Manchester United FC has spent about A?150 million on players this summer. But it was not always like this. From the brink of bankruptcy to becoming a financial superpower in footballing world, Manchester United FC has seen it all in its fabled history. Manchester United FC owes its legacy to a man who is not so well known these days, John Henry Davies.

The story of this legendary club began in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR (LYR standing for Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) after the Carriage and Wagons departmentai??i??s employees requested the company for permission to form a football team. LYR was used to distinguish the team from their colleaguesai??i?? team from the same company but from the Motive Power Division. The team played in the Green and Gold jerseys (the color of their employers) and played their home games on a pitch at North Road in Manchester. The initial games were played against various teams from within the company and teams from other companies as well. The first recorded game was played against Bolton Wandererai??i??s reserve team on 20th November 1880, which Newton Heath LYR lost 6-0. The following seasons the team played in Manchester and District Cup in which the club enjoyed success on four occasions. However controversy soon followed when the then club captain Jack Powell refused to play in extra time against Fleetwood Rangers in 1886-87 FA Cup. The English FA awarded the tie to Fleetwood as a result and Newton Heath LYR refused to participate in the competition till 1889.

Newton Heath LYR applied to participate in the newly formed Football League in 1888 but were turned down. The club along with 12 other clubs formed a regional league ai???The Combinationai???; however the league suffered dissolution the very season due to financial difficulties. The club applied a second time to participate in Football league but was turned down again. Not giving up, Newton Heath LYR formed another league called ai???The Allianceai??? with 11 other teams and managed to finish 8th in the first season. After three seasons the Alliance merged with Football League and as a result Newton Heath participated in the first tier. LYR was dropped from the name as the club severed its ties with the railway company. Ai??After two seasons in the Football Leagueai??i??s top tier the club was relegated two Second Division, earning the distinction of becoming the first team to get relegated to Second Division. In between the team moved from North Road to Bank Street. The club continued to play in the Second Division and soon faced financial difficulties due to drop in ticket sales and rise in debts.

John Henry Davies

John Henry Davies – The first President of Manchester United (Source: Wikipedia)

Step in local businessman John Henry Davies. In 1901 the club decided to organize a bazaar to raise funds to save the club from winding up.Ai?? Even though neighbors Manchester City made a contribution, the club was still facing difficulty in raising money to survive. The then captain of Newton Heath, Harry Stafford had a St. Bernard dog called Major who would roam around with a tin around his neck to collect the money. According to folklore Major ran away and found his way to a wealthy local brewer named John Henry Daviesai??i?? daughter who immediately fell in love with the dog. Harry Stafford searched for his lost dog and found it with Davies. Davies offered to buy the dog for his daughter but Stafford refused. However the two got talking and Davies agreed to rescue the club in exchange for the dog.

In March 1902, Davies and other local businessmen decided to invest in the club to wipe out its debts of A?2,670 and save the club from certain extinction in return for running the club. Davies became the president of the club and it was decided the club would be renamed to widen its appeal. Names such as Manchester Celtic and Manchester Central were suggested but an Italian immigrant named Louis Rocca came up with the name Manchester United FC. On 28th April 1902 Newton Heath became Manchester United Football club and dropped its Green and Gold shirts in favor of Red shirts and White shorts. A new manager in form Ernest Mangnall was signed from Burnley who during his tenure at Manchester United became the third most successful manager in the clubai??i??s history. Mangnall insisted on physical fitness and team spirit. A transfer amount of A?3000 was made available to the new manager. This enabled Mangnall to sign center half Charlie Roberts from Grimbsy for A?600, which was a huge sum at the time, along with other players. On the back of a watertight defense Manchester United FC gained promotion within two seasons letting in only 28 goals in the 1905-06 season and reaching the quarter finals of the FA cup.

Manchester United FC

Newly formed Manchester United FC pose for team photo 1902-03 season (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Fate again helped Manchester United FC, as neighbors Manchester City were in a crisis of their own after their player Billy Meredith was accused of match fixing. He later claimed Manchester City were paying their players over the wage cap of A?4 per week. Investigation revealed Manchester City were indeed paying over the wage cap and the club was fined, its directors removed and 18 players banned from playing till January, 1907.Manchester City auctioned off its players and Manchester United FC made most of it and bought Billy Meredith and Sandy Turnbull, these two players helped Manchester United FC to their first league title in 1907-08 season. Within a decade John Henry Davies transformed Manchester United FC from being a club on the brink of extinction to the Champions of England. Perhaps the most enduring and long lasting legacy of John Henry Davies is the purchase of a plot from the Earl of Trafford upon which he vowed to create the most impressive stadium in the British Empire. Davies loaned a further A?60,000 to the club to build a 100,000 capacity stadium which when completed would have a gymnasium, bars, lifts and restaurants. Old Trafford held its first game on 19th February, 1910 in a game against Liverpool which Manchester United FC won 4-3. Manchester United FC were again crowned the Champions of England for the 1910-11 season.

However Manchester Unitedai??i??s fate plummeted post the win and they finished the next season a disappointing 13th. The manager came under lot of criticism and left to manage neighbors Manchester City and Manchester United FC narrowly escaped relegation the next season. The break out of the Great War led to stoppage of football. The play resumed in 1919 but Manchester United FC finished only 12th and were relegated in 1921-22 season playing in second tier for the next few seasons.

John Henry Davies passed away on October 24, 1927 at the age of 63 due to prolonged illness. A chance meeting due to an errant dog led to Manchester United FC avoiding extinction, changing name, changing colors to its world famous red and white, winning the league title and Charity Shield twice and FA cup once over a period of 25 years. John Henry Davies will always be remembered fondly for his contribution towards the first successful era of this now world famous club. Through John Henry Davies, Manchester United FC learned something one would see for countless times ai??i?? fighting back to snatch a victory out of the jaws of what seemed like a definite defeat.

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