The Etihad Stadium
The first suggestion that City would move to a new stadium came in the later 1980s. At that time Bob Scott – a key figure behind the resurgence of the Palace and Opera House Theatres – outlined an amazing plan for Manchester to stage the 1992 Olympics. At the time many Mancunians thought it was a crazy idea, however the Manchester Evening News focussed on the story and eventually a front page headline – “£100m site for Blues?” – made the plan feel real. Within the article City Chairman Peter Swales stated: “If it all happens and the stadium is built, it is something we have got to be interested in. It is at a very early stage. We have spent a lot of money at Maine Road and the new stadium would have to be something pretty special to make us move.”
“The Olympic Bid committee have explained what they are trying to do and I think it is a very bold, adventurous plan to bring the Games to Manchester.”
Club officials from that period have since stated that the plan was nothing more than a brief discussion, however as time moved on and Manchester’s Olympic dreams grew the idea to move became much more serious, the only drawback was that Manchester had to get the Olympics first.
As we now know the Olympics never did arrive in Manchester, although it’s fair to say that London’s successful 2012 bid was strong because of the efforts of Manchester. The bid did bring the consolation prize, if that’s an appropriate phrase, of the Commonwealth Games. Francis Lee pushed to ensure City played their part in all matters relating to the stadium and, once he resigned as Chairman, new Chairman David Bernstein, Chief Operating Officer Chris Bird and director Alistair Mackintosh focussed on the specifics of the stadium development and the move.
In August 1999 David Bernstein signed the legal documentation agreeing to the move and the following December Prime Minister Tony Blair laid the first stone of what was to become the City of Manchester Stadium. Considering that City had struggled on the pitch during the mid to late 1990s, and that 1999 itself had seen the Blues narrowly succeed in escaping from the third tier of English football for the first time. This was a major show of faith. Bernstein, Bird & Co. knew that City fans had remained loyal, and that Maine Road’s permanent capacity of around 32,000 was woefully low, but fans feared that further struggles would see the new stadium scaled down.
By summer 2002 the stadium was a 35,000 seater athletics venue, and once the Games ended in August 2002, work commenced on reconfiguring the stadium into a football venue. Initially the stadium had consisted of a couple of two tier stands at the east and west sides, and a one tier South Stand. At the northern end a large temporary uncovered structure – the new Gene Kelly Stand as City attendees at the Games dubbed it – filled the end where the running track curved beyond the boundaries of a regular football pitch.
The temporary stand was dismantled within days of the end of the Games, and work commenced on lowering the pitch. This was lowered by around 10m with tons of earth removed. The lower tier was then constructed and the North Stand was erected. The capacity was raised to approximately 48,000 and, even though the Blues had only spent two of the previous seven seasons in the Premier League (City’s worst ever spell on the pitch) Bernstein and Bird had committed the Blues to the move and the stadium to the expense necessary to make this the leading footballing venue in the country. Behind the scenes however both Bernstein & Bird had resigned with deputy Chairman John Wardle replacing Bernstein and Alistair Mackintosh ultimately becoming the Club’s Chief Executive. Mackintosh in particular spent much of the 2002-03 season planning for the move.
The stadium was opened as a footballing venue on Sunday 10th August 2003 when the Blues defeated Barcelona 2-1. Nicolas Anelka scored the stadium’s first goal in the 34th minute at the North Stand end, and four days later the first competitive match saw City defeat Welsh side Total Network Solutions 5-0 in the UEFA Cup Qualifying Round – the Blues had been awarded a UEFA Cup place via the Fair Play League.
Since those first games the stadium has continued to evolve. Seating changes have been made in many areas – the directors’ box was reduced in size and additional seating has been added at the back of the second tier corners – and a television commentary box has been erected in the south-east corner of the second tier. A second television gantry was created at the front of the third tier of the West Stand as the main gantry, housed at the back of the third tier, was too high for football action whereas it had been perfect for athletics. The West Stand has also been renamed the Colin Bell Stand after an internet vote.
Other developments include the creation of a Memorial Garden – the first of its type at a major footballing venue. The Garden contains stonework from the Hyde Road Hotel, a mosaic from Maine Road, and a tribute to Marc-Vivien Foe.
The first football season at the stadium saw the Blues achieve their highest average attendance of all time (a record broken in the 2011/12 season), and in its first three years following the Games, the stadium has staged international football; a UEFA Women’s Championship game; a Rugby League international; and concerts by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Oasis, & Bon Jovi. The Oasis concerts brought the largest crowds to the stadium as the size of their stage and the volume of people allowed on the playing area enabled the stadium to house around 60,000. Oasis were also the first non-City organisation to play to sell outs at both Maine Road and the new stadium.
The stadium has also won various architectural awards and remains the most awe-inspiring building in Greater Manchester.
In 2011 the stadium was renamed The Etihad Stadium, after a 10 year deal was struck with the Abu Dhabi based airline for a reported £400m.
SIGNIFICANT CITY OF MANCHESTER STADIUM INFORMATION
THE COLIN BELL STAND (Originally known as the West Stand):
Erected in 2002 as a tier two stand for the Commonwealth Games. Basement area and dressing rooms were included in the original build below ground level. After the Games the pitch area was excavated and the tunnel was opened up and lower tier constructed in 2003. The stand contains the Club’s main offices, the Boardroom and Mancunian Suites, media facilities, and the Bluezone education facilities.
THE NORTH STAND:
Built during 2002-03 following the Commonwealth Games. Previously a temporary stand stood at this end. Unlike the South Stand, this end contains executive boxes and the family stand.
THE SOUTH STAND (originally referred to as the Scoreboard End):
Converted into a tier two stand after the Games, this end houses the Legends Lounge, away supporters and City’s more vocal fans.
THE EAST STAND:
A similar construction to the Colin Bell Stand as far as spectators are concerned, however corporate facilities are more extensive. The stand houses the Commonwealth, 1894, and Citizens Suites. It also is home to the Junior Blues, City In The Community, and the Development Association.
FACTS & FIGURES
Highest official attendance: 47,435 v QPR, 13/05/2012
Highest non-football Attendance: 60,000 Oasis Concert 02/07/2005
Highest Average Attendance: 47,044 2011-12 season
First Game: v Barcelona 10/08/2003
First Competitive Game: v Total Network Solutions, UEFA Cup, 14/08/2003
First League Game: v Portsmouth 23/08/2003
CITY OF MANCHESTER PROGRESSIVE CAPACITY
- 2002 – 38,000
- 2003 – 47,726
- 2015 – 55,000