Category Archives: History


Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

The 1892-93 season was Newton Heath Football Club’s first in the English Football League, they were in the First Division. It was an eventful season on and off the pitch. They drew two and lost four of their opening six League games and in Game No.7, they not only recorded their first ever Football League victory but they also set a club record score when they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 10-1 at North Road, Newton Heath. The 1892-93 campaign was only the club’s fourteenth year in existence, founded in 1878 as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Cricket and Football Club, and it proved to be a hugely unsuccessful season as they finished rock bottom of the League.

At the time, the Football League had a Test Match game in place, a modern day play-off game. Newton Heath faced a Victorian two-legged tie which would decide their Football League status for season 1893-94, and their opponents were Small Heath.

Small Heath (later became Birmingham City) won the English Second Division Championship in season 1892-93 and thereby secured the right to play the team which finished bottom of the English First Division Championship table in a two-legged encounter. That team was Newton Heath Football Club.

The winner would be playing their football in the English First Division Championship the following season. The Heathens escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth, winning the two legged tie 7-3.

The highest home attendance of the season was a 5-0 loss to Sunderland on 4 March 1893. However, Sunderland went on to clinch their second English First Division Championship at the end of the season. The lowest home attendance of the season was 3,000 fans and was set twice: a 7-1 mailing of Derby County on 31 December 1892 and a 3-3 draw versus Accrington Stanley in the final League game of the campaign, which was the club’s last ever game at their North Road, Newton Heath home on 8 April 1893. Accrington Stanley ended the season one place above Newton Heath in 15th place in the table (16 teams made up the Division) whilst Derby County finished in 13th position. Just as The Heathens had to do, Accrington Stanley played in a Test Match at the end of the season to determine their League status for 1893-94. They lost 1-0 to Sheffield United at The Castle Ground, Nottingham in a one-off game and rather than play a season in the lower tier of English football, Accrington Stanley tendered their resignation from the Football League, thereby becoming the first of the twelve founding Football League clubs in season 1888-89 to leave the League permanently (Stoke City failed to achieve re-election for season 1890-91 after finishing the previous season in last place, but rejoined the Football League a year later).

Bob Donaldson was the club’s leading goal scorer in all competitions with 16 goals, all in the League. The club lost 4-0 away to Blackburn Rovers in Round 3 of the FA Cup and 4-0 away to Bury in the First Round of the Lancashire Cup. On the bright side, Newton Heath beat Bolton Wanderers 3-1 in the final of the Manchester Senior Cup.

At the start of the season the club removed Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Cricket from their name and at the end of the season the club’s landlords evicted them from North Road and they moved to Bank Street, Clayton in time for the start of the 1893-94 season.

Did You Know That?

During their inaugural season in the English First Division Championship, Newton Heath had to play a League game with only ten men. On 7 January 1893, the team played Stoke City away but they were without their goalkeeper, James Warner, who failed to meet-up with the team for the train journey to Stoke. Warner joined the club from Aston Villa in July 1892, and played in all 20 of their League matches prior to the encounter with Stoke City. In his absence, half-back William Stewart went into nets and conceded seven times in a 7-1 defeat (scorer: James Coupar in the opening minute of the game). Warner only played twice more for the club following his no-show and in September 1893, he moved to Walsall Town Swifts.



Only one player has scored for Manchester United against Manchester City in the Manchester Derby as well as scoring for one of the two Scottish giants in the Old Firm Derby and he also scored a goal in the Merseyside Derby. Can you name him and the other two clubs he scored Derby goals for?


1902 – as you can see the 1902 formation of the club plays it’s part in this “A QUESTION OF UNITED” section of the website. Questions and Answers are posted at 7.02pm (19.02) each day.


Starting this evening, we are going to pose a Manchester United quiz question every evening at the same time with the answer published the following evening along with a new Manchester United Teaser.

Under Starters Orders.

In what year was Manchester United Football Club formed following the bankruptcy of Newton Heath Football Club?

UNITED IN THE 1970s – Memories from a teenage Belfast Red

The 1970s’ Corner Sweet Shop

Let me take you on a wee trip back in time to my corner sweet shop in the Short Strand during the mid-1970s.  Spangles were made by Mars Ltd and were square-shaped sweets with rounded corners and a dimple in the middle of each side.  Each Spangle was individually wrapped whilst an original tube of Spangles comprised a selection of different flavours (blackcurrant, lemon & lime, orange, pineapple, strawberry) and then there were Old English Spangles, where the flavours were of traditional boiled sweets including butterscotch, cough candy, liquorice and pear drop.  William Boyd, a famous American actor who starred in ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ was employed by Mars Ltd to front their advertising campaign along with the slogan: ‘Spangles – Hoppy’s favourite sweet.’  Did you know that when Spangles were first made in 1950, sweets were still on ration in the UK and the cost of a packet of sweets had to be accompanied by tokens or points from a family’s ration book? 

However, unlike other sweets at the time, you only needed one token for a packet of Spangles.  Drumsticks are a unique combination of a chew and a lolly on a stick – raspberry and milk flavour.  They are made by Swizzels Matlow Ltd, a Derby-based traditional confectionery manufacturer.  Did you know that Swizzels Matlow Ltd was founded in London in 1928 by Alf and Maurice Matlow and originally named ‘Matlow Bros. Ltd.’? In 1933, Alf and Maurice formed Swizzels Limited along with David Dee.  Candy sticks used to be sweet cigarettes but now the powers that be have removed the red bit on the end so they don’t look anything like cigarettes – honest!  Parma Violets are made by Swizzels Matlow Ltd at their factory in New Mills, Derbyshire, England.  They are a round, hard violet flavoured sweet, a truly classic British sweet.  The Black Jack is without question one of the best classic British sweets ever.  It is an aniseed-flavoured chewy black rectangle with a delicious and unique taste, and they make your tongue go black.  So avoid munching one of them just before you go out on that hot date!  Black Jacks were given their name because the original 1920s labels pictured a grinning gollywog – unbelievably, back then images of black people were used to advertise liquorice products. However, by the late 1980s, manufacturers Trebor scrapped the Black Jacks golly logo as it was racially offensive, replacing the logo with an image of a pirate with a black beard and eye patch and rebranding the sweets as Black Jack. And by the early 1990s, Trebor had dropped the pirate logo altogether in favour of the black and white swirl design we all remember. 

Did you know thatin 2008, a confectionery company called Tangerine bought out Trebor and decided to change the design once more to the current plain black with red writing? The swirly black and white packaging we all remember is gone forever.

Bassetti is a real classic and a firm favourite with those hard-core liquorice-loving fiends out there.  Lovely shiny hard sticks of rich black liquorice.  Did you know that liquorice started being grown seriously in the UK back in the 1500s and was originally grown only in Pontefract, Yorkshire (hence Pontefract Cakes!) due to its rich loamy soil?  They take their liquorice so seriously in the town of Pontefract that they have a Liquorice Festival there every year. 

Love Hearts are made by Swizzels Matlow Ltd and are a hard, fizzy, tablet-shapedsweet which comes in six colours/fruit flavours.  Each sweet bears a playful, love-related message on the upper side.  The colours/flavours are as follows: Green (a slightly lime flavour with a sherbet-like aftertaste), Orange (a sweet flavour with a slight orange aftertaste), Purple (an unusual, slightly perfumed berry-like flavour with a strong aftertaste), Red (cherry flavour), Yellow (a sherbet-like flavour with a distinct sharp lemon aftertaste) and White (a plain, sherbet-like, slightly tart vanilla flavour).  In the 1970s the messages on the sweets included old favourites such as:  ‘Angel Face,’ ‘All Yours,’ ‘Be Mine,’ ‘Cuddle Me,’ ‘Keep Cool,’ ‘In Love,’ ‘LOL’ and ‘You’re Mine.’  However, today messages such as the following can be found on Love Hearts: “Email Me” and “Luv U 24/7.’’  There are 20 sweets in a packet of Love Hearts and it is extremely uncommon to find 2 or more in a packet which contain the same message.   Did you know that the colours of the sweets on the label of a packet of Love Hearts do not match the colours of the sweets inside the packet? Label colours: white, yellow, peach (light orange), green and blue whilst the sweet colours: white, yellow, orange, green, purple and red. 

Spanish Gold comprised sweet coconut strips dusted in chocolate powder and was hugely popular with children during the 1970s.  Today, this old favourite is branded as a 70s’ retro sweet under the name ‘Sweet Tobacco.’  Gold Rush Bubble Gum came in little hessian-type bags whereas today this famous sweet from the 1970s is enclosed in a sealed bag and is now branded as a 70s’ retro sweet under the name “Gold Nuggets Bubble Gum.”  Bazooka Joe’s was another popular bubble gum which either came with a comic strip inside it or a tattoo.  Does anyone remember Anglo 1p bubblies?  It did not take very much to keep kids happy during the 1970s, and Golf Ball Bubble Gum, small minty white golf balls, were a huge hit.  Regardless of what sweet shop you walked into during the 1970s if you bought some golf ball bubble gum then you got them in a small white paper bag – long before they were sold in packets of 4.

