Sunday, April 7, 2013

Do Man United have the wrong formation date?

  By ANDREW KEENAN                                                                     

The  exact year that Manchester United's forerunner, Newton Heath, were created has for many
years been a source of uncertainty. The first written account of the club's history, in the 1905-6 Book
of Football, was especially vague about the club's starting point.
"Somewhere about 1878 there were Association football clubs in a small way in the Manchester
district, and one of the best known of these was undoubtedly Newton Heath."
The discovery of a fixture list for the 1882-83 season, which stated that the Newton Heath (LYR) Cricket
and Football Club was formed in 1878, appeared to confirm matters. However, major doubts have
remained in the minds of those researching Manchester's football history. Newton Heath's first recorded
game wasn't until 20 November 1880 and the result, a 6-0 defeat away to Bolton Wanderers reserves,
suggests the club was new to the association game. It's also important to note that "football" in 1878
referred solely to the rugby code, while soccer was referred to as either "association" or "football
(association rules)". 

Now a newly-discovered report in the Manchester Courier, from 29 September 1884, becomes the first
contemporary account to state the club's starting year. According to the report, Newton Heath were a 
"four-year-old organisation", thus making 1880 the formation year.

The Manchester Courier report from 29 September 1884 
The article was written by the Courier's respected football columnist, "Dribbler", and was most likely based
on information supplied to him by the Newton Heath secretary (club secretaries also supplied newspapers
with match reports during this period). The newspaper appears to have been fastidious about its accuracy,
and was always quick to print corrections, so it's worth nothing that no correction to this article appeared
in subsequent weeks.

While a single newspaper cutting cannot be considered conclusive proof about Newton Heath's formation
date, it nevertheless becomes the most compelling piece of evidence we currently have. However, a new
starting date for Newton Heath would not alter the club's history in any significant way. And a far more
interesting question has always been why they were formed in the first place.

Manchester was an overwhelmingly rugby town until 1880. The city had only one association club by that
point, called Manchester Association Wanderers. It was made up of gentlemen players, many of whom had
moved to the area. But in November 1880 four new clubs, Manchester Arcadians, St Mark's, Newton
Heath and Clarence Association of Stalybridge, played their first recorded matches. These were the city's
first association clubs to be made up of working men, and the reasons they sprang up in such a short space
of time is only now becoming more clear.

Over the next few weeks I'll be going into more detail about the formation of these clubs, as well as revealing
newly-discovered details of the first association game to be played in Manchester. I'll also be listing the first
twelve football sides in Manchester, with details of their formation dates and origins, and telling the story of
how football almost missed Manchester by.

A new book on the origins of Manchester City on sale now

My first book on City's history, A Man's Game: The Birth of Mancunian Football and the Origins of 
Manchester City FC  is now on sale, published in paperback by Books & Doxey Press.
Revealing significant new evidence about City's formative years, the 218-page paperback book also
reveals how football became established in Manchester, including newly-discovered details of the first ever
match played in the city.

A Man's Game also provides a social history of Victorian Manchester, examining how football was
promoted by social reformers, with the aim of promoting a "Muscular" Christianity. It throws up many
surprising finds, including the violent suicide of a St Mark's clergyman, a transvestite sex scandal and a
lacrosse game involving Iroquois Indians. It also solves the mystery of why Manchester City's forerunner,
Gorton Association, wore a Maltese Cross on their shirts, tells the story of a women's football match that
sparked riots, and reveals how the city almost hosted a rugby World Cup in 1880.

                         A Man's Game costs £9.75 plus £2.75 post and packing (UK only).
                All copies purchased through the 'Buy Now' button are signed by the author. 

                      UK Customers:

  Also available at

          Worldwide customers:  h
       or Amazon's Createspace


MCFC Official Programme

"An essential purchase for any fan interested in the early days of association
football in Manchester.

Old Newspaper clippings and Ordnance Survey maps from the 19th century provide
a glimpse into the past, with Keenan's considered commentary and analysis adding
fascinating insights into the formation of the club, and even the naming of Maine Road".

New light on an Old Subject 
Emeritus Professor Steve Rigby (Manchester University School of History)

Andrew Keenan manages to unearth a mass of new material about the origins of the
club and offers a number of important and original interpretations of City's genesis, in
particular challenging familiar views about the part played by St Mark's church, West
Gorton, in the club's formation.

Keenan locates the development of football in Victorian Manchester in the wider context of the city's political
and social history but his background in journalism means that the book never becomes dry or overly
academic even though it is based on original research into the primary sources.
(Steve's two-page review is in the current issue of King of the Kippax, available here.)

Brilliantly Researched & Well Worth A Read
Lee Hayes (co-owner,

This book is not just for fans of Manchester City, anybody with an interest in the
history of the beautiful game will find it to be a brilliant and interesting read.

The amount of research that has gone into the book is staggering, and is backed
up with evidence such as newspaper cuttings and old maps. As well as introducing
new evidence on some aspects of City's history it also challenges important information such as how and
when the club actually came into existence.

If you think you know all about the history of MCFC, read this book and I guarantee you will learn
something new.

Great Read
Jon Camden (assistant headmaster and former history teacher)

I love social history and I love football and if, like me, you do you'll love this book. A Man's Game is an
extremely well researched, interesting read. Keenan successfully weaves the story of the origins of
Manchester City with the wider social history of Lancashire and Manchester to produce a fresh, fast
paced, and fascinating account of the beginnings of Association Football in the North West. Sex, religion,
politics and football: a winning combination.

 I read this relatively short book cover to cover in a few hours and found it hard to put down. And no,
you don't have to be a die-hard City fan to appreciate it, I'm a South London Palace fan, this book has
a broad appeal to anyone interested in the history of football.

An Original, Well-Researched and Engaging Read
Michael Marriott (history graduate, Exeter University)

'A Man's Game' ... skilfully weaves the club's history in to Manchester's rich
socio-religious past. The author is not afraid to slaughter sacred cows; the book
reveals shocking truths about Arthur Connell, one of the Eithad's historical heroes.

What is most notable, however, is the way in which the author substantiates his arguments
with an impressive array of original contemporary sources; newspapers, correspondence and photographs
are all used to better illustrate his points. It is through this fastidious research that Andrew Keenan succeeds
in providing a more nuanced and sophisticated history of Manchester City Football Club.

                                                                                       ~ ~ ~

                                   You can email us at info(at)manchesterfootballhistory(dot)com.
                                    We're also on Twitter @mancfoothist and on Facebook here.

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