Old Trafford: The Football League on Film
Manchester United’s world-famous Old Trafford stadium was opened in February 1910, laid out by Archibald Leitch as “a palatial ground”. The stadium suffered bomb damage in the Second World War and only re-opened in 1949. As location filming expanded in the post-War years, various grounds were used as a setting for football-related feature films. Old Trafford appeared alongside other northern venues over the following decades.
Billy Liar, adapted from Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 novel by American director John Schlesinger, was one of the era’s ‘kitchen sink’ dramas of northern life. The 1963 film largely retains the West Yorkshire settings of the book, but Old Trafford features in a scene where Billy (played by Tom Courtenay) fantasises about ruling ‘Ambrosia’. In 1965’s Cup Fever a local children’s side, Barton United, find themselves invited to Old Trafford. They get a glimpse behind the scenes, have an audience with manager Matt Busby, and enjoy a training session with first-team members on the famous turf – including Best, Law and Charlton. With character actor Bernard Cribbins and a young Susan George, Cup Fever was made for the Children’s Film Foundation, and also used Altrincham’s Moss Lane ground for match scenes.
Salford-born Albert Finney portrays a successful London-based author revisiting his roots in 1967’s Charlie Bubbles, which he also directed. On his return north he watches a game from the silent comfort of a private box at Old Trafford; this is one of the first records of the ‘executive box’ in English football. His son, bored by the action and the sterile atmosphere, wanders off, which gives rise to scenes around the ground as Finney searches for him. The film’s match against Chelsea took place in October 1966.
Another view of Old Trafford on film featured in The Lovers (a 1973 spin-off from TV series) when Richard Beckinsale and Paula Wilcox go on “a romantic date to the Stretford End” and mistakenly end up in an empty stadium.