Manchester: The City Years

Maine Road

1923-2003


Regarded by many as the spiritual home of Manchester City, Maine Road opened in 1923 as the leading League ground in the Country. Constructed at the same time as Wembley Stadium by the same builders, Sir Robert McAlpine, with the aim of developing an 'English Hampden', Maine Road opened in August 1923.

The first Mancunians had heard of the new stadium came on 9th May 1922 when the Blues announced incredible plans to develop what they believed would be the greatest stadium in England. The 16.25 acre site was purchased for £5,550 and the original plans outlined that Maine Road would be developed in two phases with the first seeing the construction of an 85,000 capacity ground with one huge seated grand stand and terracing on the other 3 sides. The second phase was to see the terracing extended and then roofed to provide covered accommodation for a remarkable 120,000.

The sensible capacity of Maine Road at the time of opening was probably around 80,000, though City's management felt it could hold 90,000, and The Topical Times Sporting Annual for 1934-5 stated a figure of 86,000.

In the main, newspaper reports of the opening match - a 2-1 victory over Sheffield United on 25th August 1923 - focussed on the stadium rather than the game with the Manchester Guardian particularly impressed. The newspaper provided a whole range of statistics on the venue, making note of the size of the tunnels and of the terracing, especially the Popular Side (latter day Kippax) of the ground where there were 110 tiers of steps at its highest point. It seemed the most fantastic venue: "Come in and take your ease but here, inside these barriers, you stay and by these great pits and tunnels, quietly and quickly you depart. This scheme in its simplicity and great scale suggests power and force in the way that a pyramid does, or a Babylonian tower, and there could scarcely be a better scheme to represent the passionate concentration of fifty or eighty thousand men and women on the fortunes of the field below."

Referring to the Main Stand the article added: "The Grand Stand by itself is an elaborate mechanism only to be afforded by the rich town club. For long after the match was over curious crowds explored its many staircases by which the holders of all sorts of tickets are conducted without fail or confusion to their various seats. The topmost section sits aloof and remote at an incredible distance from the field. Like a squall falling suddenly from the hills, its clapping came at times in sudden gusts from far away."

The Manchester Guardian reporter was particularly impressed with his initial view of the venue: "This ground is the last word in the provision of comfort and security for (and against) the explosive force of the great crowds that follow the League teams. There is something almost barbaric in the impression which, when it is full, it makes on the observer. As one comes on it suddenly from Claremont Road, a great rounded embankment towers up in front, and over it at one side looms the highly arched roof of a stand whose dim recesses cannot be discerned at all except from the ground level. Only the fresh green paint on the front of it, picked out with gold, detracts from the broad impression of size and power, giving a rather incongruous air of neatness and modernity."

During period since the Second World War most football writers have claimed that Maine Road was designed as the Wembley of the North and that the architect, Charles Swain, had tried to match the London venue. In truth this is far from correct. Wembley was designed at the same time, although it did actually open a few months earlier, and because of crowd control issues at the first FA Cup final held there Wembley did not have a good reputation in 1923. Some reports did suggest City adjusted their plans as a result of chaos at Wembley – “The lessons of Wembley have been taken to heart, and a feature of the ground will be six tunnels communicating with the terraces, giving easy access to all parts.”

The actual credit for the move to Maine Road must go to Chairman Lawrence Furniss and Manager Ernest Mangnall. At the time of opening it was suggested that the stadium should be named after Furniss, but the Chairman clearly felt that no venue should bear the name of a living member of the Club. Instead the first time the name Maine Road appeared in print as the ground's name came on the morning of the game: “The main entrances will be in Maine Road, by which name the ground will be known, for the time being at all events.”

During its first season the stadium demonstrated its worth as on 8th March 1924 a crowd of 76,166 – the highest crowd ever assembled at a football venue in Manchester at this point and still in 2006 higher than any crowd attending Old Trafford - watched the legendary Billy Meredith play for the Blues against Cardiff in the F.A. Cup.