Gobstoppers are a famous traditional sweet made from layer after layer of a hard suckable sugary substance and they date back more than 100 years.  They were a hugely popular sweet among children growing up in the 1970s because they were relatively inexpensive and they lasted for ages.  When you popped one in your mouth it dissolved very slowly with the much larger ones taking up to as long as two weeks to fully dissolve.  It was best to suck them, as attempting to bite through one would invariably lead to a visit to your dentist.  Did you know that the term ‘gobstopper’ derives from the word ‘gob,’ which is a British/Irish slang word for ‘mouth’? 

White Mice, aaaah the sweet of choice for thousands of young kids in years gone by!  I loved these small creamy delicious white chocolate flavour mice.   Sherbet Fountains was another classic 70s’ sweet.  If you need your memory jogging, they consisted of a yellow tube filled with white zingy sherbet.  They used to be in a cardboard tube and had the liquorice stick poking out. But the whole shebang is now encased in plastic.  In my time you were supposed to be able to suck the sherbet through the liquorice stick/straw, but I never managed this as it got all soggy and gooey.  I would knock most of the sherbet back neat and then finish the liquorice off by dipping in the remaining sherbet.  It was tasty!  Liquorice Torpedoes were deliciouswith a crisp candy coating and were both crunchy and chewy.  Smooth Cola Bottles – a gentler version of cola bottle – the taste of cola without the sourness. They were plump and juicy and extremely chewy.

And what about Space Dust, Cherry Fizz, Cola Fizz and Strawberry Fizz?  Some called it Moon Rocks or Moon Dust, others Popping Candy but the recipe was still the same.  When you put a little of it in your mouth you could feel your tongue tingle with all of the crackles that followed (knocks the snap, crackle and pop right out of Rice Krispies).  Or ram a load of this stuff into your mouth and feel it explode!  Some of today’s trendy TV chefs have now started using Space Dust in their desserts.  Cadbury’s ‘Crunchie Blasts’ ice creams have space dust in them -mmmmmm!!

Tooty Frooties, those little flat colourful cubes we all remember can still be bought today and are just as soft and fruity as they were all those years ago.  Do you remember White Chocolate Fish & Chips?  They were the infinitely better creamy white chocolate version of the traditional British meal of fish and chips.  Who can remember Pascall’s Kola Kubes?  This was a sweet for all the cola junkies and they contained a chewy bit in the middle.  Another personal favourite sweet of mine from the 1970s which you can buy today is Sports Mixture.  They were and remain top quality, long lasting hard fruit gums in the shape of bats, balls and racquets etc. – made by Lions.  But there is one difference in the Sports Mixture sweets of back then and now.  Do you remember the black ones?  They were liquorice and admittedly, I have never been a big liquorice fanatic but I ate them anyway.  Well the black ones you will find in the Sports Mixture sweets which are sold on most garage forecourts today actually taste of blackcurrant?  Why did Lions change the flavour?  Flying Saucers, fruit flavour sherbet in a wafer shell, says it all really.   Fruit Salad, an unmistakable raspberry and pineapple flavour, so many memories enveloped in that yellow and pink wrapper.  Think of Choppers, Space Hoppers, the Wombles, long sunny summer days playing with your mates, and there would always be a trip to the sweetshop and a few Fruit Salads chucked into the little white paper bag!  Bassetts Jelly Babies, the definitive Jelly Babies and an absolute classic still hanging around shops today.  Jelly Babies are lightly dusted with icing sugar and contain a soft, juicy centre.  Incidentally, did you realise that each sweet has a different facial expression? Some are smiling, some are laughing and some are crying. 

I loved Pascall’s Sweet Peanuts, a really delicious crisp sweet peanut-flavoured boiled sweet in the shape of a real peanut shell.  If you are lucky enough to get the original Sweet Peanuts (and you will get these plus many other classic sweets from the 1970s on the superb website, A Quarter of the Best Sweets Ever It is one of those sweets that instantly transport you back to the sweetshop round the corner.  Brown Gems were chocolate flavour candy buttons covered on one side with sprinkles.  Sometimes known as Jazzies or Jazzles and occasionally as Rainbow Drops.  And so to one of my Mum’s all-time favourites, Taveners Coconut Mushrooms.  These were delicious toasted coconut chewy sweets shaped like a mushroom.  I wonder how they know they are mushrooms and not toadstools?  Can you remember Grays Tea Cakes?  Real old fashioned sweet toffee almondy discs made by Grays of Dudley.  Candy Necklaces and Candy Watches, I wasn’t really into them, too girlie. 

But Spearmint Chews, now that was a boy’s sweet and a half.  Fizzers, another real old school little fizzy sweet and possibly the originals before Refreshers and Love Hearts and stuff like that.  And of course the mouth-watering and hugely tasty Opal Fruits were popular with the strawberry chew my personal favourite.

Catherine Wheels, long laces of delicious Bassetts liquorice coiled around a Spog (pink, blue, orange or yellow). But why give a sweet such a sadistic name?  Everyone knows that a Catherine Wheel is a traditional firework but the original Catherine Wheel was the torture apparatus on which St Catherine was martyred in the middle ages.  Who would have thought that eating sweets could be so educational?  Another sweet I loved when I was a kid was Chelsea Whoppers.  They were absolutely delicious bars consisting of a soft chocolaty fudge-like substance.  Some shops which specialise in retro sweet sell Chelsea Whoppers today but you will be disappointed if you try one.  I just do not think they taste anything remotely like the original ones I bought for a penny.  Chewing Nuts were great weren’t they?  They had a chewy toffee centre and constantly stuck to your teeth or the roof of your mouth.  If you ate too many of them your jaw ached for days.  But there wasn’t even a trace of nut in them so why call them Chewing Nuts?  Texan bars were great too, a hard nougat covered in milk chocolate.  Can you recall the advert on TV for them?  A Clint Eastwood style cowboy is in a spot of bother, captured by some sombrero wearing outlaws.  One of the outlaws says to the cowboy “Any last request gringo?”  The cowboy asks for a Texan bar.  He chews on it and it takes him so long to eat it that the baddies fall asleep and he escapes.  The cowboy looks at the outlaws and says “Texan… sure is a mighty chew.”  Class or what?  Texan bars made a very brief, limited edition re-appearance in 2005 but they now appear to be gone for good.  Who can forget the distinctive red and yellow wrapper of a Caramac?  But more to the point, who can forget that lovely caramelly, melt-in-the-mouth taste?  Nothing tastes quite like the rich golden creaminess of a Caramac! 

Taveners Toasted Coconut Teacakes were delicious toasted coconut chewy sweets, a favourite for many decades.  Raspberry Ruffles (and Ruffle bars) were another favourite of Mum’s, chocolate covered coconut and raspberry fondant creams made by Trebor Bassett Jamesons.  She also loved Riley’s Chocolate Rolls, Russian Caramels and Merrymaids, hard caramel sweets smothered in a delicious smooth milk chocolate.  God, I can still taste one of the Russian Caramels I nicked out of her bag now!  My Dad liked Murray Mints, a sort of hard boiled brown sweet with a mint taste, and Humbugs.  Everton Mints were my favourite mint sweet as they had a lovely toffee centre.  Delicious.  

Nutty Bars were really, really chewy.  They were a rich nougat log smothered in a chewy caramel which in turn was smothered with peanuts.  Rowntrees Fruit Gums, an absolute classic that has been around for years and years.  Apparently, they are made with real juice (no artificial colours or preservatives) which makes them all the more delicious!  And of course, Wine Guns, an explosion of soft chewy fruit flavours.   And what about Traffic Light Lollies?  Red, yellow and green lollies that everyone remembers from when they were young.  Or Apple Tarts, a hard boiled sweet which had a bitter apple taste?  Then for the toffee aficionado like me there was Highland Toffee, a softer eating toffee bar.  This was lovely and smooth and soft, not that hard toffee that hurts your teeth.  Mind you I did love the really hard bars of toffee with nuts embedded in them.  Some of the old bars of toffee were that hard you got a wee silver hammer to break them up!  Do you remember?  Chocolate logs were cheap and cheerful too, a long piece of chewy toffee covered in chocolate.  Rhubarb & Custard Sweets, the rhubarb tasted fresh and with just a hint of sharpness.  And it is perfectly balanced by the rich, luxuriousness of the sweet, creamy custard.  You can savour each flavour separately.  But your taste buds really zing to life when the two combine to make a truly classic boiled sweet. 

