United's ground all set to swell

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The Independent Online
Old Trafford, pretentiously referred to in some quarters as the Theatre of Dreams, will become just that next season for visiting supporters and even the vast majority of the club's 127,000 members. Certainly, seeing Ryan Giggs and Co for real will become, for them, the figment of fantasy.

That is the downside of the announcement yesterday that Manchester United are to build a new triple decker stand costing £28m. Capacity will be reduced to 33,000 at the start of next season which will be all but covered by the demands of season ticket and league match book holders. Very few tickets will be left for the ordinary member and the visiting fan.

Contracts were signed yesterday for 20 acres adjacent to the stadium, which will cost £9.1m, and, subject to approval of shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting on 6 April, work on the new £18.5m North Stand will begin in May. It will take the capacity, currently 43,000, to 55,000, making Old Trafford the largest club stadium in Britain.

Martin Edwads, United's chairman, said: "This is a clear demonstration of the confidence the club has in its future and will maintain Manchester United's lead at the very forefront of the British game."

It is hoped the new stand will be ready for the European Championship finals in 1996 but the club is confident it will be able to meet their contract requirements of providing a stadium of 44,000 even if work is not complete.

United's finance director, Robin Launders, said: "We know the supporters have wanted an increased capacity for a long time. It does mean that while the work is going on there will be fewer seats in the North Stand, but that is a small price to pay, considering what is happening long-term."

Sunderland, meanwhile, also announced building plans, except their £12m will build them a 34,000-seater stadium on a former pit site close to Roker Park. Work is expected to start early next year and be completed for the start of the 1997-98 season.

Southampton have a more immediate target in mind, namely escaping relegation, and to that end they paid Sheffield Wednesday £1.2m yesterday for Gordon Watson. The purchase of the 23-year-old striker followed Southampton's failed £1.5m bid for Leeds' Rod Wallace.

Everton, who hope to sign the Derby centre-back Craig Short for £3m, are also negotiating to buy a striker.