A decade later the capacity was tested again when, for the first time in the history of the stadium, the gates were closed before the game. The official attendance figure was 84,569 - it remains the largest provincial attendance.

Originally only one side was roofed – the 10,000 seater Main Stand – but in 1931 the first stage of the Club's development plan saw additional seating and a roof built in the Platt Lane/Main Stand corner. Four years later the second phase of the plan saw the roof extended over the rest of the Platt Lane Stand. The developments surrounding this stand actually increased the capacity of the venue as the Platt Lane Stand was extended at the back with wooden planks to square off the terracing. Assuming the record crowd of 84,569 had been the absolute maximum in 1934 (although a figure of 86,000 was more likely), it's possible that the capacity at the start of the 1936-7 season was around 88,000, possibly a fraction more.

One of the myths generated by writers over the years is that Manchester City were never particularly good at making plans to redevelop Maine Road. This is simply not true, City were very good at making plans, but they were notoriously bad at turning those plans into reality. Architect Swain's original plans were to increase the size of the stadium by extending the three uncovered stands, and by roofing them in stages. The first stage was the Platt Lane corner, completed in 1931; the second was the extension of Platt Lane, completed in 1935; the third was the Main Stand/Scoreboard End corner (scheduled for 1939); fourth phase was to cover the rest of the Scoreboard End (scheduled for 1944); and the final phase was to be the enormous extension to the Popular Side (latter day Kippax, due for development by 1950).

The plans were put on hold with relegation in 1938 and then stopped altogether with the outbreak of war in 1939. By the beginning of the 1950s Maine Road was still a major venue and continued to attract internationals and semi-finals, but the Club recognized that covered accommodation and other facilities had to improve. The ground remained much the same as it had been in 1935, and then in 1953 floodlights were added.

In 1957 the Popular Side was extended slightly, roofed, and renamed the Kippax Street Stand. The extension was not as great as the one planned when the stadium first opened, but at least the roof meant the stadium provided covered accommodation for over 50,000 fans. No other Manchester venue had ever been able to match that, and few League grounds could compare.

The newly roofed Kippax soon became the home of City's more vocal fans, and supporters used to love to boast that whereas most other grounds found their more passionate support positioned themselves behind a goal, City's occupied a full side.

In 1963 the Platt Lane Stand was seated with row after row of wooden benches. This meant that Maine Road housed more seats than any other British club - around 18,500 - something that continued throughout the 70s and early 80s with the development of the 8,120 capacity North Stand. Then in 1964 the floodlights were replaced with much higher – and more powerful – floodlight towers, and this was followed in 1967 by improvements to the Main Stand roof. The middle section of the roof was replaced by a rather odd looking construction which allowed an unhindered view for the directors and those in the most expensive seats, but it did nothing to improve the look of the stadium.

In 1971 the original Scoreboard End was demolished and replaced by a new cantilever stand. Initially the stand was terracing, but after a year the management decided to turn this stand into a seated stand, and the North Stand was born. At the same time amazing plans to demolish the Kippax Stand and replace it with an incredible structure that would also allow vehicles to drive onto the roof of the new stand, where drivers would be able to watch the game from their own cars, were made. Former Chairman Eric Alexander later revealed: “the plans were aimed at creating a sort of private viewing area, while also improving facilities for Kippax regulars. The two big issues in the early seventies were the increasing shortage of good car parking spaces, and the lack of good quality facilities at the Kippax side of the ground. The plan would have improved both situations completely.”

The plan was abandoned when Peter Swales became Chairman in 1973. From then on Maine Road's development seemed to be piecemeal. Apart from security features such as the installation of perimeter fencing, little of note changed until in 1981 Swales announced a £6m redevelopment of the stadium. The first phase saw the Main Stand roof replaced again, this time with a distinctive cream coloured barrel affair.

This roof, held up by two enormous stanchions, was erected at a cost of £1 million. Relegation in 1983 caused the other redevelopment plans to be halted. This was a major shame as the second phase was due to see a much needed new roof placed over the Kippax Stand, followed by the redevelopment of the Platt Lane Stand.