There were a lot of sherbet sweets on the go when I was a kid and the king of them all had to be Sherbet Strawberries.  They were made from a hard strawberry boiled sweet case with a fizzy sherbet centre. Made by Pascalls, they were the best sherbet hard boiled sweet by far, and I can still imagine sucking them as they rolled around my mouth and then sucking the sherbet out of one end of the sweet.  Magic.  But every quarter of hard boiled sweets ended up getting stuck to the bottom of the wee white paper bags.  When you got to the bottom of the bag the last few sweets in it invariably came with paper stuck to them.  No amount of picking removed the paper, it just would not budge, so you had to pop the sweet in your mouth and then when the paper loosened its grip on the sweet you just spat it out. Sometimes the sweet ended up on the street along with the paper as there was a knack to this delicate operation. 

I wasn’t really into Dolly Mixtures as they were just too small but I did like the sugar coated jelly one.  Midget Gems were tricky little sweets to eat and the more you stuck in your mouth the more your top teeth got stuck to your bottom teeth.  And speaking of teeth you could buy Milk Gums and Milk Teeth which were both soft and chewy and what about Cherry Lips (and no I am not talking about Chis Evert)?  A Fireman’s Hose was yet another liquorice sweet, a long string of red chewy liquorice but the daddy of all liquorice sweets was Bassett’s Liquorice All Sorts.  Didn’t like that aniseed coated one though.  In fact my least favourite sweets from the 70s just had to be Aniseed Balls and Brandy Balls.  Polo Mints were the sweet you opted for when you had a boring afternoon of double science and double geography ahead of you.  Mint Imperials did the same job but you couldn’t stick your tongue through the centre of one!  Polo Fruits were quite tasty when they came out.  Dip Dabs were a small bag full of sherbet and had a little hard boiled lolly on a stick inside it.  You licked the lolly and then dipped it into the sherbet.  Sometimes when you bought a Dip Dab there was no lolly in the bag and you just had to use your fingers and then sometimes you touched lucky and ended up with two lollies. 

Beta Bars were a big seller but only because they were cheap and helped fill you up.  A Beta Bar was a block of Rice Krispies covered in some sort of sticky substance but it definitely wasn’t toffee.  The middle of them was so dry it was like eating a hard sponge not that I ate sponges if you know what I mean.  Bon Bons were a great toffee sweet and came in white (plain), yellow (lemon) and my personal favourite, pink, which was strawberry flavoured.  I saw a packet of purple Bon Bons recently and had to find out what flavour they were.  They were blueberry, but the toffee in them just wasn’t the same.  I mean, my fillings were still in place after I ate them whereas the toffee in the quarter of Bon Bons I bought in my corner sweet shop would have pulled your teeth out!  Refreshers did exactly what they said on the wrapper!  I loved them and still buy them today.  It is hard to beat that chewy lemony substance with a blast of sherbet in the middle.  You can actually buy Refreshers on a stick today and a few years ago a pink one appeared!  But when I was a kid we just had the real McCoy.  

Chocolate Limes were a hard boiled lime flavoured sweet with a soft chocolate centre (and they came in a sort of white mild mint flavour too).  I liked them but they didn’t really last too long because after about ten sucks the sweet cracked and released the chocolate.  Cough Rocks were stinking, you may as well have sucked a Fisherman’s Friend, but admittedly Victory V’s were a bit better.  And as for Butter Balls, there was always a wee bit of stigma attached to these and I don’t mean on the inside of the bag, I mean, their name says it all really!  But hey I liked them.  I loved Double Lollies which took ages to eat and could crack your teeth and those other lollies with a hard candy coating which when you sucked through them took you straight to their bubble gum centre. Candy Whistle lollies were ok but not the first thing you would buy with your pocket money.  I could go on and on about my childhood sweet shop memories, and don’t start me on chocolate bars (Twix, Mars, Topic, Curly Wurly, Fruit & Nut, Aztec, Old Jamaica, Fudge, Whole Nut, Crunchie, Fry’s Chocolate Cream), but I would never get this book finished! 

And last but certainly not least, a real personal favourite of mine, Mojos.  Mojos were a stunningly delicious assortment of fruity chewy sweets including strawberry, banana, orange, spearmint and cola flavours.  Just thinking about these sweets takes me back to the days when the little crumpled white bag of Penny Sweets was EVERYTHING – it meant status, bribery ammo and pure unadulterated happiness.  If only life was as blissfully simple now.  But is it any wonder there were so many dentists around back then?  Aah the memories.  Bet you now want to go out and get your hands on some of these truly classic 70s’ sweets.

Just one of the memories I have written about in “Kicking Through The Troubles- How Manchester United Helped To Heal A Divided Community.”


Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

On 6 September 1902, Manchester United travelled to Lincolnshire to play Gainsborough Trinity in the opening game of their 1902-03 English Second Division season. The home side’s ground, The Northolme, was opened in the 1850s, and was originally used as a cricket ground. Gainsborough Trinity moved to The Northolme in 1884 and at the time the only spectator facility was a small covered stand in the south-west corner of the ground. Players used the nearby pub, The Sun Inn, for changing rooms, and the landlord of the pub built an extension to the building for use by the football club. A 200 seat grandstand was later added to The Northolme along the southern touchline and a covered terrace on the northern side of the pitch.

This was the first ever match played by Manchester United after Newton Heath Football Club went bankrupt in late April 1902 and out of its ashes a new club was formed. That club was Manchester United.  In season 1900–01, Newton Heath Football Club was on the verge of bankruptcy. Things were that bad at the club that the fans conducted whip-rounds to pay for the team’s railway fares to play away fixtures. The club organised a Grand Bazaar at St James’s Hall, Oxford Street, Manchester late in the season in an effort to boost finances and raise the £1,000 which was needed to prevent the club from becoming bankrupt. At the bazaar the club captain’s dog, Harry Stafford’s St Bernard named Major, walked around the stalls in the hall with a collection box fastened around his collar so children could drop some pennies in his box. One day Major walked out of the hall and wandered off. He eventually turned up at the home of John H. Davies, a very wealthy local brewery owner. Stafford is believed to have tracked down the dog after placing a notice in a local newspaper and Davies contacted him to tell him he had Major. When Stafford called to the home of Davies to collect Major, Davies offered to purchase the pet as his daughter had fallen in love with the animal. Stafford told Davies that Major was not for sale but during their meeting Stafford told Davies about the Heathens’ precarious financial position. As a direct result of their chance meeting, Davies saw a new business opportunity and, as a benefactor of other sports, he decided that he would get involved to financially support The Heathens when they needed his investment. It proved to be one of the most decisive moments in the club’s history.

But despite the financial success of the Grand Bazaar, the club was still in need of a major cash injection. In January 1902, the club’s crippling debts amounted to £2,670 and a number of creditors pressed for payment. The club simply did not have the money to discharge their liabilities and so Newton Heath Football Club was adjudicated bankrupt. When the gates to their Bank Street ground were locked by their landlord, Stafford decided to call in Davies’s promise to help. A meeting of the club’s shareholders was held at Islington Town Hall, Ancoats, Manchester on 18 March 1902.  Stafford, realising the quite perilous financial state the club were in, contacted Davies and offered to let him have Major if he helped out the club. Davies agreed and on 18 March 1902, Stafford took to the stage at the New Islington Hall, Manchester to announce that he and four other gentlemen were willing to stake £200.00 each to save the club.  The four were Davies and three of Davies’s business acquaintances, Mr Jabez James Bown (Davies’ right hand man at his Brewery), Mr Charles Jones (a Cashier employed by Davies) and Mr James Taylor (a major shareholder in the Eagle Brewery). In return for their investment they would take full control of the club. Newton Heath Football Club’s existing Board of Directors were left with no other choice but to agree to the takeover. However, the Football Association declared that the re-formed club would need to have a new name. On 23 April 1902, Newton Heath Football Club beat Chesterfield 2–0 (scorers: Jimmy Coupar & Stephen Preston) at their Bank Street, Clayton home in Division Two and finished 15th in the table, their last league game under that name. Three days later, 26 April 1902, Harry Stafford captained Newton Heath Football Club in their last ever game, a 2-1 win in the Manchester Senior Cup final against Manchester City at their rival’s Hyde Road ground. It proved to be his only winners’ medal in his time at Bank Street.

