History of Manchester United 1902-1931


It seemed like a good idea at the time - a dog in exchange for a football club. It was Mr J H Davies who saw the man about a dog - a St.Bernard belonging to Harry Stafford, the United captain at the time.

Mr Davies was a self-made man with an eye for investment. Newton Heath's creditors had foreclosed, and the contractors who had made the alterations needed at the club's Clayton ground had taken steps towards bankrupting the company. At a meeting of shareholders early in 1902 the presiding officer explained that the FA had agreed to the re-forming of the club. One of the four men who had put £500 towards the deficit of the £2,670 was Mr Davies. Harry Stafford had a tenuous link with Mr Davies through the medium of beer - Stafford was later to become licensee of the Imperial Hotel in Piccadilly, and Mr Davies had been chairman of the Manchester Brewery - and had made overtures to Davies in 19 01, trying to convince him that with adequate investment the club could be turned around. Legend has it that one day at a fund raising bazaar, Mr Davies and his daughter Elsie met Harry Stafford walking his dog, who had run loose. Elsie wanted to keep the dog and after some conversation Mr Davies and Stafford agreed that if Davies took the club over he could keep the dog for his daughter. £3000 was put down for players alone, and money was given to the club as loans, which were to be paid back when they could. By 28th April 1902, Newton Heath had been changed to the name of Manchester United, the Lancashire FA giving formal permission for the name change a month later.

In 1903 J Ernest Mangnall was appointed as manager. He signed Charlie Roberts a year later, who was to form part of the famous half back triumvirate of Duckworth, Roberts and Bell. At the end of the 1903/4 season United were on the verge of promotion to Division One, finishing third in the league. Two years later, in 1906, United were runners-up to Bristol City and promoted to the top flight, prompting a salary rise for the manager of £1 per week.

The signing of Billy Meredith on 1 January 1907, after he had served a suspension, along with three other Manchester City players proved of major importance for Mangnall and United. At the end of the 1907/8 season United were top of the league, winning Division One for the first time. A second championship followed in 1911. But 1907 was important for another reason, Louis Rocca becoming a scout that year, a man who would have a part to play when United once again ran into financial difficulties and the spectre of bankruptcy threatened again in 1931.

The Meredith-led team continued to show promise. They toured central and eastern Europe in the summer of 1908, playing in front of the biggest crowd ever seen in Hungary when they defeated Ferenczvarsi (or Ferenevaro Si Torna Klub) 7-0 in Budapest. The following year United played Bristol City in their first ever FA Cup Final, winning the 1909 cup 1-0. That FA Cup returned to Manchester for the first and last time. To remember the historic win, a replica of the cup was commissioned and made. The FA took exception to this and at an FA Committee meeting in 1910 a resolution was passed to the effect that the FA Cup has been duplicated without their consent and a newly designed cup was to be made, the design registered.

By this time, United had already been at the forefront of the emergence of a Players' Union, which in 1908 had been disapproved by both the League and the FA. United's players resisted, and played a benefit match against Newcastle to raise money for a Provident Fund. Eventually, in 1909, the League, having previously refused to sanction the affiliation of the Players' Union to the Federation of Trades Unions, relented and a compromise was reached, with the Players' Union being recognised.

In 1910 United moved to a new ground at the end of Warwick Road in Old Trafford. Their previous ground of Clayton had long been in need of renovation. It was decided that it would be better to move to a new, modern ground where they could seat between 80-100,000 supporters, with amenities for both fans and players. The first game played at Old Trafford was on 19 February 1910 against Liverpool, United throwing away a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3. The ground, however, was a success, and following the Championship win of 1911, the club received the honour of seeing the new ground stage the replay of the 1911 FA Cup final.

The good times began to recede at United following the Charity Shield win of 1912. In that year, United lost the services of Mangnall. The First World War intervened - United lost a number of players during the four years of conflict including 'Sandy' Turnbull, who had scored the winning goal in the historic 1909 FA Cup Final. The team became older, players like Billy Meredith left the club. In 1922 United were relegated to Division 2, bouncing back to the top flight in 1925.

Despite switching permanently to the present day colours of red and white, 1927 was a bad year for United. John H Davies - their first benefactor - died that October. The club had only just decided to buy the ground at Old Trafford rather than rent it as they had been doing, hoping that with Mr Davies behind them they would have more security for the deal. The bills began to increase. Things on the pitch deteriorated too - by 1930 United were struggling just to win a match. On October 1930, 3,000 supporters met to try and stage a revolution and attempted to boycott the match against Arsenal the following day. In the end the boycott failed and 30,000 supporters watched the match. But the club was now losing money quickly. Back on the pitch, United lost 27 matches and conceded 115 goals in the 1930/31 season, being relegated to Division 2 after finishing bottom of the league. With debts mounting, Walter Crickmer took on the role of Secretary-Manager. On 18 December 1931 the club was refused any more credit. The banks closed on them. The players could not be paid. There was a huge question mark as to whether the club would even survive. They needed someone to turn to in their hour of need; they needed another saviour. That man was James W Gibson.