Sunday, 7 June 2009

1903-1906: An Upturn In Fortune

Manchester United's first season under their new name and ownership was a moderate success, they finished in fifth place after only managing to come fifteenth the previous season. Although they beat their neighbours 2-0 at Hyde Road, it would be City who came top winning promotion to the first division.

The team, photographed at the beginning of the 1903/04 (courtesy of manchesterunitedman1 - click on all these images for much higher resolution):

Manchester United 1903-04 team photograph

The team appear to be wearing two or three slightly different kinds of shirts, but as there are only 21 players in the photograph, that suggests it was not taken before a practice match and that they are probably all red home shirts. Clubs were still not particularly bothered if the players' kits did not match, so long as the colours were correct. Captain Harry Stafford is wearing a badge on his shirt, although the details are difficult to make out and I am unsure of it's significance. Stafford would retire from the game shortly after this was taken, without kicking a ball that season.

Manchester United 1903-1907 Home kit Manchester United 1903-1904 Home kit (Variant) Manchester United 1903-1904 Home kit (Variant 2)

Although the investment from the likes of Davies and Stafford had bolstered the club financially, the fact was they were still a second division side - and this was not good enough for the new directors. Secretary James West found himself shouldering a lot of the blame - "For mistakes for which he was not really responsible", according to the Evening News - and promptly handed in his resignation to the board.

On September 30th, 1903, just two day's after West's departure, the board appointed the Burnley secretary Ernest Mangnall to the vacant position at United. Over the next decade, he was to have a profound influence over the club.

Mangnall was famous for his trademark boater:

Ernest Mangnall

Just over a month later, instead of paying a transfer fee for Joe Schofield and Charlie Wright, United played their old club Ashton Town. Following the death of Alec Bell's father, "Out of respect the United turned out in new black and white jerseys". We can only guess that they looked something like this:

Manchester United 1903 Friendly Change kit

Almost as influential a figure as Mangnall in United's early years would be Charlie Roberts, a young half-back signed from Grimsby in 1904. Roberts would soon become United's captain and their first player to be selected for the English national side. He is said to have caused a stir by insisting on playing in short shorts when the FA rules at the time stated they should be knee-length (photograph C1911):

Charlie Roberts

Roberts' debut came during the penultimate home game of the season and saw United beat Burton Utd on the way to finish in third place, narrowly missing out on promotion. They found themselves in the exact same position at the end of the following season, but in the 1905/06 season, United finished in second place and were finally promoted back into the top flight after 12 seasons in the second division.

The 1904/05 team, with Major the St Bernard front centre (also courtesy of manchesterunitedman1):

Manchester United 1904-05 team photograph

The team line up before a match early on in the 1905-06 season (again original photo from manchesterunitedman1 collection):

Manchester United 1905/06 team photograph

The home jerseys were in the style of those worn in the previous season (this style of shirt would be worn until 1911, albeit with plain black socks from 1907 onwards). Other photos from this time period show that the socks worn were mainly the ones with the blue hoop, although in this photograph some players are wearing plain black ones.

Charlie Roberts in the home shirt, showing the two-button collar in more detail:

Charlie Roberts in 1907-10 home shirt

Another photograph from the 1905/06 season shows the players before a practice match with half of them in home kits and the other half in white change shirts. Details are hard to make out, but they appear to be the same as those worn as part of the home kit at the turn of the century:

Manchester United 1905/06 team photograph

Manchester United 1905-1906 Change  kit

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