On 28 April 1902, a key meeting was arranged to form a new club. Those present were fans, Directors and interested parties and they were invited to suggest a new name. Manchester Celtic and Manchester Central were both suggested, the former perhaps reflecting links with the Irish community in the city. The latter was rejected as there was a train station named Manchester Central. Louis Rocca, who had served the club as a tea boy in the 1890s and played for the Reserve Team a few times, was in attendance. Rocca, who lived in Oldham Road, Manchester was managing the family’s ice-cream business at the time and he always maintained that he was the person who suggested the name Manchester United which was unanimously agreed at the meeting to be the club’s new name. Rocca went on to become a chief scout at United and assistant manager to Walter Crickmer. The team’s new colours would be red jerseys and white shorts, although the team had played in red and white as early as 1892. The away kit was a green and white striped shirt with black shorts.

Harry Stafford and the club’s Secretary, James West, were placed in charge of all football related matters which effectively made Stafford the club captain, joint manager and a Director.  However, now that he had a position on the Board of Directors of Manchester United, Stafford had to give up his professional status as a player and revert to amateur status.  Harry Stafford was the last ever captain of Newton Heath Football Club and the first ever captain of Manchester United.

The new look United side took to the pitch to play Gainsborough Trinity wearing their brand new red shirts replacing the famous green & gold halves worn by Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club from their formation in 1878 at the local Wagon Works at the railway yard in Newton Heath as follows:

James Whitehouse, Harry Stafford (Capt), Thomas Read, William Morgan, William Griffiths, Walter Cartwright, Charles Richards, Ernest Pegg, Jack Peddie, Frederick Williams, Daniel Hurst

With the exception of Peddie, who was born in Hutchesontown, Glasgow, Scotland, it was an all English born side. The game was played before 4,000 fans and ended 1-0 with the visitors, Manchester United, getting their season off to the perfect start thanks to a goal from Charles “Chas” Richards who holds the distinction of being the first player to score a goal for Manchester United.

Richards was a one season wonder for United after joining the newly formed Manchester United in August 1902 from Leicester Fosse. He was what you would call a journeyman of a player having had spells with Gresley Rovers, Newstead Byron, Notts County, Nottingham Forest and Grimsby Town. Richards left United for Doncaster Rovers in March 1903 having played 11 times and scoring two goals. He also scored in United’s 7-0 victory over Accrington Stanley on 1 November 1902 in the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.

Gainsborough Trinity Football Club was formed in 1873 as Trinity Recreationists, set up by the vicar of the Holy Trinity Church for young parishioners. In 1889, they became members of the Midland Counties League, losing their first match 2-1 to Lincoln City and going on to finish 7th out of eleven clubs. The club quickly became well known, and won their first Midland League championship in 1890-91 and after finishing runners-up the following season were elected to the Football League Second Division.

Ironically Gainsborough Trinity’s first ever Football League match was against Newton Heath Football Cub. The Second Division game was played on 1 September 1896 at The Heathens’ Bank Street ground with the home side running out 2-0 winners (scorer: James McNaught 2). Gainsborough Trinity held on to their place in Division Two but based in an area with a small population it was always a struggle and the club returned to the Midland League in 1912. Here they were to settle and earn more success, winning the Midland Championship in 1927-28, 1948-49 and 1966-67, also finishing runners-up twice.

Did You Know That? In 1902, the novel “A True Story” by Lucian was published. The story of Newton Heath becoming Manchester United is not only a true story, it is history.



Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

Harry Stafford was born on 29 November 1869 in Crewe, England.

Stafford began his playing career with his hometown club’s junior side, Crewe Alexandra Hornets. After impressing the club’s first team selectors, a 20-year old Stafford was given his first team debut for Crewe Alexandra on 22 September 1890, in a Football Alliance match at home versus Birmingham St. George’s at the Alexandra Recreation Ground (also known as Nantwich Road). The home side lost 4-1 and that same season Stafford played League matches against Newton Heath Football Club

Stafford played some 150 games for “The Railwaymen,” before he became a railwayman and signed for Newton Heath Football Club in March 1896, turning professional on 22 March 1897 after the ban on professional sportsmen being employed at the Crewe Works of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) was lifted. Newton Heath severed their ties with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1892 and were simply known as Newton Heathen by the time Stafford signed for the club.

During his career at the Alexandra Recreation Ground, he won Cheshire Senior Cup winners medals in 1891-92 and 1892–93. In addition to his football career, Stafford was a capable athlete who ran various distances from 100 yards to the half-mile. He was also an exceptional hurdler and represented the Crewe Alexandra Athletic Club for several years until turning professional with Newton Heath disqualified him from competing in amateur athletics.

On 3 April 1896, Stafford made his debut for Newton Heath in a 4-0 home victory in the English Second Division Championship over Darwen at Bank Street, Clayton. William Kennedy scored a hat-trick with James McNaught also scoring in the game. 

In February 1900, after 16 years of service, Stafford left his job as a boilermaker at the LNWR to became the landlord of the Bridge House Inn in Wrexham, Wales. On 2 March 1901, Stafford’s St Bernard dog went missing from St James’ Hall, Oxford Street, Manchester after the club’s fund-raising Bazaar to help raise much needed monies to clear the club’s increasing indebtedness and was taken in by John Henry Davies, a wealthy brewery owner from Manchester. Stafford reclaimed his dog after turning down an offer from Davies to buy it from him for his daughter who fell in love with the animal.

On 6 March 1901, Stafford’s Testimonial Match took place versus New Brighton at Bank Street, Clayton. The game was to be played with a gilded ball and the pitch illuminated by Wells Lights, contraptions that generated gas from tar oil. Unfortunately the weather was extremely wet and windy and the lights kept going out, causing the match to be abandoned after 15 minutes. The following week the game was replayed when New Brighton lined-up against a Manchester Select XI billed as “Manchester United,” the first time the words had been used together in a footballing context.

Stafford took over as landlord of the Bridge Inn, Mill Street, Ancoats, Manchester in July 1901, a pub owned by John Henry Davies. In January 1902, Newton Heath Football Club were served with a Winding-Up Order by the Court and were locked out of their Bank Street home by the Official Receiver. Stafford, realising the quite perilous financial state the club were in, contacted Davies and offered to let him have Major if he helped out the club. Davies agreed and on 18 March 1902, Stafford took to the stage at the New Islington Hall, Manchester to announce that he and four other gentlemen were willing to stake £200.00 each to save the club. The four were Davies and three of Davies’s business acquaintances, Mr Jabez James Bown (Davies’ right hand man at his Brewery), Mr Charles Jones (a Cashier employed by Davies) and Mr James Taylor (a major shareholder in the Eagle Brewery).

Harry captained Newton Heath Football Club for the last time in a League game on 23 April 1902, in a 2-0 English Second Division home win over Chesterfield at Bank Street, Clayton. It was the second last ever game played by The Heathens with Stephen Preston scoring the club’s last ever League goal. Three days later Harry captained the club for the last time when he lifted the Manchester Senior Cup after they beat Manchester City 2-1 at Hyde Road, Manchester(City’s home), with Fred Erentz scoring the winner from the penalty spot.

On 24 April 1902, Newton Heath were adjudicated bankrupt and forced into liquidation, but thanks to Stafford raising the £1,000.00, the club was saved. Newton Heath Football Club were no more but in their place a new club was born, Manchester United Football Club, a new beginning for the officials and players.

Over the summer of 1902, the first ever Board of Directors of Manchester United Football Club was established. Manchester United’s first Chairman was Liberal Councillor, Dr Edward Bishop. Not surprisingly given his tab as “The Saviour of the Club,” John Henry Davies was appointed the club’s first ever President. These two gentlemen were supported by four Directors; Mr Jabez James Bown (Davies’ right hand man at his Brewery), Mr Charles Jones (a Cashier employed by Davies), Mr James Taylor (a major shareholder in the Eagle Brewery) and Harry Stafford, who became the only Player/Director in the club’s history and was thus forced to revert back to his amateur status as a player.

James West continued in post as Secretary-Manager whilst Harry Stafford took charge of first team affairs. After the change of club name Stafford was in effect club captain, player/manager/director/scout and sometimes groundsman.

On 6 September 1902, Manchester United Football Club played their first ever game defeating Gainsborough Trinity 1-0 away in a Division Two game. Inside-right, Chas Richards, had the honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal but Stafford stole the headlines becoming the last ever captain of Newton Heath Football Club and the first ever captain of Manchester United Football Club. United ended their inaugural season (1902-03) in 5th place in the League but had to watch their nearest rivals, Manchester City, clinch the Division Two crown and secure promotion to the top flight of English football. A home match programme cost one penny and beneath the listings for the two teams the following notice appeared: “NOTE – In case of any alteration in the teams a notice will be sent round the ground giving the name of the substituted player and the number of the position in which he will play.” It is worth noting at this point that substitutes were not officially sanctioned by the Football League until the 1965-66 season. 

