Thursday, March 21, 2013

So Where Do We Start?

  By ANDREW KEENAN                 


1880. It is a date ingrained in the minds of virtually every City fan; the commonly-accepted starting
date for the club that became Manchester City FC.

Over the last four years I've been researching City's origins, and have unearthed a wealth of new information
that points to 1884 as being the correct starting point for the club. The research is contained in a new book,
A Man's Game: The Birth of Mancunian Football and the Origins of Manchester City FC.

Here is a timeline of keys events in City's formative years:

In November 1880 an Anglican church in the iron district of West Gorton created a football club, called
St Mark's. It is the first recorded association club in Manchester that was made up of working-class players
(though most of them would nowadays be termed "lower middle class"), and its first match took place on
13 November. A week earlier St Mark's had created a rugby club, and the two played alternate Saturdays
until 18 December, when both fielded teams. These sides were created in order to tackle the biggest
problem faced by the Church at that time - the loss of young men.
The first match report of St Mark's rugby team, for a game played on 6 November 1880
On 6 November the rector of St Mark's, Reverend Arthur Connell, attended a keynote speech by Bishop
Fraser at Manchester cathedral. Fraser revealed that over the previous 11 years only 14,050 young men
had been confirmed into the Manchester Church compared to 73,754 young women. He declared that it
had become a commonly held view that "religion is a thing for women rather than men”. The antidote,
evangelicals such as Connell believed, was a "Muscular" Christianity that would instill the manly values
of courage, loyalty and discipline.

However, football soon became a little too manly.

By 1882-83 violence on Manchester's football pitches had reached dangerous - sometimes fatal - levels.
St Mark's folded early in 1883, and around that time another club, West Gorton Association, played its first
recorded game. The team was made up largely of players from St Mark's, who may have founded the club.
It may also have originated from the nearby Union Iron works. However, the club was not to last much
longer.

There were four football clubs in Gorton that season: St Mark's, Belle Vue Rangers, Gorton Tank Rovers
and West Gorton Association. But by the start of the 1883-84 season only one was left standing. West
Gorton Association - which had been on the point of folding - was taken over by Belle Vue Rangers,
who took on West Gorton's name.

The following season a new club, Gorton Association - the club that evolved into Manchester City - was
created by a group of young footballers. According to the 25 October 1884 edition of the Gorton Reporter
“The members of the old West Gorton Association Football Club have pulled together, and, with the
assistance of a few other players, have formed a new club under the name of “Gorton Association”.
The first recorded line-up (above) reveals that four of the side had played for West Gorton a month earlier,
and three of those had been regulars for Belle Vue Rangers in the 1882-83 season. Only two players had
been regulars for St Mark's, while four had no known connection to any of the clubs in West Gorton.

This is clearly a very different club to St Mark's.

Gorton Association was created and run by its players and, reflecting the fact that its sole financial benefactor
was a Unitarian, was open to players of all Protestant denominations. St Mark's, on the other hand, was run
by a clergyman, and would have been restricted to parishioners. Other evidence illustrates how the two clubs
differed. None of Gorton's opponents in the 1884-85 season appeared on the St Mark's fixture list from 1882-83
and the club also played under the jurisdiction of the Football Association, which St Mark's did not. Lastly,
its name represented the whole Gorton area, not just West Gorton. Indeed, according to the census rolls,
only six of the players from Gorton AFC's first recorded line-up lived in West Gorton.

St Mark's certainly played an important role in laying the groundwork for Gorton AFC's creation, as did
Belle Vue Rangers, but the foundations of Manchester City FC were not laid until October 1884.

~ ~ ~

You can email me at: info(at)manchesterfootballhistory(dot)com

You can also find me on Twitter @mancfoothist

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