Tale of two Traffords: cricket arena runs aground as fans flock next door

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a two-goal debut, it was a cancelled Test match, it was a £400 ticket off the black market, it was an automatic refund from the ECB, it was the summer of Ronaldo, it was the autumn of the IPL, it was football, it was cricket.

As the river of fans for Manchester United’s Premier League game against Newcastle poured off the tram at the Old Trafford stop, a few took the opportunity to nip off to the left and through the gates of the cricket ground to the open bar behind B Stand. There they could have a pint, go to the toilet and contemplate a huge stadium filled with nothing but soured hopes and dashed dreams.

Then they departed, with nary a backward glance, straight up Brian Statham wWy, swirling in a chorus of Viva Ronaldo, stopping the traffic on Chester Road with sheer weight of numbers, queueing in hundreds outside the burger van and pouring down into the stadium, an army of shorts, bravado and alcohol-fuelled brio.

All the while, the other Old Trafford continued to lick its wounds: cleaning, packing, unplugging, zipping, folding and closing. The Test against India cancelled with just two hours to spare on Friday morning, this is the end of the season. Winter is coming.

Merchandise sellers outside Old Trafford on Saturday.
Merchandise sellers outside Old Trafford on Saturday. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Lancashire’s remaining home County Championship game had already been organised for Aigburth, Liverpool. All the surplus pre-prepared food for the Test has been handed out to local charities such as the Mustard Tree and EatWell MCR. The chief executive, Daniel Gidney, is locked in talks with the ECB over finance and insurance. Beer kegs stand ready to be packed away. Lanky the giraffe’s costume has returned to the boot room until next summer.

Soon even the party stand will be demolished, to make way for the main stage where the Courteeners will perform later this month.

The two Old Traffords actually share a pretty good relationship. Just this week, United moved the start of their game against Aston Villa forward to 12.30pm so as not to clash with that Courteeners gig. Lancashire put on hospitality for United during big games, with punters eating at The Point before trundling down the road to the football. Lancashire also makes a nice little earner from car parking at the ground, with up to 400 cars coming in on United matchdays (though not on Saturday, which will sting) at £10 a pop.

The “Class of 92” footballers would be regular visitors to the cricket, especially Lancashire youth stars Phil and Gary Neville. Alex Ferguson was an interested spectator at the sold-out Ashes Test of 2005, where Ricky Ponting hit a brilliant game-saving 156, and 10 years ago captain Glen Chapple and the rest of the Lancashire squad did a lap of honour at the football ground with the County Championship trophy, won outright by Lancashire for the first time since 1934.

Fans play cricket outside the ground after India forfeited the fifth Test.
Fans play cricket outside the ground after India forfeited the fifth Test. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

As they touted it around, the United players gave them a thumbs up while they warmed up, Wayne Rooney diligently practising his free kicks. It was an experience Chapple colourfully described as making the team feel like “pork chops” and they returned to the warm arms of the hospitality boxes as quickly as possible.

Over the winter, Lancashire are going to start with the last part of the ground’s redevelopment works, demolishing the Red Rose centre and extending the hotel to another 100 bedrooms, while building a heritage centre and a new shop that will open out on to Brian Statham Way.

The club hopes that the new shop will benefit from facing the public- the current one is tucked away next to the indoor school and completely impenetrable to anyone without an encyclopaedic knowledge of the ground’s layout. Though even Lancashire stalwarts admit that the shirt of new signing Phil Salt might not fly of the shelves like Ronaldo’s, the fastest selling shirt in the history of the Premier League.