On 7 February 1903, Harry Stafford became the first Manchester United player ever to be sent off when he was dismissed during a 2-1 FA Cup First Round win against Liverpool at Bank Street, Clayton (Jack Peddie scored both goals). The match referee sent Stafford off in the second half after the United defender had been warned about his conduct for persistent fouling and failed to heed the referee’s warning.

During the 1902-03 season an unusual incident happened involving the Manchester United team when they travelled to Goodison Park, Liverpool on 21 February 1903, to face Everton in Round 2 of the FA Cup. The game was played in appalling weather conditions with a non-stop barrage of rain almost making the pitch unplayable as it cut up and began to resemble a quagmire. In the first half United wore their red jerseys but when they took to the pitch for the second half they wore blue and white striped shirts. The change of kit at the interval wasn’t enough to prevent them from losing the tie 3-1, and it wasn’t the only time they would do a shirt swap at half-time in a game. The team wore this blue and white striped jersey in those away games where their red home jersey clashed with the opposition’s home jersey until the 1920s with a couple of exceptions. During the 1907-08 season, Manchester United wore a white home jersey and in the 1909 FA Cup Final they swapped their red jersey for an all-white kit with a red “V” and the rose of Lancashire whilst their opponents, Bristol City, were also forced to change their red jerseys and instead wore blue.Just a few weeks before the FA Cup Final, United visited Bristol City for a Division One game and wore a white jersey but this time minus the red rose.

Ironically a similar incident occurred 93 years later when United visited The Dell to face Southampton in the Premier League on 13 April 1996. United, the soon to be crowned Premiership Champions for a third time, wore their second choice away kit, an all grey number, and after trailing 3-0 at half-time they re-appeared for the second half wearing their second choice away kit of blue and white stripes. According to the players their dismal first half performance was because they were finding it difficult to pick one another out against the backdrop of the crowd. However, as with the 1903 occasion, the switch did them no good whatsoever losing the game by the very same score, 3-1. 

In August 1903 Dr Bishop was replaced as club Chairman by J. J. Bentley, President of the Football League and a vice-President of the Football Association and who at the time, was the most powerful man in the English game. The following month, 20 September 1903, James West resigned from his role as club secretary and was replaced by former Burnley boss Ernest Mangnall, an old friend of J. J. Bentley.

Then on 12 December 1904, the Football Association suspended James West and Harry Stafford for two and a half years each for making “illegal payments” to players, a regular practice among clubs in England at the time. When he was asked to give his side of the story at an FA inquiry, the ever loyal Stafford, said: “Everything I have done has been in the interests of the club.” However, this is not entirely an accurate record of events. It has been claimed that Stafford and West took the rap for Davies and Bentley and were rewarded accordingly. West became the landlord of the Union Inn on Princess Street, Manchester and Stafford was given the stewardship of The Imperial Hotel on Manchester’s Piccadilly.

Stafford hung-up his boots and resigned his place on the Board of Directors. He was the first of only four Manchester United players who went on to be appointed a Director of the club (the other three were Harold Hardman, Bobby Charlton and Les Olive).

Despite his 5 feet, 9 inches height, Stafford weighed almost 13 stones (12 stones, 9 lbs) and was as solid as a rock in his position at full-back. Not too many opposing players fancied taking on Stafford who in boxing terms for his size was a Welterweight (10 stones, 7 lbs) but was more like a light heavyweight (12 stones, 7 lbs) and when he tackled a player it felt like a freight train hitting him. Such was Stafford’s reputation, many left sided outside-halves switched wings to avoid the thunder which came with a Stafford crunch tackle.

Stafford played 200 games for the club (Newton Heath Football Club/Manchester United Football Club) from season 1895-96 to 1902-03, and scored one goal. Stafford’s only strike for the club came on 5 January 1901, in a 3-0 home win over Portsmouth in the FA Cup.

Did You Know That?

According to Manchester United folklore, Harry Stafford left Manchester in the summer of 1909, just two months after the club won the FA Cup for the first time in their history, and in 1911, he emigrated to Australia due to an unnamed illness. Stafford even tapped Davies for £50.00 to flee the country.

In reality, Stafford was actually bound for another railway company in the United States of America, before his death in Quebec, Canada on 24 October 1940, aged 70. Quite sadly, Harry Stafford’s grave in Quebec is unmarked. There is no statue of Stafford and his St. Bernard dog, Major, at Old Trafford, but on the same equilibrium as Sir Christopher Wren and his architectural masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Manchester United fans searching for a monument to celebrate Stafford’s contribution to the very fabric of the club, just need to look around Old Trafford today. Had it not been for Harry Stafford and Major in 1902, and their chance meeting with John Henry Davies after Major got lost and turned up at the door of the wealthy Manchester Brewer, Manchester United would quite simply not exist today. Davies may well have saved the club from extinction, James W. Gibson most definitely deserves his title as “The Saviour of Manchester United,” Matt Busby will always be referred to as “The Father of Manchester United,” the Busby Babes are Legend, United’s Triumvirate (Denis Law, George Best & Bobby Charlton) are the envy of every club’s history, Eric Cantona was an enigma but magnificent, Fergie’s Fledglings spread their wings and Alex Ferguson won the Treble. But, Harry Stafford stands above them all in the history of both Newton Heath Football Club and Manchester United Football Club.  He was Manchester United’s first Captain Marvel.


Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

Sir Matt Busby has a statue in his honour at Old Trafford and a road named after him adjacent to the stadium. Sir Bobby Charlton has a stand named after him and is part of the famous Triumvirate statue opposite Old Trafford which also features George Best and Denis Law. Denis has a statue inside the Stretford End and Sir Alex Ferguson has a stand named in his honour and a statue outside the stand. And quite fittingly there are two Munich plaques as well as the Munich Tunnel in memory of those players and officials who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958.

But Sir Matt, Sir Alex, Bobby, Denis and George would not have any tributes in their name, and the current Board of Directors, would not be serving the club today had it not been for James W. Gibson.

James W. Gibson, was the Chairman of Manchester United from 19 December 1931 until his death in September 1951 and his son, Alan, was elected to the club’s Board of Directors in 1948 which was the beginning of a lifetime of serving Manchester United. There is a red plaque on the bridge over the train track at Old Trafford marking the impact James W. Gibson had on the club over the years. It is a most fitting and poignant location for this tribute as it was Gibson who in 1934 negotiated with the Midlands Railway Authorities for steps to be built from the existing platform just outside the ground so that fans no longer had to walk miles to attend matches. The services ran out of the old Manchester Central Terminus to make a stop at Old Trafford on matchdays and the United fans still use the station on match days. There is also a plaque in his honour in the Old Trafford Players’ Tunnel alongside another saviour of the club, John Henry Davies, and a display in the club’s museum.

Manchester United is world famous for nurturing young talent and developing youth team players to be good enough to play in the first team, from Busby’s Babes to Fergie’s Fledglings. Quite remarkably for the past 82 years, since season 1937-38, United have had a homegrown player in their first team squad. In season 1936-37, James W. Gibson, the Chairman of Manchester United, and Walter Crickmer , established the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (MUJAC), the club’s first ever Youth Team. At the time Gibson, said he would like to “have a first team made entirely of home grown youngsters all from the Manchester area.” However, the promising young prospects who joined MUJAC were not forced to sign for United, on the contrary they were asked merely “to consider playing for the first team one day.” Louis Rocca was appointed as the Chief Scout of MUJAC and through his connections to the Manchester Catholic Sportsman’s Club, he appointed a network of scouts from the Catholic Church. James W. Gibson purchased the lease from his own pocket for the Old Broughton Rangers Rugby Ground for the MUJAC players to train on, which later became United’s famous Cliff training ground, where the young United stars of the future were put through their paces. The MUJAC team played under the name “United Colts.” Consequently, had it not been for James W. Gibson many United legends, Best, Hughes, the Class of ’92 et al, as well as the stars of today such as Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, would never have played for Manchester United.

But how did James W. Gibson become involved with the club? United were in difficulty on and off the pitch. Indeed, in December 1931, Manchester United almost folded as the club was heavily in debt with a £25,000 mortgage and they could not even find the money to pay the players’ wages. The impact of the Great Depression following the Wall Street Stock Market Crash on 29 October 1929, known as Black Tuesday, was felt worldwide and hit Manchester United particularly hard. Home attendances were particularly poor with a meagre 6,396 turning up to see a 2-0 win over Millwall on 5 December 1931 and a fortnight later only 4,697 were in attendance to watch United lose 1-0 to Bristol City. Stacey Lintott, a local sports writer met James Gibson at a dinner in Manchester, and he told James about the situation at United. It was agreed that Walter Crickmer would visit James at his home in Hale Barns to discuss the situation. James was the sole owner of Briggs, Jones & Gibson (he had some years earlier bought out his two partners) which was a thriving military uniform manufacturing company).

