Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why City have the Greatest History in World Football

   By ANDREW KEENAN                                                                                  

I usually cringe whenever a football fan makes a bold claim about his club's unique importance. Most clubs
have interesting histories and many, such as Liverpool, United, and Milan, have great ones. But after
spending the last seven years researching City's past, and reading about those of others, I can honestly
say that no club has a history as colourful, fascinating and significant as Manchester City's.

Created by young working men from a Manchester iron district, the club's forerunner - Gorton AFC - was
a minnow compared to the giants from surrounding towns and cities. With just 25 members paying dues of
around two shillings each, the club's income in its first year was a 200th of Bolton Wanderers. By the end
of the 1884-85 season they had no ground, meagre support and only £1 8s 8d in the bank. But they were
steeped in a spirit of enterprise that had been moulded by Manchester's engineering visionaries. They were
ambitious, and no doubt cocky, young Mancs - Noel Gallaghers with handlebar mustaches - and they set
about turning this two-bob club into a world force.

From a flooded patch of wasteland in Ardwick they embarked on what was probably football's first
spending spree. Supplying the funds was flamboyant brewer and political fixer, Stephen Chesters Thompson,
nicknamed the "King of Ardwick". He used the club to mastermind a series of stunning Election wins for
local MP Arthur Balfour, which paved the way for him to become Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Chesters
Thompson hadn't told his brewery's shareholders that he was ploughing their money into a football club
and, after he declared bankruptcy following a fraud trial, Ardwick AFC collapsed.

In 1894 the club was reborn as Manchester City, and soon fell under the spell of two Manchester
innovators. Edward Hulton jnr, who invented the modern sporting press, teamed up with the pioneer of
football physiotherapy, John Allison, to rebuild the club. The FA Cup was secured in 1904 and then, on
the verge dominating the football world, they were brought to their knees by the FA, who banned 11 club
directors and 18 of the best players for committing the commonplace act of raising the living standards of
the players higher than the FA deemed appropriate.

But even that couldn't prevent City's rise. In 1934 they attracted a gate of 84,569 – to this day the largest
crowd that has ever been seen at an English domestic football match. After being crowned champions of
the greatest league in the world in 1937 they went to Nazi Germany, a month after the Luftwaffe had begun
bombing Spain. The world looked on as a City side - containing arguably the world's most gifted player,
Peter Doherty - played a Nazi Germany national team at the packed Berlin Olympic Stadium. In a sea of
swastikas and ringed by SS officers City lost that historic game 3-2. But they never gave the bastards their

After the war, the club became an international symbol of reconciliation between the two countries, and
former SS paratrooper Bert Trautmann its personification. A decade after Trautmann's FA Cup Final
heroics, City created a dazzling side that performed a clean sweep of domestic trophies (they were even the
five-a-side champions). In the 1970s the Junior Blues provided a model for others to copy, the club boasted
the most season ticket holders in the League, and continued glory was within touching distance.

But they also had the most buffoonish chairman football has ever seen, a man in Cuban heels and a wig
whose vanities were played out on TV sets across the country, in Granada TV's groundbreaking
documentary, City!  It charted the beginnings of four decades of decline that turned City into football's
most famous under-achievers.

But this was so Typical City. In 1926 they were relegated after reaching the FA Cup final, while in 1938
they became the only reigning champions ever to be relegated (despite being the League's top scorers that
season). Another relegation was sandwiched between the 1956 FA Cup win and the 1968 League title,
while the seven seasons between 1996 and 2002 included three relegations and three promotions.

It’s almost as though this constant upheaval, the continual journey between glory and disaster, and from
riches to poverty and back, has somehow been written into City’s DNA.

The club has been moulded by geniuses, visionaries and pioneers, with a few fools thrown in for good
measure. One City director managed the side all the way to the 1926 FA Cup final, while two decades
earlier the club's chairman had created the first "hospital for footballers". The Hungarian tactics that baffled
England in 1953 were no surprise to the City reserve team, which had already been using them that season.
Another City reserve player, Jack Reynolds, invented "total football".

City once built the largest single span roofs ever seen in a stadium and were the first Cup finalists (along with
Everton) to wear shirt numbers. They've had match-fixing scandals, inflatable bananas and the "Ballet on
Ice". They've set trends, been serenaded by a deposed Thai Prime Minister, and more recently ran a poster
ad that became the greatest piss-take the football world has seen. Oh, and as a club that paid for a player in
gold bullion in 1904, they've been accused of "ruining" football before most people on this planet were born.

In 2008 the latest chapter of the saga began when Emirati petro-billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al
Nahyan bought the club. Although too diplomatic to say it publicly, the aim is to make City the greatest club
in the world. Part of the project involves the building a giant new academy on land where the Clayton Aniline
chemical works once stood. From there, Manchester University professor Chaim Weizmann developed
new chemical processes that played a crucial role in securing Allied victory in WWI.  In 1917, as president
of the British Zionist Federation, he teamed up with out-of-work City fan Arthur Balfour to create the
'Balfour Declaration', the document that paved the way for Israel's creation (Weizmann also became Israel's
first President).

