Manchester United is known all over the world for its famous ground, its long list of world class players who have pulled the famous red shirt over their backs, its youth system which has generated world renowned players, its financial might which rivals the biggest clubs in the world and for its managers who have been knighted for their service to the sport. But ironically the man who gave the club all this, directly or indirectly, is not so well known ai??i?? James William Gibson. He gave Manchester United the lifeline it needed to become the behemoth it is now. Without him there would be no Manchester United.

James Gibson was born in Salford on 21st October 1877, to local businessman John Gibson and his wife Eliza and was the eldest of the three children the couple had. While James was still young his parents and soon afterwards his sister passed away and the two brothers moved in to the care of their paternal grandmother. Soon the grandparents passed away and the children moved in with their only maternal uncle who owned a corn business. James Gibson started working for his uncle and after 15 years of working with him, decided to start his own venture. Having a keen eye for business he started his own uniform making business taking advantage of the textile boom in and around Manchester.

Manchester United

The man who saved Manchester United – James Gibson (Source: Manutd.com)

The start of World War One helped him secure his first big contract with the British Armed Forces to provide uniforms for the soldiers. By the end of the war James Gibson had become rich and soon entered in to partnership with two local businessmen and his business expanded.Ai?? He also diversified his business which provided him a buffer against the downturn due to the ai???Great Depression.ai??? James Gibson also had interest in sports but mainly in Cricket and Rugby and was aware of the ai???local football teamai??? Manchester United.

Meanwhile Manchester Unitedai??i??s fortune had started to slip after the resumption play post the First World War. Their successful manager Ernest Mangnall had left before the start of the war for their neighbors Manchester City. The war had resulted in dropped attendances and the loss of manager also resulted in poor results on the pitch which further compounded the problems. Manchester United would soon become a yo-yo club moving between First and Second Division. In 1927, Manchester United lost its Chairman and greatest benefactor John Henry Davies and the start of the Great Depression resulted in club being on the brink of financial ruin. By the start of 1931-32 season the club needed a serious injection of funds and would not survive the start of 1932 if not done so quickly.

The then club secretary of Manchester United, Walter Crickmer met James Gibson at his home ai???Alanorai??? on 19th December 1931 to ask for a loan to secure the clubai??i??s future. While not a football fan, James Gibson was a Salfordian and would not let this sporting institution from Manchester disappear and agreed to loan an amount of A?2000 to pay the playerai??i??s and officialai??i??s salaries, keep the debtors away till 9th January, 1932 and buy a large Christmas turkey for the players and the officials. He attended the matches over Christmas and outlined his plans to stabilize and rebuild the club and also informed the current board to resign at the some point in future convenient to him. The board resigned on 19th January and Gibson assumed the control of the club as President and Chairman. A new era had dawned up on the club when he declared, ai???there is room in Manchester for two clubs.ai??? Early on James Gibson turned towards supporters to ease the financial burden by issuing ai???Patronai??i??s ticketai??? hoping to raise funds. However the response was disappointing and James Gibson pledged to put in more of his personal money, thus taking risk on a club with little prospect on and off the pitch.

With stability in boardroom achieved James Gibson set on to achieve the same on pitch and appointed Scott Duncan as manager in December of 1932 but the team continued to struggle. The overdraft from bank stood at A?17,000 and James Gibson stood as guarantor thus saving club once again. The teamai??i??s struggle continued in 1933-34 season and the club was on the verge of being relegated to third division with one match remaining in the season. Manchester United won the match against Milwall and secured their status as Second Division team for another season. By contrast Manchester City had won the FA cup. The next season Manchester United finished fifth and secured promotion to First Division after going 19 matches unbeaten the next season. In between James Gibson negotiated with the Midland Railway Company to build steps from station leading to Old Trafford and for trains to make unscheduled stop at the station during match days. This meant Old Trafford became easily accessible to fans and the attendances rose. But next season the team was relegated again and promotion was earned the very next season. Scott Duncan left at the end of 1937 season and Walter Crickmer assumed the charge of the club. With debts increasing to A?25,000 and limited funds to bring quality players James Gibson took a decision which would serve the club well for a long time. Together with Walter Crickmer, he started Manchester United youth academy under the name of Manchester United Junior Athletic Club. He also secured playing grounds for the youth team at Old Broughton Rangers Rugby Ground (later referred to as The Cliff). Soon a major global event was about to begin which changed Manchester Unitedai??i??s history for good.

With the beginning of World War Two, German planes started bombing major cities of England with Manchester amongst the targets. Old Trafford was destroyed in one such air raid by the German Luftwaffe in 1941. During the war years government had to issue license for teams to rebuild their stadiums and the Chairman set about to obtain it. James Gibson arranged for the team to play their homes matches at Manchester Cityai??i??s home ground Maine Road at the cost of A? 5,000 per season. With assistance from Local MP of Stoke-on-Trent, Ellis Smith, the issue of rebuilding destroyed stadiums was successfully lobbied and in November 1944 the license was issued and work began on repairing Old Trafford. In March 1948, government granted A?17,478 to help the reconstruction.

The post of manager was still vacant after the departure of Scott Duncan and the league football was to resume from 1946-47 season. Another of James Gibsonai??i??s visionary decisions was about to change the fortunes of the team in a way no one had imagined. In 1945, James Gibson hired an inexperienced former player who had turned out for two of Manchester Unitedai??i??s fiercest rivals, Manchester City and Liverpool, Alexander Matthew “Matt” Busby. James Gibson afforded Matt Busby unprecedented level of freedom in managing the club. Ai??The clubai??i??s fortune began to change and Manchester United finished runner ups in four out of the next five seasons. The immensely talented team won their first trophy in 1948 when Manchester United defeated Blackpool in FA Cup final bringing the trophy back to Old Trafford for the first time since 1909. Unfortunately, James Gibson could not attend the final due to a stroke he had suffered earlier. The team made a detour on their way to Manchester and presented their great Chairman and the clubai??i??s savior with the trophy at his house in Hale Barns. On 24th August 1949, Manchester United opened the gates of the reconstructed Old Trafford.

In 1951-52 season Manchester United finally won First Division after almost 40 years to fulfill the vision James Gibson had in his mind. However he would not be alive to see his team triumph. On 11th September 1951, James Gibson suffered another stroke and passed away. The Gibson family continued its association with Manchester United when in 1945 James Gibsonai??i??s son Alan was appointed to the board and continued to serve on it till his death in 1995.

Without James Gibson there would be no modern Manchester United, no Old Trafford, no youth academy which produced the famous class of ai??i??92 and most certainly not the unprecedented levels of success seen by the current generation of fans. Unlike the current owners, James Gibson was a philanthropist who gave the club his all without expecting any rewards and while he may longer be there his legacy continues in form of this great club.

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