Our football club as it was first known, Newton Heath, was having great financial difficulties in 1901 and needed to raise £1000 to avoid bankruptcy. The club held a four day fair to raise money at St. James’ Hall on Oxford Road. By the third day, despite a donation from City, United were struggling and it looked as though we were going to go under.
Harry Stafford, who was our captain at the time (and who was the first captain of Manchester United Football Club), brought his St. Bernard dog, Major, in a bid to raise more money. He attached a collection box to him and let him walk around.
On the fourth day, Major escaped, and found his way to the home of John Henry Davies, a wealthy man who owned Manchester Breweries. Davies got in touch with Stafford, initially with the hope of buying the dog for his daughter, and the two got talking about the financial difficulties of the club.
By 1902 Newton Heath was £2,670 in debt and faced a winding-up order. At a shareholders’ meeting in the New Islington Hall, Harry Stafford announced that he and four local businessmen, including John Henry Davies, were willing to takeover the club’s debts.
Davies outlined his plans for the club. He wanted a team of “Manchester men to make Manchester proud”.
Davies changed the club’s name to Manchester United FC and replaced the green and gold kits with the red, black and white.
Four years after becoming the chairman, Davies saw the club earn promotion to the top flight. Two years after that we won our first league title.
Despite being the best side in the country, we played at one of the worst grounds, so Davies loaned the club £60,000 to start work on our new stadium, Old Trafford, which would have a capacity of 80,000.
In Davies’ 25 years as chairman we won two league titles, one FA Cup and two Charity Shields. Without him, the club would have likely gone under, we wouldn’t play in red, and we wouldn’t play at Old Trafford. Several people have had a massive effect on our club, but there is no denying that Davies, who was not a football man by nature, is up there with the best of them.
In light of our new debt, reminiscent of our situation that we were saved from over 100 years ago, I have spoken to the great granddaughter of Davies, Joanne Jones.
“John Davies was father of my granddad John Gervais Davies who was born in 1899,” she told me. “He married my grandmother, Vera Grover, and she is the one who kept photo albums of the family, when my grandfather was a baby and surrounded by nannies, and lived in Sale.”
Having being told the stories of their family history, they decided to look further in to their United connections.
“After we had researched our family history, we were amazed at the connections and my mother, Cynthia Thomas wrote to Manchester United telling them about it,” she continued. “About 13 years ago, we were invited as guests of Martin Edwards, and my mother, son and myself spent a wonderful day enjoying the hospitality of the club. We were fortunate enough to meet Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife and some of the players. In the tunnel of Old Trafford is the plaque which my mother unveiled on behalf of our family. It was an historic moment for us all.”
After having a family history which impacted so heavily on the club, it is no surprise that United has stayed within the family.
“I feel after these connections that United is in the family blood, and yes, myself, along with my son Toby are avid supporters of United. My son has taken up the invitation on several occasions to watch some of the matches as a guest of the club.”
With the fans reaching breaking point in light of the debt brought to the club by the Glazers, the green and gold movement has taken our support by storm. Reverting to the colours of our history in Newton Heath we are sending a message that has been reported all over the world.
“I think it is great to be wearing the Newton Heath colours,” she continued. “We have a fine heritage and the green and gold protest is a strong signal of support for this. Looking
back to the days of Newton Heath, I feel there is an important connection that we must not lose.”
Now all we need is another John Davies!
Read a great article in The Telegraph about United, from Davies to the Glazers.
Read the Old Trafford story on the official site.