City, it seems, can't dig a hole without hitting an historical goldmine.

I've been told that Emiratis are self-conscious about their modest history. When the empires of Egypt and
Iraq rose, they were mostly pearl fishermen. And they remained as such long after those empires fell. But
now the descendants of pearl divers have, I believe, acquired an unpolished diamond.

And it's being restored to its former glory.

My new book on the origins of Manchester City on sale now

A Man's Game: The Birth of Mancunian Football and the Origins of Manchester City FC  is now on
sale, published in paperback by Books & Doxey Press.

Revealing significant new evidence about City's formative years, the 218-page book explains how and
why football became established in Manchester, including newly-discovered details of the first ever match
played in the city. It also solves the mystery of why City's forerunner, Gorton Association, wore a Maltese
Cross on their shirts, and names every person in the 1884-85 team photo.

It's got great reviews so far, including one from the official match programme and a two-page review in the
King of the Kippax by history professor Stephen Rigby (see lower down the page).

                          A Man's Game costs £9.75 plus £2.75 post and packing (UK only).
                All copies purchased through the 'Buy Now' button are signed by the author. 

                      UK Customers:

  Also available at

          Worldwide customers:  h
       or Amazon's Createspace


MCFC Official Programme

"An essential purchase for any fan interested in the early days of association
football in Manchester.

Old Newspaper clippings and Ordnance Survey maps from the 19th century provide
a glimpse into the past, with Keenan's considered commentary and analysis adding
fascinating insights into the formation of the club, and even the naming of Maine Road".

New light on an Old Subject 
Emeritus Professor Steve Rigby (Manchester University School of History)

Andrew Keenan manages to unearth a mass of new material about the origins of the
club and offers a number of important and original interpretations of City's genesis, in
particular challenging familiar views about the part played by St Mark's church, West
Gorton, in the club's formation.

Keenan locates the development of football in Victorian Manchester in the wider context of the city's political
and social history but his background in journalism means that the book never becomes dry or overly
academic even though it is based on original research into the primary sources.
(Steve's two-page review is in the current issue of King of the Kippax, available here.)

Brilliantly Researched & Well Worth A Read
Lee Hayes (co-owner,

This book is not just for fans of Manchester City, anybody with an interest in the
history of the beautiful game will find it to be a brilliant and interesting read.

The amount of research that has gone into the book is staggering, and is backed
up with evidence such as newspaper cuttings and old maps. As well as introducing
new evidence on some aspects of City's history it also challenges important information such as how and
when the club actually came into existence.

If you think you know all about the history of MCFC, read this book and I guarantee you will learn
something new.

Great Read
Jon Camden (assistant headmaster and former history teacher)

I love social history and I love football and if, like me, you do you'll love this book. A Man's Game is an
extremely well researched, interesting read. Keenan successfully weaves the story of the origins of
Manchester City with the wider social history of Lancashire and Manchester to produce a fresh, fast
paced, and fascinating account of the beginnings of Association Football in the North West. Sex, religion,
politics and football: a winning combination.

 I read this relatively short book cover to cover in a few hours and found it hard to put down. And no,
you don't have to be a die-hard City fan to appreciate it, I'm a South London Palace fan, this book has
a broad appeal to anyone interested in the history of football.

An Original, Well-Researched and Engaging Read
Michael Marriott (history graduate, Exeter University)

'A Man's Game' ... skilfully weaves the club's history in to Manchester's rich
socio-religious past. The author is not afraid to slaughter sacred cows; the book
reveals shocking truths about Arthur Connell, one of the Eithad's historical heroes.

What is most notable, however, is the way in which the author substantiates his arguments
with an impressive array of original contemporary sources; newspapers, correspondence and photographs
are all used to better illustrate his points. It is through this fastidious research that Andrew Keenan succeeds
in providing a more nuanced and sophisticated history of Manchester City Football Club.

                                                                             ~ ~ ~
                         You can contact me at akeenan(at)manchesterfootballhistory(dot)com.
                                  I'm also on Twitter @mcfchistory and on Facebook here.


Anonymous said...

Bloody brilliant!!

Falastur said...

Very good article. One thing though - City (and Everton) weren't the first team to wear numbers on a shirt. They were only the first team(s) to do so in an FA Cup Final. The first game with numbers was played in the USA (of all places) in 1924 - 9 years before the 1933 Final where we wore shirt numbers. The first England-based game to use numbers was Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday in 1928, 5 years before our game. We were one of the first, but we weren't THE first.

Andrew said...

Thanks Falastur. Now amended. Didn't know shirt numbers were first introduced in the US.