Apart from the replacement of seats in the Main Stand, the construction of a new scoreboard in the Platt Lane/Kippax corner, and the increase in perimeter fencing, little obvious development occurred during the rest of the 1980s. The next significant development was the replacement of seats in the front section of the North Stand as part of £500,000 worth of alterations during the summer of 1991. The following year, the 1935 Platt Lane Stand was demolished and the rather smaller Umbro Stand was erected in its place at a reported cost of £6 million. This cost was viewed as being excessive, however it did include 48 executive boxes on two tiers. This stand was opened in March 1993 and during the summer of 1997 was renamed the Platt Lane Stand.

With the Government and football's governing bodies insisting that terracing be removed at the top stadia, the Kippax Stand's days were numbered. By this time Francis Lee was Chairman and he hastily set plans in place to build a new three tier stand, housing the best facilities at any football ground in the north-west.

In April 1994, an emotional day commemorated the end of the old Kippax Stand, and immediately, afterwards City demolished and started construction of its replacement. The new stand was completed in stages over the course of the following eighteen months and Maine Road once again felt like a major venue, however the capacity of the ground was significantly lower than at any other point in its history, and was the lowest for a City venue since 1899.

The new 10,000 seater stand was officially opened by Bert Trautmann. Francis Lee's consortium had changed the plans for the new Kippax and Lee recognised that the rest of the ground needed serious improvement. He made dramatic and impressive plans to reconstruct the rest of Maine Road. His idea was to extend the other three sides of the ground to allow for a construction similar to the new Kippax, and a capacity of around 50,000. However, as the 1990s progressed Lee also became keen to negotiate with Manchester City Council and other bodies for City to become tenants of the new stadium being proposed as part of Manchester's bid to stage the Olympic Games. Three successive bids ultimately failed, but the city was awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

While the bids and planning of first the Olympics and then the Commonwealth Games was occurring Maine Road's capacity had to increase. Lee's Maine Road redevelopment plans had brought much interest from supporters, but clearly the opportunity of staging the Games meant those plans – Maine Road's last plans – were not carried out. Instead a temporary stand – nicknamed the Gene Kelly stand as fans became accustomed to 'singing in the rain' - was erected in the corner between the Kippax and the North Stand during 1997/8. This still could not satisfy the huge demand for tickets. And so additional temporary seating was added in stages over the course of the following two seasons.

In May 2003 Maine Road staged its last game, and so a mere eight years after the official opening of the new Kippax, and ten after the Platt Lane Stand was built, Maine Road was redundant. During 2003-04 the stadium was demolished and is now in the process of being developed for housing by a company called Lowry Homes – interestingly the artist LS Lowry was well known for being a City supporter. Various objects from Maine Road were salvaged by the Club, including two of the mosaic signs originally positioned over exit gates. One of these has been reconstructed and currently forms part of City's memorial garden at the City Of Manchester Stadium.

Maine Road was always a passionate home for City fans, but it was also a significant venue from a national perspective. As well as City's games, the stadium also hosted international matches (including the first World Cup qualifying match held in England); FA Cup Semi-finals; a League Cup Final; the first European game played in England; concerts by the likes of Queen, Rolling Stones, and Oasis; religious festivals; Rugby finals; and even an international tennis tournament.

SIGNIFICANT MAINE ROAD GROUND INFORMATION

THE STANDS

THE MAIN STAND:

Erected in 1923 when, at the time of construction, it had the largest roof span of any stand at any football ground in the country.

Middle section of roof replaced during 1967 to provide an uninterrupted view for the Directors' Box and surrounding seats.

Third roof erected in 1982, as the first phase of a £6 million redevelopment. The project was halted with relegation in 1983 and the original plan of having executive boxes suspended from the front of the roof (close to the TV gantry) were shelved.