Bamlett resigned as manager on 9 November 1930 after United lost 13 of their opening 14 First Division games of the 1930-31 season. Crickmer was appointed as the club’s temporary manager and remained in post until a Scott Duncan was appointed manager on 13 July 1932. So Crickmer, with cap-in-hand, told James W. Gibson about the club’s plight and dire financial position. James Gibson agreed to help and gave a gift of £2,000 (£118,000 today) to pay the backlog of players’ wages and the wages of the club’s officials until mid-January 1932. He also bought all of the players and staff a turkey for Christmas. That night the Manchester Evening News reported the news: “Mr J. Gibson, a Manchester businessman with no previous record in big football, has taken over Manchester United for a month, and he has paid the players’ wages for this week. He has undertaken to be responsible for the Club’s expenditure from December 16 until January 9. If during that time sufficient support is forthcoming at Old Trafford then he is prepared to consider securing a new manager, four first-class players, and he construction of covered accommodation on the popular side of the ground.”

James W. Gibson’s plan was to raise monies for the club with a view to getting it back to a sound financial footing. He proposed a new issue of “Patron’s Tickets” but the response from the United fans was not what he had hoped for due to the recession. James was moved as he did receive a letter from a man who said he could not attend matches as he worked on Saturdays but enclosed a Postal Order for 6d. (2-1/2pence), and hoped it would help as he couldn’t afford more. This helped set James’s resolve even further to aid United for the long term having seen what the club meant to the supporters.

James Gibson together with his sister and younger brother were orphaned when they were young. James was just 14 years old. Their father had a small business making uniforms but this was closed at the time of his death.

James invested £40,000 (£2.36 million today) of his own money into the club and agreed to be the guarantor for the bank for an overdraft which had reached £17,000. Had United not acquired such a generous benefactor the club would have went into extinction and would not have gone on to become the world’s most famous football club it is today. Not surprisingly James W. Gibson is remembered as “The Saviour of Manchester United.” In return for his cash injection, Gibson was made the Chairman of Manchester United at a time when City were the most dominant team in Manchester and who went on to win the FA Cup in 1934 (runners-up to Everton in 1933) and the First Division Championship in season 1936-37. Perhaps it was his modest ambition or else he was keeping his future plans for United close to his chest when he said: “There is sufficient room in Manchester for two good football clubs.”

Duncan remained at the club until 7 November 1937, guiding them to the Second Division Championship in season 1935-36. After United lifted the Second Division Championship, captained by James Brown, the club produced a postcard which was set out to annoy a number of clubs they would face the following season. The poster proudly boasted that United had now joined a select band of heroes who had won English football’s Triple Crown of First Division Championship (1907-08, 1910-11), Second Division Championship (1935-36) and FA Cup (1909). The poster said United had now joined the elite of the Football World – Burnley, Everton, Preston North End, Sheffield Wednesday and West Bromwich Albion – who had also won all three trophies. In block capitals the poster pointed out that the following clubs “Couldn’t do it” – Arsenal, Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, Huddersfield Town, Manchester City, Newcastle United and Sheffield United. The postcard also stated:


Mr J W Gibson, the Greatest Sportsman in the Kingdom

Mr Scott Duncan, Football’s Greatest Manager

The gallant band of United Supporters not forgetting the Ladies!

And the bravest man was Captain Brown

Who played his Ukulele when they won the Triple Crown!

The triumphant United players toured Manchester on an open top bus on 2 May 1936 after returning home from drawing their final League game of the season 1-1 away to Hull City. However, the boasting was all bravado as United struggled in season 1936-37 and made an immediate return to Division Two having finished second from bottom of the table.

Towards the end of the 1930s, United were in desperate need of a manager to take over from Walter Crickmer (Club Secretary & Manager, 9 November 1937-45) who decided that he would relinquish his managerial responsibilities when the atrocities of World War II would eventually come to an end. A Board meeting was called at Old Trafford in December 1944 to decide who should be asked to take charge of the team. Rocca had heard that Liverpool had already offered Busby a job as right hand man to George Kay and it was Rocca who convinced the United Board to leave it to him. Rocca wrote a letter to Busby and addressed it to his army regiment. The letter was quite vague, referring only to a job offer just in case it fell into the wrong hands, namely the Board of Directors at Liverpool.

On 1 February 1945, Busby, still in his army uniform, attended a meeting at Cornbrook Cold Storage, Trafford Park, a business unit which was owned by James W. Gibson. Homeless and almost penniless, Manchester United was hardly an appealing prospect to any potential suitor. But Busby was anxious to learn more details of the “job offer” which Rocca had written to him about. Busby, a former Manchester City (1928-36, FA Cup winner in 1934) and Liverpool (1936-41) player listened to what James W. Gibson had to say and agreed to accept the job offer to become the new manager of Manchester United provided James W. Gibson met his conditions. Busby made it clear from the outset that he, and only he, would be in charge of training, selecting the team on matchdays and having the final decision in which players would be bought and sold and all done so without any interference from the club’s Directors, who, he believed, did not know the game as well as he did. At the time there wasn’t a single club in England who offered their manager such a level of control over the team. It was totally unprecedented in the English game, but James W. Gibson was in no position to argue. Busby was originally offered a 3-year contract but the canny Scotsman managed to negotiate himself a 5-year deal after explaining to Gibson that it would take at least that long for his football revolution to have a tangible effect.

The two men signed the contract that day but it was not until 1 October 1945, that Busby officially took over the reins at Manchester United, with World War II coming to an end on 2 September 1945. In the interim, Busby returned to the Army Physical Training Corps and in the Spring of 1945, he took their football team to Bari, Italy. When he was in Bari he took in a training session for a football team made up of non-commissioned officers which was led by Jimmy Murphy. Murphy was a former player having played for West Bromwich Albion as a wing-half from 1928-39 and won 15 international caps for his native Wales (1933-38). Busby was hugely impressed by the Welshman’s oratory skills and offered him the job of Chief Coach at Manchester United when the war ended. Murphy accepted Busby’s offer verbally there and then, before joining the club officially in early 1946.

Matt Busby was a Football revolutionary and along with Murphy, his right-hand man, the former army buddies changed the history of English football. When Busby accepted Chairman James Gibson’s offer to become the new Manchester United Manager on 1 February 1945, the club had not won a major trophy in 34 years, the English First Division Championship in season 1910-11, and were regarded as a yo-yo club. Indeed, in season 1933-34, the unthinkable almost happened, relegation to Division Three for the first time in the club’s 56 year history.

On the night of 11 March 1941, Old Trafford’s Main Stand was completely destroyed by the Luftwaffe in a German bombing raid on the nearby Trafford Park Industrial Estate. Much of the stadium’s terracing was also damaged as was the pitch. Alan Gibson was to later say that he remembered his father learning the news and breaking down in tears – it was the only time he saw his father cry.

The damage meant that future home games that season would have to be played elsewhere and so United turned to their city neighbours and James orchestrated a temporary move for home games to be played at Maine Road whilst Old Trafford was out of commission. City charged United £5,000 a year to use their facilities but they never allowed United use of the home team changing room when the two teams met even when we were the home team for a Wartime Football League.

In the United Review for the opening game of the 1946-47 season, Chairman James W. Gibson said a few words: “Dear Friends, I offer my greetings and a welcome to our Supporters on the return to normal first division football after the interlude of watching teams comprised of strange personnel weary war-workers and travel stained servicemen, who, despite, numerous difficulties, gallantly succeeded in keeping our grand game alive through the darkest days of a world war. Yes, I think you will agree everybody did their best to keep the “United” flag flying al anxiously waiting and looking forward to this day when we embark on the first post-war season of serious competitive football. It is indeed gratifying to know practically all our service players are with us once more, fully trained and fit to do battle with the best. I was with them on an occasion during training and was really impressed with their activities. Mr Busby, our manager, tells me he is satisfied the team will do well, so we open up full of confidence. A number of the 1939 older players are no longer with us – six years is a long time and changes were imminent, but as you will see, our policy in fostering junior talent is now proving its worth. A lump rises in my throat when I think of our premises at Old Trafford damaged beyond repair by fire and blast in March 1941, and still looking a sorry spectacle owing to the Government policy of issuing only limited licences for building materials whilst the housing problem is so manifest. Against this, we are fortunate that our neighbours, Manchester City, to whom we ae greatly indebted, came to the rescue and offered us a temporary home, which we still enjoy. In conclusion I must say how much I appreciate your loyalty during the past war-years and sincerely trust you will be rewarded with real, enterprising football. Yours faithfully.”

