Date: 10th September 2019 at 6:08pm
Written by:

Written by John White
Branch Secretary
Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club

It was on this very day 127 years ago, 10 September 1892, the first ever game of top flight football was played in the city of Manchester.

At the end of the 1891-92 season, the Football Alliance came to an end after three years of existence. Newton Heath Football Club (we became Manchester United in 1902) were, along with Ardwick FC (founded in 1880 as St Mark’s (West Gorton), Ardwick FC 1887-93 and Manchester City from 1894 onwards) played in the final season of the Football Alliance.

At the end of the 1891-92 season, The Heathens, who finished runners-up to Nottingham Forest, applied for election to the Football League which was accepted and they were given a place in the English First Division. Across the city, Ardwick FC, who finished 8th in the Football Alliance, were elected to the Second Division.

On 3rd September 1892, Newton Heath played their first ever game in the First Division, a 4-3 loss away to Blackburn Rovers (scorers: Jimmy Coupar, Robert Donaldson & Alf Farman). Ten days later history was made when The Heathens welcomed their Lancashire neighbours, Burnley, to their North Road, Newton Heath home ground.

When Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club was founded in 1878, the club needed a pitch to play on and agreed to rent North Road which was owned by the Manchester Cathedral Authorities. The ground was located adjacent to the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s Carriage and Wagon Works, the employees of which had founded the club.

The previous year, 1877, a number of workers from the Carriage and Wagon Works of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in Newton Heath spent their lunchtime kicking a leather football around on the heath. As more and more of the railway employees took interest in the lunchtime kick-about the workers obtained permission from the local Church to play evening games on a disused piece of grassless chalk land belonging to the Church situated at North Road, Newton Heath. And so the club had its first ground which was on the edge of a clay pit and located adjacent to the Carriage & Wagon Works and Shunting Yards of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway.

Whenever they could the workers from the Wagon Works and Shunting Yards played football and in 1878, they formed Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club, the birth of a legend which today is Manchester United Football Club, the world’s most famous football team.

Friendly games were organised and played against other Departments of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway such as the Motive Power Division who called themselves Newton Heath Loco and against teams from other railway companies. At the weekend games were played against neighbouring Church and village teams on Saturday afternoons. The players from Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club purchased a set of cashmerette jerseys of green and gold halves as their club kit.

The North Road pitch was a bumpy, stony patch during the summer months and in the winter it became a muddy, heavy swamp. Given the pitch’s close proximity to the railway lines, the games were very often clouded in a thick mist of steam which poured from the chimneys of passing trains. Originally, in the region of 12,000 spectators could surround the pitch to watch a game whilst the addition of a stand in 1891, increased the ground’s capacity to 15,000. Times were hard for the players on and off the field of play with no changing facilities and a pitch described by the local press as: “hard as flint with ashes underneath that had become like iron, and in other places thick mud.”

Prior to home games the players all met at The Three Crowns Inn public house on Oldham Road, Newton Heath which was located half a mile from North Road, got changed there and then casually walked to the ground to play their opponents. However, the players were a fiercely determined bunch and were dominant in those inter-railway games resulting in the club looking for opposition further afield to test their skills against. In season 1888-89, they played in the Football Combination prior to spending three seasons in the Football Alliance.

A crowd of 10,000 turned up at North Road to watch the city’s first ever game of top flight football in England, a 1-1 draw versus Burnley on 10 September 1892 (scorer: Robert Donaldson). It proved to be disappointing maiden season in the First Division, finishing in 16th place in the League on 18 points, rock bottom, with 6 wins, 6 draws and 18 losses, 50 goals for and 85 against.

By finishing at the foot of the table The Heathens were forced to play the Division Two Champions, Small Heath (became Birmingham in 1905 and Birmingham City in 1948), in two Test Matches, the Victorian equivalent to today’s play-off finals, with the winner guaranteed First Division football the following season. Newton Heath avoided relegation drawing the first game 1-1 (scorer: Alf Farman) in Stoke and winning the second game 5-2 (scorers: Alf Farman 3, Joe Casidy & Jimmy Coupar) at Bramall Lane, Sheffield.

However, this proved to be a mere temporary reprieve and despite their poor League form there was some light at the end of the dark tunnel for the players when they won the Manchester Senior Cup for a fifth time, defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 (scorers: Joe Cassidy & Andrew Mitchell) at Hyde, Manchester. During the season the club invited investors to purchase £1 shares in Newton Heath FC by offering share capital to the value of £2,000.

But matters off the field came to a head at the end of the 1892-93 season when the club’s landlords, the Cathedral Authorities in Manchester, issued Newton Heath FC with a notice to quit their North Road home. The Dean and Canons of the Cathedral Authorities were unhappy with the club’s policy of charging fans into the ground to watch games and requested the club to refrain from charging an admission fee.

When the club disagreed they had no option but to pack-up and move 3 miles across the city to a piece of muddy wasteland situated at Bank Street, Clayton. The club struck a deal with the Bradford and Clayton Recreation Committee to lease the ground for 8 months of the year which included the use of the facilities a few nights each week to allow the players to practice and train.

John White
Branch Secretary
Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club
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