The partypoker Dusk Till Dawn Grand Prix Poker Tour goes back on the road this month after the December leg took place online, creating another big winner. The top prize of £35,000 and guarantee of £250,000 return as the tour moves on from Stamford Bridge and the comfort of your Christmas sofa-dent to arguably the greatest football stadium in England.
Old Trafford in Manchester is home to the most successful domestic football side in history, with 20-time English top-tier champions Manchester United plying their trade every other weekend at the fabled ‘Theatre of Dreams’. But there is much more to the story of this historic stadium than a football team, with WWII bombs, hairdryers and poker included. Where do we start?
Holding just under 76,000 supporters, Old Trafford has seen many title parties in recent years, but started life in 1910 playing to even more. Manchester United’s first game at their new home was an auspicious one, with a dramatic result, a 3-4 defeat to Liverpool, who would become The Red Devils’ ultimate rivals over the next century. The architect Archibald Leitch designed the stadium, which grew a roof in 1934, but Old Trafford was bombed heavily during devastating German air raids of World War 2. Old Trafford took eight years to be rebuilt after the war, with United sharing their ‘noisy neighbours’ ground, the nearby Maine Road of Manchester City!
Returning in 1949, United have never left, during a period of incredible success. In 1960, the first private boxes at any football ground were installed at Old Trafford. And in 1968, a decade after the Munich Air Tragedy, Sir Matt Busby saw his resurrected team become the first English side ever to win the European Cup. Busby’s passion for European football helped British clubs grow immeasurably, and Old Trafford has seen its fair share of drama over the years in matches where Manchester welcomed teams from across the continent. Two of the most notable matches came against the great Barcelona.
In 1984, having lost the first leg 2-0 at Camp Nou to a team which included a certain Diego Maradona, Ron Atkinson’s United came back to Old Trafford with a raucous crowd urging them on. Amid an atmosphere Sir Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson amongst others have declared the best ever, United triumphed against all the odds, 3-0, winning 3-2 on aggregate as the supporters carried Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson, on their shoulders as they flooded the pitch.
In 2008, on their way to winning both the Premier League and Champions League in the same year, a United side containing Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez defeated a Barcelona side who boasted the talents of Henry, Messi, Eto’o, Iniesta and Xavi at his peak. United were incredible, denying the Catalans even a goal over three hours of the two-legged tie, a stunning Paul Scholes rocket sending United on to the Moscow final, where they would defeat Chelsea.
It’s not simply the home of Manchester United, however. Old Trafford was one of the venues of the 1966 World Cup, during which it hosted three group matches. And after becoming an all-seater stadium, Euro ‘96 saw the stadium – actually based just outside the centre of Manchester in nearby Salford – host another four games, including the semi-final between the Czech Republic and France. Following the tournament, second tiers were added to the East and West Stand, raising capacity to 68,000 seats. When the corners were filled in on both sides of the North Stand in 2006, it became the biggest capacity stadium in England apart from Wembley.
While Wembley was being renovated, the England football team went ‘on tour’ to play their qualifiers, and Old Trafford saw the biggest moment of drama when David Beckham needed to score a last-minute free-kick against Greece to send England through to the 2002 World Cup Final. When he curled the ball into the goal in the dying seconds, the crowd went wild and all of England celebrated. Old Trafford has also hosted an all-Italian Champions League Final, when A.C. Milan defeated Juventus on penalties.
In 2011, Old Trafford’s North Stand was re-named The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in honour of United’s most successful manager. Often referred to as ‘The Hairdryer’, Ferguson legendary team-talks cooled many a hot-headed player in his time at the helm, with David Beckham, Roy Keane and, perhaps most infamously, Eric Cantona, all turned into world stars by the tough Scot. The current manager, Louis van Gaal, has enjoyed the kind of up-and-down rollercoaster that one might associate with the Grand Prix Poker Tour, which reaches Old Trafford on January 16th & 17th. With a £250,000 prize-pool and a £35,000 top prize, somebody will be winning a trophy this season at the home of Manchester United … could it be YOU?