Final capacity: 8,466
Original capacity: 10,000

THE PLATT LANE STAND:

Roofed and extended in two phases during 1931 and 1935. Seated 1963 (wooden benches).

Rebuilt during 1992/3 and opened on 7th March 1993 as the Umbro Stand. Renamed the Platt Lane Stand during the 1997 close season.

Final capacity: 4,548
Seated capacity of old stand (c.1986): 9,702
Highest standing capacity: c.20,000

THE NORTH STAND (originally referred to as the Scoreboard End):

Original terracing until demolition commenced in 1970. New terraced stand opened in 1971 and became seated in 1972.

Final capacity: 8,527
Seated capacity in 1972: 8,120
Original standing capacity: c.18,000
Standing capacity 1971/2 season: 22,000

THE KIPPAX STAND (originally known as the Popular Side):

Roofed and extended in 1957. Demolished during the 1994 close season, with the new stand opening in stages during 1994 and 1995.

Final capacity: 9,882
Original standing capacity: c.35,000
Standing capacity in 1980: 26,155
Standing capacity in 1990 (following the first safety recommendations after the Hillsborough disaster): c.22,000
Final standing capacity (1994): 18,300

TEMPORARY STANDS

Temporary stands were installed from 1997 onwards, and by 2003 temporary seating existed in both Kippax corners, the tunnel between the Main Stand and Platt Lane corner, and behind the stadium control box above J block at the side of the Main Stand. The capacity of these sections totalled approximately 3,750.

FACTS & FIGURES

Highest attendance: 84,569 v Stoke City, F.A. Cup Sixth Round on 3rd March 1934 (this remains a record for games outside of London & Glasgow)

Highest League Attendance: 79,491 v Arsenal 23/2/35 (this was the record Football League attendance at the time)

Highest Average Attendance: 42,725 1947-48

Highest non-City Attendance: 83,260 Manchester United v Arsenal 17/1/48 (this remains the record Football League attendance of all time)

First Football League game: v Sheffield United 25/08/23

Last Football League game: v Southampton 11/5/2003

Most important game staged at Maine Road: There have been many important matches staged at the Maine Road stadium, obviously City themselves have featured in some pretty significant games over the years but there have also been internationals, cup semi-finals, and even finals held there. Possibly the most significant or memorable international was England's 8-0 demolition of Scotland on 16th October 1943. Another important international was the England V Scotland game in aid of the Bolton Disaster Fund, played on 24th August 1946.

Various F.A. Cup semi-finals have been held at Maine Road over the years, but the most significant domestic game was the all-Merseyside League Cup Final replay on 28th March 1984.

Other Events: Maine Road has hosted many non-football events over the years from religious meetings to pop concerts. From 1939 to 1956 the ground hosted the Rugby League Championship play-off finals, with one attendance reaching the staggering figure of 75,194 (14th May 1949), and during the 80s and 90s Maine Road regularly held pop concerts. Some of the artists to play at the ground include David Bowie, Queen, Oasis, and the Rolling Stones.

MAINE ROAD PROGRESSIVE CAPACITY

  • 1923 – 84,000
  • 1931 – 86,000
  • 1935 – 88,000
  • 1946 – 84,000
  • 1953 – 76,500
  • 1957 – 77,000
  • 1963 – 64,000
  • 1972 – 54,500
  • 1973 – 52,600
  • 1989 – 48,500
  • 1992 – 39,359
  • 1994 – 19,150*
  • 1995 – 31,458
  • 1997 – 32,147
  • 1999 – 34,026
  • 2000 – 34,421
  • 2002 – 35,150

* Note: 19,150 was the capacity for the first match of 1994-5 season; capacity increased after every game until 1995 close season figure was reached.


All history and statistical material has been produced based on the research and writing of Manchester football historian Gary James (www.facebook.com/GaryJames4). It is maintained by Ric Turner & Gary James. All text remains the copyright of the original contributors.

Gary's book, Manchester - the City Years: Tracing the Story of Manchester City from the 1860s to the Modern Day, is available to order on Amazon.

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