After the bombing James W. Gibson spent the war years trying to persuade the Government to grant the club finance to redevelop and rebuild Old Trafford. In November 1944, the club was granted a Licence granting permission to demolish the Grandstand to allow the reconstruction work to commence. Two years later with the valuable assistance of Mr Ellis Smith, the local MP of Stoke-on-Trent, James W. Gibson was the main catalyst for a debate in the House of Commons to decide whether or not football clubs which were affected by the war were entitled to financial support. United along with nine other clubs were in need of financial support to rebuild their grounds following damage to them during the war. On 17 November 1944, more than three years after the Luftwaffe raid on the Trafford Park industrial area, the War Damage Commission wrote to the club and stated that they were of the opinion that Old Trafford was not a “total loss” and awarded United £4,800 to remove the debris and £17,478 to rebuild the stands. Although it cost £90,000 to build Old Trafford in 1909 (it officially opened on 19 February 1910 with a 4-3 First Division loss to Liverpool) the compensation package greatly helped United as the club had a debt of £15,000 at the time. With the building of the stadium now underway, James W. Gibson could now turn his attention to rebuilding the team.

Year after year and decade after decade the club’s conveyor belt of youth team talent provided players for the first team. In season 1947-48, United’s first team included a number of former Youth Team players: John Anderson (40 games, 2 goals, 1947-49), John Aston Snr (284 games, 30 goals, 1945-55), Carey, Henry Cockburn (275 games, 4 goals, 1945-55) and William McGlen (122 games, 2 goals, 1946-52).

Busby knew he had to replace his ageing side and began a revolution which would see his young side go on to dominate the English game in the latter half of the 1950s. Busby and Murphy took the bold decision to invest in the club’s youth set-up and actively set out to recruit the best local talent available by working closely with local schools and promoting Reserve Team players. Busby’s philosophy was simple: “If they are good enough, they are old enough.” During their successful 1951-52 First Division Championship winning campaign, Busby promoted two youth team players into the first team. On 24 November 1951, Busby gave Jackie Blanchflower and Roger Byrne their United debuts versus Liverpool in the white hot atmosphere at Anfield. The game ended 0-0 with the debutants catching the eye of reporters including Tom Jackson from the Manchester Evening News who referred to the United team as “United Babes” in his match report and later the “Busby Babes.” Sadly, the one man who had been the catalyst for much of Busby’s success, James W. Gibson, did not see United lift the title or witness the revolution of the Busby Babes later in the decade as he passed away aged 74 in 1951. However, James W. Gibson’s dream continues to this day in the form of United’s Youth Team players.

James W. Gibson and his wife, Lillian, lost five children to birth complications and illness: a son, twins and two of three triplets. Their son Alan was born in 1915 and survived childhood pneumonia. Alan went on to serve as a vice-chairman and director of the club until his 70th Birthday and was Vice-President until his death in 1995. To their immense credit, the Gibson family, unlike other families that followed them, never took any money out of the club, instead they readily parted with their own savings to make the club the institution it is today. James Gibson’s original £40,000 loan (The Gibson Guarantee) was never repaid to him by the club and nor did he seek reimbursement of same. In September 2016, a piece of art, The Gibson Compass, was unveiled by Trafford Council at Halecroft Park, Hale Barns in Altrincham in recognition of his legacy at the club and the work of his wife Lillian and son Alan. It is a fitting memorial to the Gibson family and situated quite close to Alanor which no longer exists.

Today, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has followed the trend set by Matt Busby and later Alex Ferguson, by adopting James W. Gibson’s dream as he has no hesitation in promoting Academy players to his first team squad including: Tahith Chong, James Garner, Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams and Paul Pogba who was an Academy player from 2009-11.

Did You Know That?

Alan Gibson was booked on the chartered flight which the club organised for Manchester United’s European Cup quarter-final, 2nd leg tie away to Red Star Belgrade on 5 February 1958. However, a few days before departure, he broke an ankle and had to withdraw from the trip. His place on the trip was taken by the club secretary, Walter Crickmer, who lost his life in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958. James W. Gibson’s legacy should never be forgotten whilst his place in the history of Manchester United is forever enshrined at his beloved Old Trafford. And in another strange twist of fate, Jimmy Murphy missed the trip to Belgrade as he was in Cardiff at the time coaching the Welsh national team (he was the manager of Wales from 1956-64) for an important Fifa 1958 World Cup play-off game against Israel. The Welsh won the game 2-0 on the same night United drew 3-3 with Red Star Belgrade and Wales progressed to the World Cup Finals for the first time in the Principality’s history having lost the away play-off 2-1 on 15 January 1958 in Ramat Gan giving the Welsh a 3-2 aggregate victory. Murphy’s seat on the ill-fated flight was occupied by United’s chief coach Bert Whalley who lost his life in the disaster.


Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

The 1930-31 season is one of the most humiliating in the history of Newton Heath Football Club and Manchester United Football Club.  The previous season United finished 17th in the English First Division Championship on 38 points with 15 wins, 8 draws and 19 defeats in their 42 League games.  They scored 67 goals, Harry Rowley and Joe Spence each scored 12, and they conceded 88 with veteran Alf Steward in nets for 39 of them.  In the FA Cup, they limped out in Round 3 going down 2-0 at Old Trafford to Swindon Town who were playing in Division Three South.

The most important game of the season played at Old Trafford during the 1929-30 season (finished 17th) was played on 22 March 1930 and it did not even feature Manchester United.  On 22 March 1930, the Match Programme for the game which was called “RED & WHITE,” many years before it became known as “THE UNITED REVIEW,” carried an advertisement stating: “PARK YOUR CAR at the COUNTY CRICKET CLUB GARAGE, OLD TRAFFORD.”  Looking back now at this Match Programme it is difficult to understand the marketing appeal of the advertisement as by the time most fans had purchased the souvenir programme, which cost 2d, they would already have parked-up and made their way to the stadium.  The Match Programme was Vol. XVII, No.33 and had a photograph of James “Jimmy” Seed (the captain of Sheffield Wednesday) and Thomas “Tom“ Wilson (the captain of Huddersfield Town) on the front cover with the caption of “THE RIVAL CAPTAINS.”  The game was the FA Cup semi-final which was played out by Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday.  The Terriers (Huddersfield Town) beat The Owls (Sheffield Wednesday) 2-1 but Huddersfield Town lost the 1930 FA Cup final 2-0 to Arsenal at Wembley Stadium, London.

Manchester United set four unwanted records in season 1930-31.  Firstly, they lost all 12 of their opening League matches which included a 6-0 and 7-4 tanking at home to Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United respectively.  They also lost 4-1 to Manchester City, 5-1 to West Ham United and 4-1 against Portsmouth away from home.  This was not only a club record but also a record for the English First Division Championship.  Secondly, United won 7, drew 8 and lost a club record 27 League games in a season giving them a meagre 22 points from 42 League outings.  Their points tally was a club record low from 42 games whilst Newton Heath Football Club could only manage 14 points in season 1893-94 (United’s lowest number of points with 3 points for a win came in season 1989-90 under Alex Ferguson when they could only register 48 points from 38 matches).  Fourthly, United scored 53 times in their 42 League games, but conceded a club record 115 goals with the hapless Steward partly responsible for them having played in 38 of the games.  Bizarrely, Blackpool conceded 125 goals during the season but unlike Manchester United, who finished bottom of the First Division along with Leeds United who were one place above them, who were both relegated to the Second Division, Blackpool survived the drop after ending the season one point above Leeds United.

After Manchester United lost their opening ten League games of the season, and were sitting bottom of the English First Division with no points and a minus goal difference of 29, it was too much for one group of fans.  Some 68 years before “Shareholders United Against Murdoch,” which subsequently became the “Manchester United Supporters’ Trust” (MUST), was formed in 1998 to stop a proposed takeover of Manchester United by the media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, a large group of very disgruntled Reds formed a Supporters’ Action Group.  However, the United fans in 1930 could not call upon the social media monster that fans’ pressure groups have at their fingertips today to advertise their dissatisfaction with their team’s Board of Directors whose resignations they were calling for.  The club’s eleventh League game of the 1930-31 season was against Arsenal on 18 October 1930, and the disgruntled Reds placed advertisements in the local press calling upon fans of the club to boycott the game.  On the day of the game the same group of angry Reds paraded the concourses of Old Trafford with a placard in one hand and a leaflet in the other calling upon all Manchester United fans to boycott attending the match.  However, the loyal Reds paid no heed to the call to boycott watching their team play and 23,406 fans attended the game which was the club’s highest home attendance of the season at the time.  United lost 2-1 with George McLachlan scoring United’s only goal of the game.

United’s record home attendance of the 1930-31 season was set on 7 February 1931, when they lost 3-1 at home to their rivals, Manchester City.  Joe Spence scored for United.  However, the 1930-31 season was not a complete disaster as Manchester United won the Manchester Senior Cup for the fourteenth time since the formation of Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Cricket and Football Club in 1878.

