By Andrew Haslam
Manchester City FC will have a new home for the 2003/04 season, having left Maine Road after 80 years to move to the City of Manchester stadium.
The 48,000-capacity venue was officially opened with a 2-1 victory against FC Barcelona on Sunday, with Nicolas Anelka and new signing Trevor Sinclair on target in front of 36,000 fans, a reduced capacity due to licensing restrictions. The City of Manchester stadium hosts its first competitive match on Thursday night as City take on Welsh Premiership side Total Network Solutions FC in the UEFA Cup qualifying round.
City manager Kevin Keegan was delighted with the victory against Barcelona, and stressed that his side must make their new home a hard place for opposing teams to visit. "We have started with a win, so it's a good start, and against a good Barcelona team rather than someone people would expect us to knock over," he said.
'The stadium will make this club'
"But we have got to try and make it better than Maine Road had become in the last two Premiership seasons because we lost 12 games under Joe Royle and eight under me. That's 20 games out of 38, over 50 per cent of our home games. There appeared to be more than 36,000 in the ground, but I think it is a stadium that will be the making of this football club. We are the luckiest team in the world to have a place like this and we have got to make it work for us as we did against Barcelona."
The £120m venue was constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and served as a focal point throughout. The stadium held a number of events, including both the opening and closing ceremonies and athletics and rugby competitions. After the Games, the City of Manchester stadium was heavily remodelled, with the running track removed and relaid at other sporting venues, while the temporary North Stand was replaced with a permanent design and an extra tier of seating added at ground level.
The new stadium lies just over 1.5 kilometres from Manchester city centre and was built according to a futuristic design. Every seat offers a perfect view of the pitch, and the ground has been constructed in a unique bowl shape. Furthermore, the roof is designed to reflect sound back into the ground, creating an intimidating wall of noise for visiting teams, while the venue stands out on the city landscape thanks to its towering suspension masts.
The stadium also incorporates a number of hospitality facilities, and, aside from more than 10,000 parking spaces within easy access, has excellent transport links and can comfortably be reached by rail or bus.
Despite their impressive new home, leaving Maine Road after 80 years was a huge wrench. It was there, in 1948, that the highest-ever attendance for a Football League game was recorded, with 83,260 seeing City's game against Arsenal FC, while the 84,569 attendance for an FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke City in 1934 remains an English club record for any game apart from a cup final.
Such memories do not fade. However, with the club looking to the future, the new venue is perfect for the next generation of City players to write their own chapters in the proud history of the club.
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