New Trafford

It is hard to decide which will prove to be the greater crime, in these circles. To acknowledge the singular influence of a justly popular (NB not ‘populist’) Tory, or (and I suspect it is this) to acknowledge the singular influence of a mid-table Premier League club that co-habits a city with the current champions.

Coe and United. They are Britain’s twin masters of outsized reputation. Neither, it seems, must do very much at all (and, indeed, can continue to do so for quite some time) but when the moment arrives for a headline, nothing sells more ink than Coe & co.

So, as it happens, the Venn Diagram of Sebs and Reds finally created the black hole of gravitational attention this week; Seb Coe is leading the charge in finding a new home for Manchester United. A successor to Old Trafford. The Theatre of (increasingly unlikely) Dreams is, theatrically, to be retired.

The debate seems to be whether to renovate or replace. To build a ‘Wembley of the North’ (a new, shiny, largely soulless equivalent to City’s stadium down the road, or the new Everton stadium, or the Emirates, or Spurs. You get it) or to revamp the existing ground. A new labour, or a conservation project, for want of a better analogy.

Progressive politics, however, is so often about finding a third way. In the week following a budget that once again diagnosed Britain’s degenerative productivity illness as the relentless cause of our national degradation, these opportunities cannot be seen outside of the larger context.

Like much of the UK economy, our cultural assets are centred around London. Think Vegas, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Paris. These are the global due norths of mega industries. Manchester, synonymous the world over with sport, and specifically football, has as much of a right as anywhere to join them. Prize fights, Grand Prix, ready-made facilities to host an Olympics (or, indeed, Commonwealth Games, European Champs, WAAF) when, as is inevitable in the years to come, appointed hosts drop out at short notice. The Sporting Capital of the World. Not ‘the Wembley of the North’ (which is more an Ikea than an idea) but an economic powerhouse, a global export hub to do what London does not.

Any redevelopment that combines the scale, the popular interest and the unique opportunity of Old Trafford should not simply be seen through the narrow lens of what is being replaced, but rather what is being enabled. With big money in Golf, Boxing, Football, Tennis and Motorsport all heading towards regions that have (politely) little historic association with those sports, the opportunity to create a credible hub for global sporting events seems acute. Even the long anticipated foothold for American sports (the unrealised dream of a permanently UK-based NFL franchise, for instance) feels more imminent, and it should be Manchester.

Building infrastructure to capture demand is simply sensible politics. Manchester has a huge head start in the global sporting race, a lucky lane allocation, whichever athletic metaphor Lord Coe would prefer. He, and they, must not miss the chance to do more than merely build a football ground. They must, as Coe was so fond of saying back when he achieved apotheosis in 2012, ‘create a legacy’. Multi-sport arenas for boxing, tennis, UFC, E-sports. A centrepiece stadium for United, athletics, Olympics, NFL. A multi-motorsport track for Formula E, Formula 1, drone racing. The infrastructure to get millions of fans there, fed, watered, housed, spending. Hotels, malls, a new sporting-themed terminal at the airport. If you build it, they will come.

This is an opportunity for a vision greater than just being a facsimile of something in London. It has the chance to leverage the even greater potential the city holds and use it to regenerate a part of the city, create high skilled employment and go some way towards increasing pride in the place so many people, living right around the world, call home. To be the Wembley of the North is not enough. The global capital of Sport. That’s the prize, Lord Coe. That’s what you’ll find if you look hard enough in your hunt for a fitting new home to Manchester’s mid-table Reds. On your marks, get set…


This column is part of media strategist Alex Hesz’s ‘Mission Messaging’ series for Progressive Britain. If you enjoyed this piece, check out the previous instalment, Worn Out.