Trafford. Trailing 1-0 with a minute to go, Sir Alex' men stunned the visitors with a pair of goals (links to YouTube video clip) en route to their historic treble. The Champions League final against Bayern Munich is rightly remembered as the crowning moment of the season, but it turns out Red Devils had pulled an identical feat (scoring twice to overcome a 1-0 deficit in the final minute of a match) three months earlier.

The teams' August 1953 meeting at Anfield proved the start of a dark period for Liverpool. The home side led 4-2 at the hour mark but United rallied to tie the score. The equalizer was controversial; Liverpool goalkeeper Charlie Ashcroft was bundled into the net with seven minutes to go and apparently the Anfield faithful were so incensed police had to form a line in front of the kop. An interesting tidbit for those who might think soccer violence (or the threat thereof) is something that began in the 1960s. The Lancashire Evening Post interviewed the 82-year old Ashcroft about this and other memorable games in January 2009. United won the return leg at Old Trafford and Liverpool were relegated. Man U went on to become, well Man U (at least the 1950s version).

When they were finally re-promoted for the 1962-63 season, Liverpool had a rough start, winning just four of their first 16 games when they faced their hated rivals at Old Trafford. It started badly for Bill Shankly's side and at the half the score was Man U 1, Liverpool 0. The teams traded goals in the second half with United getting the last laugh on the final play of the game, equalizing for a 3-3 score. But Liverpool were clearly buoyed by the result; they went on to win their next nine games and were crowned league champions in 1964.

Sir Alex' first season in charge at Old Trafford was largely forgettable, but Red Devils did manage a 1-0 win at Anfield on Boxing Day 1986 that helped put an end to Liverpool's chances of defending their league title.

In 1988, United came from two goals down to draw 3-3 at Anfield in a game made famous for Gordon Strachan smoking an imaginary cigar in front of the kop. Liverpool won the league anyway. But they haven't won it since.

In 1992 it was still United who was suffering the title drought however. Sir Alex' men hit Anfield in April with their title hopes hanging by a thread. They lost 2-0. The last-ever league championship before the creation of the Premier League went to Leeds United (ironically with Strachan). But Man U won the next one. And the one after that. In fact, seven of the first nine Premiership titles went to Man United.

In 1993 Man United suffered a brief setback at the hands of their rivals. Sir Alex' men had a 3-0 lead after just 24 minutes at Anfield, but the match ended up a 3-3 draw. Man U went on to win the double that season.

In 1995 Cantona returned from the suspension he earned for the Selhurst Park incident and had a part in both United goals in an exciting 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

In December 2000, Liverpool ended a 10-game unbeaten run against their rivals, winning 1-0 on a freekick goal by Danny Murphy at Old Trafford.

As for the last decade worth of games, you should be young enough to remember them yourself and won't need me to relive them.

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