Did You Know That?

United’s difficulties on the pitch in season 1930-31, mirrored their financial position off it.  The club, and not for the first time, were in deep financial trouble.  Old Trafford was owned by a local brewery and the club’s Board of Directors asked their landlord to suspend mortgage interest payments until the books were close to being in the black.  The club also owed a significant sum to the Inland Revenue in respect of income tax arrears.  However, in December 1930, the club faced bankruptcy for a second time (the first was in season 1901-02 as Newton Heath Football Club) when the bank refused to extend more credit which meant players’ wages could not be paid.  But, as time has shown, history has a habit of repeating itself and for Manchester United Football Club, history came about for the club for the second time in 28 years.  In 1902, John Henry Davies rescued the club when Newton Heath Football Club became Manchester United Football Club.  And in early December 1931, the club had a second benefactor to thank for their survival, their Guardian Angel, and his name is James W. Gibson who placed the princely sum of £2,000 at the club’s disposal and paid all of the back wages owed to the players.  He even ensured every player’s family had a turkey to enjoy for their Christmas dinner.  However, James W. Gibson expected nothing in return for his generosity, he just wanted the club to survive and entertain his fellow Mancunians.


Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

On 6 May 1939, Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-0 at Old Trafford in the English First Division thanks to two goals from their leading goal scorer in the season, Jimmy Hanlon, 12 goals in all competitions. A certain Matt Busby played at right-half for Liverpool in the game, his 122nd and last ever game for the Merseyside club (he scored 3 goals). Indeed, it was his final competitive game. Only 12,000 fans turned up to watch the game as Salford were playing Halifax in the 1939 Rugby Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London that same day. Salford lost the game 20-3 before a crowd of 55,453 fans.

United ended the 1938-39 campaign in 14th place in the table which was won by Everton, their fifth English crown.

United went into the 1939-40 season with hopes of winning their first League Championship since 1910-11, and possibly a second FA Cup success following their 1909 victory. Walter Crickmer, the Manchester United club Secretary, was still in charge of first team affairs whilst his eventual successor, Matt Busby, was playing for Liverpool after joining them from Manchester City in 1936. Busby joined City from Denny Hibernian on 11 February 1928 on a one-year contract which paid the 18-year old boy from Bellshill, Scotland £5.00 per week. Prior to moving to Manchester to embark on a career as a professional footballer, Busby was working full-time as a collier at his local coal mine and at the weekends he played amateur football for his hometown Stirlingshire club, Denny Hibernian.

Although United had only achieved a placing of 14th in the 1938-39 First Division, there was more than an air of optimism at the club that season 1939-40 would be a successful one. A number of youngsters had progressed from the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (MUJAC), the name given to Manchester United’s Youth Team many years before the term “The Busby Babes” was first used, including Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley and Stan Pearson. All three had made their first team debuts in season 1937-38 helping United to runners-up spot in the Second Division and promotion to the top flight, and going into the 1939-40 season, all three were aged just 20. The future looked bright, bright red. To confirm the optimism held by Crickmer and his coaching staff, in season 1937-38, Manchester United won the Central League Championship for the first time in 18 years, the club’s “A” Team lifted the Manchester League title and the youngsters, MUJAC, won the Chorlton League. United also won the Manchester Senior Cup

On the opening day of the 1939-40 season, Manchester United defeated Grimsby Town 4-0 at Old Trafford on 26 August 1939, and four days later they drew 1-1 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, London. United were back in the capital three days later when they lost 2-0 at The Valley to Charlton Athletic. It would be 49 days before United would play again, a 4-0 home loss to Manchester City at Old Trafford on 21 October 1939, but by this time, the world had changed immensely, and for the first time in 21 years, the world was once again at war. Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, which resulted in France and the United Kingdom declaring war on Germany.

The 4-0 loss to their neighbours was the first of 25 games the club played in the War Regional League (Western Division) as the Football League had suspended English League football following Britain’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany. The dreams of many young promising players up and down the country earning a living as a professional footballer were shattered as a result of League football being suspended until the hostilities ended. United finished fourth in the War Regional League (Western Division). Games 26-29 of the 1939-40 season, were classified as War League Cup games as the FA Cup was also suspended as a result of the ongoing atrocities in Europe. Portsmouth beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1 in the 1939 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London.

In season 1940-41, United played 35 games. Games 1-19 were in the North Regional League First Competition. Games 20 and 21 were League War Cup matches, a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford with Everton on 15 February 1940 and a 2-1 defeat to the same opponents at Goodison Park, Liverpool the following Saturday. Games 22-35 were in the North Regional League Second Competition. A total of 36 teams played in the League with the final League positions decided on goal average. No points were awarded for a win or a draw. Manchester United finished 7th in the table. During the season, United were to play Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on 28 December 1940. However, on the nights of 22 & 23 December 1940, the German Luftwaffe carried out an aerial bombing of Manchester, Salford and Trafford Park which became known as “The Manchester Blitz.” The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said: “Hitler did his worst, and Mancunians did their best.” The game was played at a neutral venue, Stockport County’s Edgley Park ground, which proved lucky for the Reds as they walloped Blackburn Rovers 9-0 with John “Jack” Smith netting five goals.

Then on the nights of 11 & 12 March 1941, just a few days after United whacked Bury 7-3 at Old Trafford (Johnny Carey & Jack Rowley both scored a hat-trick), Hitler’s bombers were back over the city and dropped tonnes of bombs on the Trafford area which demolished the stands at Old Trafford and destroyed the pitch. Carey later recalled the bombing: “On the Tuesday I had just finished a 12-hour shift working overnight at Metrovicks in Trafford Park when I was riding home on my bike, and in the distance a huge ball of flame was hovering over the old ground. It not only did not look good, but would see the end of first team football for seven years.” United’s Irish international was quite correct as the club were forced to play their remaining League games of the season (and for the following 8 years) at the home of their neighbours, Manchester City’s Maine Road ground. On 14 April 1941, United were “away” to Manchester City and hammered them 7-1 on their own turf, with Jack Rowley scoring four times. It was City’s heaviest home defeat since Maine Road was opened in 1923.

The 1941-42 season saw United play 37 matches with the season split into two League Championships. Games 1-18 were played in the Football League Northern Section (First Championship) with United finishing in fourth position. Games 19-37 were for the Football League Northern Section (Second Championship) which United won. In the Second Championship points were calculated on 23 games and the results also included games played in the League War Cup Qualifying and Knockout Rounds plus Regional Cup games, in United’s case the Lancashire Cup.

The two Leagues in one season continued for the next three seasons with mixed fortunes for United. In season 1942-43 they ended the campaign in fourth and sixth places respectively in the table. The following season, 1943-44, brought a runners-up place in the First Competition and a 9th place finish in the Second Competition. Season 1944-45, saw United finish the first half of the campaign in an embarrassing 30th place followed by a 9th place end to the second half of the season. However, the club did reach the 1945 North Cup final but lost 3-2 over two legs to Bolton Wanderers which was played home (Maine Road) and away (Burnden Park, Bolton). The final season of the War League was contested in 1945-46, with Manchester United finishing in a respectable fourth place in the Football League North under the leadership of their new manager, Matt Busby.

During the war, footballers would guest for clubs wherever they were stationed at that time. Whilst serving in the British Army, Johnny Carey guested for Middlesbrough, Cardiff City, Manchester City, Shamrock Rovers, Everton and Liverpool.

The 1946-47 season saw a return to the English First and Second Division Championships.

Did You Know That?
Despite the Second World War, on 16 September 1939, Manchester United played Bolton Wanderers. This was the club’s first ever friendly game. At the start of the war part of the premises at Old Trafford and at the club’s Cliff Training Ground at Lower Broughton, Manchester were taken over by the military and the Royal Air Force respectively. Just as in the First World War, the fighting in Europe claimed the lives of Manchester United senior and reserve team players: Francis Carpenter was killed during the retreat to Dunkirk, being listed as missing; George Curliss was flying from RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire when his aircraft disappeared on a bombing raid of the Kiel Canal in northern Germany. The squadron war diary recorded “no contact” from his plane whilst it was his very first ever mission; Frederick Okoro was killed in action on 2 November 1942 and Hubert Redwood died of tuberculosis on 28 September 1943. George Gladwin was injured so badly in 1942 that his football career was prematurely ended and Allenby Chilton was wounded but not seriously. Walter Spratt represented Manchester United 12 times during the First World War having signed for the club from Brentford in early 1915 and played only one game after the conflict ended. During the Second World War he was living in London and working in Southwark as a dispatcher for Mosers and was among 35 people killed by a German V2 rocket attack on Southwark on 22 January 1945.

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