Monday, 1 June 2009

1900-1902: On The Brink

By the end of the 1900/01 season, Newton Heath had finished in their (then) lowest-ever position of 10th in the second dvision. They were struggling both on and off the pitch, but a chance encounter had already set the club on the path to greatness.

The club retained the same white and navy home kits that they had worn since 1896. Although no photographic evidence exists, it is probable that the green and gold striped change shirts were worn in this period.

The team are photographed at the start of the 1901/02 season:

Newton Heath 1901/02 team photograph

In early 1901, the club had organised a bazaar where they hoped to raise £1000 in order to pay off some debts and bring in some new players. It was held on February 27th at St James Hall on Oxford Street, but, despite good publicity in the Manchester Evening News, it was not a success. The money raised was barely enough to cover the cost of hiring the hall, however it was to be a very profitable exercise for another reason entirely.

During the event, club captain Harry Stafford had taken a St Bernard dog called Major along to collect donations in a box he carried. At some point the animal escaped and was found wandering the streets by a publican and friend of local brewer, John Henry Davies, who took a fancy to the dog, but decided to track down his owner. When Stafford explained the circumstances behind the dog's escapade, Davies was moved to give a donation to the club and made a promise of further help in the future. The Heathens captain would thankfully not forget it...

The venue of the bazaar, St James Hall, pictured C1903:

St James Hall C1903

A year later, the financial trouble had worsened for the club to the degree that they were almost disolved. A winding-up order was served against them when the then-club president, William Healey, had taken the club to Ashton-Under-Lyne county court in an attempt to recover some of the money he had lent to the Heathens. The club owed him the figure of £242, 17s and 10d, but their total debt was around ten times that amount.

Below is a transcription of an article printed in the Manchester Evening News on January 9th, 1902:
The Affairs of the Newton Heath Club

Winding-Up Order Granted

At the Ashton-Under-Lyne County Court this afternoon, Dr. Bradley, barrister, instructed by Messrs. Brett, Hamilton and Tarbolton, solicitors of Manchester, applied to the Judge on behalf of Mr. W. J. Healey, of Salford, for a compulsory winding-up order against the Newton Heath Football Club Company, Limited. There was no appearance to the petition.

Dr. Bradley explained that the petition was brought on account of an unsatisfied debt of £242. 17s. 10d. due to Mr. Healey, who was at one time a director of the club, and who brought these proceedings with very great reluctance. Mr. Healey had filed an affidavit in which it was stated that the club was incorporated in 1892, and that the registered offices were at Clayton. The capital of the company is 2000 shares at £1 each and the amount paid was £765. 3s. 6d. The object for which the company was established was to carry on the business of a football club. The club was indebted to Mr. Healey for the amount mentioned.

No Opposition Present

His Honour: Is there any opposition present?
Dr. Bradley: No.
His Honour: What is a football club, limited? How do they carry on business? Do they make money?
Dr. Bradley said the club engaged professional players to play matches and took the gate receipts. He did not suppose that a company of this kind was formed with the object of gain. It was formed with the object of ascertaining the liabilities and seeing that they did not exceed a certain amount. According to what the gate receipts were, they paid the players.

A Modified Success

His Honour: Was it a success?
Dr. Bradley: At first it was, but lately it has not been.
His Honour: Has it paid any dividends?
Dr. Bradley: I don't think so. I think I may safely say it has never paid any, the object being not to pay dividends but to play football. The club is in the second division of the League.
His Honour: Are all the proceedings regular?
Dr. Bradley: The application has been advertised.
His Honour: Have you received any notice of opposition?
Dr. Bradley: No; the latest time for opposition to be lodged was 6 o'clock last night, but none had been received at eleven o'clock this morning.
His Honour: Is there no correspondence, no answer from the secretary?
Dr. Bradley: No. Negotiations have taken place for a settlement of the debt, but they have not come to anything.
His Honour: Your debt is not disputed?
Dr. Bradley: No. We have had an offer of 10s. in the pound after the proceedings were commenced. We agreed to accept the offer, and they did not pay
His Honour: You seem to be entitled to your order. The proceedings are regular, and the order will be made, with costs.

The Position of the Club

No Question of Extinction

The decision arrived at this morning in the Ashton County Court, though serious from a financial point of view to many of those connected with the club, does not mean the death of Newton Heath as a playing club and a member of the second division. . No one who has the slightest interest in such an old club could contemplate this fate with equanimity, and it is certain that when the immediate stress of financial resources has been removed a big effort will be made to put the club on a much sounder basis than it has been for the past few years. Many clubs in the country are propped up by one or two men of means, but the withdrawal of these financial supporters would not, of course, involve the complete downfall of the clubs. It is possible for a club to be absolutely insolvent one month and to be in a comparatively flourishing position the next. This fact is realised, and for the most part, the gentlemen who have advanced money to the club are content to wait until the change of fortune comes.

Mr. Healey is doubtless quite justified in taking steps to recover his money, though it might fairly be expected of such an excellent and liberal supporter of the game that he would have shown a little more patience. However, Mr. Healey's claim will have to be met in some way or other, and providing other creditors do not press their claims, there ought to be no difficulty in making an arrangement. One or two really good "gates" would soon improve matters, and rather that there should be any fear of the club not being able to meet its League engagements the thousands of footballers who have long followed the fortunes of Newton Heath will doubtless be prepared to make some special effort in the near future. There is, of course, nothing to prevent other clubs coming to the assistance of Newton Heath, temporarily or otherwise. This has been done in other cases where the club has had no such record to boast as the old Manchester organisation.

Originally formed in connection with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway carriage works, the club became a member of the old Alliance in the days when the League was formed. In 1892 they gained a place in the First Division but fell to the bottom of the table with the result that they had to take part in the test match. This gave them another lease in the premier combination, but in April, 1894, they were defeated in the final test and disappeared from the First Division. Since then they have existed in the Second Division with varying fortunes, last season being the worst they ever had from a playing point of view. Bad luck rather than bad management is responsible for their present plight, for both last season and this season they have had many attractive matches ruined by the weather from a financial point of view.

The Future of the Club

Saturday's Match to be Played

The Newton Heath Football Club, although the pioneer of Association football in Manchester, has lately fallen on evil days, and even the bazaar held in St. James's Hall failed to clear the club financially. It was hoped that things would be put right this season, but the weather has been all against large gates at the important home matches, and the crisis has at length arrived. One of the directors told our reporter this afternoon that they had done their best to come to terms with Mr. Healey with regard to the money he had advanced, and they much regretted that the matter had had to go into court. He emphatically denied that the granting of the winding-up order would mean the extinction of the club, and said the match arranged with Middlesbrough on Saturday next would certainly take place at Clayton, indeed the team is to be selected this evening. The directors confidently believe that, given fine weather, there should be a big gate at the match, and if this should be the case and the supporters of the club will turn up in force, they are sure that the present great difficulty will be overcome. The directors meet to-night to discuss the situation.

The Football League and the receivers then closed the Bank Street ground and postponed the club's next fixture - the above-mentioned Middlesbrough match. During this time, Harry Stafford tirelessly campained to raise money for the cause and if he had not managed to raise enough to pay the travel expenses for the away fixture at Bristol City, then Newton Heath may well have gone under.

In March 1902, a meeting was called at the New Islington Hall in Ancoats, where Stafford announced that he had found five investors who would each put up £200 for the club - one of whom was himself, while another was J.H. Davies, who soon found himself installed as the new club president. Major the dog found himself living in the Davies household while the club would shortly find itself a new name, and new colours, too...


  1. do you know where new islington hall was in ancoats?

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