I had always considered that executive or private boxes at soccer grounds were a product of the 1980s and 1990s, a period when ostentatious luxury came into fashion, but in fact this was not so. I recently came across an article detailing the use of executive boxes in the mid-1960s and this inspired me to look into this in more detail.
Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Britain (2nd edition) records that the first private boxes were installed in the north stand at Old Trafford and the west stand at Stamford Bridge in 1965. He notes (p. 236) “United had 55 five-seaters, with loudspeakers to relay the crowd noise, telephone and television sockets, central heating and their own bar and meal service, all for an annual rent of £250 or £300.” The concept was introduced to the club directors by the architects of the stand redevelopment in preparation for the use of the ground to host the 1966 World Cup finals. The same architects had recently installed a new grandstand at Manchester Racecourse with executive boxes.
Some initial research indicates that the major racecourses and Lord’s Cricket Ground had boxes for hire from the mid- to late 19th century onwards (see, for some examples, The Times 9 June 1869 for Ascot Racecourse and 13 July 1889 for Lord’s).
The concept, therefore, was not new to sport and its introduction to soccer grounds in the mid-1960s is perhaps a recognition that the People’s Game was no longer directing its marketing resources solely at the working class men who had formed the core of fans since the game had developed as a spectator sport.
More surprisingly, it wasn’t just Manchester United and Chelsea that introduced executive boxes in the mid 1960s as this extract from the Manchester Football Pink and Evening News from 3 September 1966 shows:
Oldham Athletic should be presented with a medal as big as the Free Trade Hall for building a row of warm, comfortable boxes for their more affluent spectators at Boundary Park.
Stretching along the lower front of the main stand, there are nine boxes for seating 80 people who have a clear, uninterrupted view of the match through armour-plated glass.
They are heated, have loudspeakers for relaying club information, there is a waitress service for refreshments and each ticket-holder automatically becomes a member of the club’s licensed premises.
Each box seat costs £12 10s, some seat 10 people, some six. The waitress tray service for refreshments is organised by the Supporters’ Club.
Oldham (a Third Division club at the time) actually had more executive boxes than Chelsea (where there were only five)! It would be interesting to know what take up there was and how long they lasted.