Written by John White
Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club
& the author of 17 Manchester United books
In this article, written by Belfast Red, John White, a leading authority on all things Manchester United, he takes us on a journey back in time when United and City played their home games at the same ground.
On 20 September 1947, Manchester United drew 0-0 with Manchester City at Maine Road before a bumper crowd of 71,364 which was a record derby crowd at the time. Although this attendance has since been surpassed, it remains City’s record home derby gate.
During the Second World War (1939-45), Old Trafford’s Main Stand was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in a German bombing raid on the nearby Trafford Park Industrial Estate on the night of 11 March 1941. Part of the terracing was also damaged as was the pitch. Makeshift offices were erected at Old Trafford as the club set about the rebuilding process.
With their stadium out of action, and unable to be repaired because of the wartime (and then post-war) priorities of rebuilding factories and homes, United were forced to use nearby Maine Road to play their home games. Their neighbours charged United £5,000 a year to use their facilities and United, the worst hit of all the League clubs during the war, were awarded the paltry sum of £22,278 by the War Commission to clear the debris and rebuild Old Trafford. And added to this, they were looking for a new manager.
Homeless and almost penniless, Manchester United was hardly an appealing prospect to any potential suitor. But thankfully for United fans, one man saw things differently, his name Matt Busby. He believed he could rebuild the club and aged just 36 he accepted an offer to become the manager of Manchester United.
The young Busby had been recommended to the Manchester United Board by Louis Rocca, an influential figure at the club for more than four decades. Busby had turned down an offer from Liverpool to take over at Anfield but opted for United partly for family reasons, but also because he was given complete control to do things the way he wanted to.
Matt Busby officially took over as manager in October 1945 and wasted no time in recruiting Jimmy Murphy, a man he got to know during the war, as his No.2. Murphy, a proud Welshman, would be by Busby’s side throughout his time at the club. In 1973, Sir Matt Busby released a book entitled “Soccer At The Top.” In the book he recalls the moment he took charge of Manchester United:
“Call it confidence, conceit, arrogance, or ignorance, but I was unequivocal about it. At the advanced age of thirty-five I would accept the managership of Manchester United only if they would let me have all my own way. As the manager I would want to manage. I would be the boss. This being so I would not have any excuse if I failed. Nor would I offer any. They could kick me out. But I did think I knew about football and footballers.”
Prophetic words indeed from the great man himself.
City’s home First Division Results at Maine Road
• Played – 21
• Won – 13
• Drew – 3
• Lost – 5
• For – 37
• Against – 22
• Points – 29
United’s home First Division Results at Maine Road
• Played – 21
• Won – 15
• Drew – 3
• Lost – 3
• For – 56
• Against – 15
• Points – 29
On 17 January 1948, Manchester United set their record home attendance and the game wasn’t even played at Old Trafford! A massive 83,260 poured into Maine Road for United’s “home” First Division game against the eventual Champions that season, Arsenal. The title rivals drew 1-1 with Jack Rowley scoring for United.
Manchester United’s record attendance at Old Trafford is 76,098, a 4-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on 31 March 2007 in the Premier League (scorers: Paul Scholes, Ji-sung Park, Michael Carrick and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer).
City’s average League attendance at Maine Road in season 1947-48, was 42,725 in contrast to their tenants, Manchester United, 54,517. United’s average gate was bettered only by the Champions that season, Arsenal, who attracted an average crowd of 55,002 to their Arsenal Stadium home. United ended the campaign as runners-up whilst City could only manage a 10th place finish and even Sunderland, who finished one place above the two relegated teams, managed an average attendance of 42,888 at Roker Park.
In season 1947-48, Busby guided United to FA Cup success with a 4-2 win over Blackpool in the final at Wembley Stadium. It was only the second time United had won the FA Cup (1909) but more importantly it was the first trophy the club won under Busby and it was a sign of things to come. On their way to Wembley, United played three FA Cup ties at Maine Road which attracted audiences of 74,000 (beat Liverpool 3-0 in Round 4), 33,312 (beat Charlton Athletic in Round 5) and 74,213 (beat Preston North End 4-2). Fittingly, Matt Busby was named “Manager of the Year.”
Did You Know That?
Manchester City played their last ever game at Maine Road on the final day of the 2002-03 season. Many other former players were invited along to celebrate the occasion on 11 May 2003. The club printed 48,000 programmes for the game, more than twice their normal print run for a home game, even though their highest home attendance was 35,141. And they charged £5 for the match programme, double the normal cover charge. Posters were visible all around the ground asking fans not to spoil the party but thankfully the visiting Southampton players ignored them and beat the Blues 1-0. So the Blues failed to win their last ever game at Maine Road whilst the last ever goal scored at the ground wasn’t even scored by a Blue! Michael Svensson scored the Saints first half winner.