The story of the stadium began with the formation of The Manchester Olympic Bid Committee in 1985. The Committee made two Olympic bids in the late 80s and early 90s, both based around plans to build an 80,000 seater arena. Manchester’s bid to hold the 1996 Olympics was centred on the redevelopment of the west of the city, but this plan was scrapped when the Games were awarded to Atlanta.
The focus of the 2000 bid was Eastlands in East Manchester, a once heavily industrialised area which had suffered serious economic decline in the 1970s and 80s. The City Council received £70 million from central government in order to fund the purchase and clearing of the site where the stadium would be built. In the event Manchester lost out again, this time to Sydney, but the fact that the redevelopment of Eastlands was already underway worked in the city’s favour when it made a successful bid to host the Commonwealth Games 2 years later.
The original plan for the Commonwealth Games stadium was for a 60,000 seat venue capable of hosting Football matches, Rugby League internationals and pop concerts. However, one of the Council’s main priorities was to ensure that the stadium would have a sustainable future. To help guarantee this they entered negotiations with Manchester City FC, who agreed to move in as tenants after the Games. As a result, a revised plan emerged in which the stadium would be built with a capacity of 38,000 for the Games, increasing to 48,000 when it was handed over to Manchester City for the 2003/04 season.
The drawback of this plan was that Manchester City wanted to remove the running track after the games, effectively turning the stadium into a football ground. The City Council’s acceptance of this scheme caused some controversy, especially as many in the athletics community felt that Britain was in desperate need of a top class track and field venue. Nevertheless, despite these reservations, construction of the £110 million pound stadium was given the go ahead with Sport England committing £77 million pounds to the cost and the City Council providing the remainder. Ove Arup were charged with designing the stadium whilst the actual building work was carried out Laing Ltd.
The final bowl shaped design featured 12 distinctive 60 metre tall masts and a suspended rim cable-stayed roof. The bowl shape was chosen in order to guarantee all spectators an excellent view of the action, whilst the suspended rim roof was designed to provide shelter from the weather and reflect sound back into the stadium, amplifying the roar of the crowd. Temporary seating was to be installed at the north side of the ground with the proviso that it would be replaced by a permanent stand after the Games. The track was to be laid by the same specialist team that worked at Stadium Australia for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. After the Games it was planned to remove the track and lower the level of the pitch so that an extra tier of seating could be installed, increasing the stadium’s seating capacity.
The construction of the stadium began in December 1999 and took the 3000 strong workforce 27 months to complete. The stadium was handed over to the Commonwealth Games organisers on 21st March 2002 and hosted its first competitive sports event two months later -the North of England Junior Championships.
The Commonwealth Games began on July 25th with a spectacular opening ceremony which heralded the start of 10 days of top class athletics and near sell out crowds. However, within hours of the closing ceremony on 4th August, work had already begun on removing the athletics track and converting the stadium into a football ground. Ironically, the success of the Games only increased the level of criticism regarding the future of the venue, but it is worth noting that the running tracks from the two most recent Olympic arenas (Atlanta and Sydney) were also removed. The Atlanta stadium became a baseball ground whilst Stadium Australia now serves primarily as a venue for Rugby League and Union matches.
The problems surrounding Stadium Australia demonstrate the possible pitfalls of constructing a major venue for a showpiece event without first putting in place a strategy for its long term future. This huge 110,000 seater arena cost $600 Australian Dollars to build and was the centrepiece of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Yet, despite the tremendous success of the event itself, the stadium reached the point of financial collapse just a year later and was placed into receivership. The problem was that the stadium simply did not hold enough regular events to make it a financially viable operation.
By handing the City of Manchester Stadium over to Manchester City FC the Council ensured that it would not suffer the same fate. The stadium was now guaranteed to stage at least one football match every two weeks throughout the season and, given City’s large following, was almost certain to be full or nearly full to capacity for every one of those games.
Under the agreement between the Council and Manchester City FC, 50% of the value of every seat over 32,000 and 60% of the value of every seat above 40,000 sold at MCFC matches will be reinvested into sporting facilities and projects in the East Manchester Area. The local community will be given access to the stadium facilities for 100 days each year and Sport England are looking into the possibility of using the venue to hold events such as school football tournaments and adult coaching sessions.
Manchester City and the Council had also been exploring the idea of developing Eastlands as a music venue. In January 2004, in a major coup for the city, they revealed that the first ever rock concert at the stadium would take place on June 18th that summer, with US superstars, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers headlining the show.
The news means that the City of Manchester stadium can now lay claim to be England’s largest open-air concert venue - at 60,000 its capacity is 10,000 greater than the previous holders of that title-Twickenham and the Old Trafford cricket ground. With this proud boast and superb modern facilities in its favour, Manchester concert promoters SJM are hopeful that they can attract many more big name stars to appear at the stadium in future.
In May 2004 the stadium received another boost when the Rugby League confirmed they had chosen the venue to host an international fixture as part of the new Tri-Nations competition taking place in the Autumn.
The criticism over the loss of the athletics track was partly addressed by the announcement in August 2003, that the nearby Sports City warm up track ( which was used by athletes at the Games ) would be transformed into a £3.5 million 6000 seat athletics arena.
The Regional Athletics Arena opened in January 2004 and has already played host the British Olympic Trials in July 2004. It will also stage several other national and international meetings over the course of the next two years.
Incidentally, the track from the City of Manchester stadium did not go to waste. It was divided into sections and used again at athletics venues in Birmingham, Nottingham, Wakefield and North East England.
Manchester City’s first fixture at their new stadium took place on August 10th 2003. This specially arranged friendly against Spanish giants Barcelona was an emotional affair as the City faithful were still reeling from the death of player Marc Vivien Foe just weeks earlier. The fans went home in high spirits however, as City won the game 2-1 with goals from Nicholas Anelka and new signing Trevor Sinclair.
Whether this will mark the start of a glorious new era for Manchester City FC remains to be seen, but one thing seems certain, whatever the prospects of the football club, the future of the City of Manchester Stadium looks assured.