In a series of articles before Manchester United face Manchester City at Eastlands in the FA Cup third round on 8 January, Rant looks at the Reds’ long and storied history with the competition…
Manchester United’s association with the FA Cup dates back more than 125 years, but it is a history that began in the most inauspicious circumstances. Formed as Newton Heath L&YR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) Football Club in 1878, workers played early matches on land near the depot, just a few miles from Eastlands where United will meet City in this year’s FA Cup third round.
The Heathens was formed by members of the dining room committee at the carriage and wagon works of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s Newton Heath depot under the guidance of Liverpudlian Frederick Attock, the club’s first president. Attock was born in Liverpool, but moved to Manchester, where he became the superintendent engineer of the works.
Wearing the green and gold halves that modern fans have come to know, and sometimes love, and using rudimentary changing facilities at the Three Crowns pub on Oldham Road, the Heathens would eventually begin an FA Cup journey that modern United has completed a record 11 times. But so modest was Newton Heath’s beginning that the club did not enter the FA Cup in its first eight years, with many of the Railwaymen’s early fixtures friendly matches against local club sides, or in the Lancashire and Manchester and District Challenge Cups.
The 1886-7 tournament saw Newton Heath, a club that would not become ‘Manchester United’ until 1902, enter for the first time, meeting the now defunct Fleetwood Rangers in the first round at Fleetwood Park. Around 2,000 fans witnessed this first Heathens match in the competition in the modest seaside town just north of Blackpool.
But football in the late 1880s was nothing like today’s globalised game, with the commensurate huge salaries that has become the norm. Indeed, it was not until 1892 and the Football League’s formation, that professionalism was embraced, and even then with tight restrictions as the amateur (old boys) and professional (working) classes clashed over the game’s future.
But in common with many clubs of that era Newton Heath flouted the rules by offering jobs at on the railway to players coming to the club from outside the city, including international players from Wales and Scotland. Thus John Doughty, Roger Doughty and Jack Powell were just three of the names that would go on to play in the Heathens first FA Cup match as the practice of “shamateurism” was embraced.
This didn’t make the Heathens world-beaters though. Far from it. That first FA cup match, held on 30 October 1886, saw Newton Heath travel north to Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast. History records that Jack Doughty scored twice in a 2-2 draw against a club whose life was short-lived – Rangers would fold in 1889, while modern Fleetwood Town has no official connection with the club that faced Newton Heath.
However, the game would end in ignominy for the Heathens when captain Jack Powell, refused the referee’s offer of extra time to break the deadlock. Fleetwood complained to the FA, and the fixture was awarded to the home side.
Fleetwood Rangers 2 – 2 Newton Heath (Doughty, Doughty)
Fleetwood Park, Fleetwood (2,000)
Newton Heath: R Beckett, J Powell, J Mitchell, T Burke, J Davies, E Howells, J Earp, Longton, J Doughty, J Gotheridge, L Davies
It would be more than three years before Newton Heath entered the competition again, losing 6-1 to Preston North End at Deepdale in January 1890. PNE was then one of the game’s major outfits. Then, at last, came a victory in the Cup, when the Heathens beat Higher Walton 2-1 at North Road in October 1890. Higher Walton, the Lancastrian village team which was among the very earliest in the game’s formative years is now defunct having folded in 2005. In addition to the club’s small part in United’s great history with the Cup, Higher Walton would become Liverpool FC’s first opponents two years later.
Newton Heath (Evans, Farman) 2 – 0 Higher Walton
North Road, Manchester (3,000)
Newton Heath: J F Slater, J Mitchell, J Powell, R Doughty, R Ramsay, J Owen, A Farman, W Stewart, G Evans, B Milarvie, W Sharpe
Newton Heath would never make it past the third round though, and by 1902, on the brink of bankruptcy, the club was rescued by the first of several bail-outs by local businessmen. With significant debts owing the club was served with a winding up order. Had it not been for captain Harry Stafford’s search for local investors, including John Henry Davies who would become president, the club would have folded.
But from the flames of near collapse came eventual glory -‘Manchester United’ was re-born in April 1902. Within five years United was champion of England, claiming a first championship in the 1907-8 season by nine points from Aston Villa – a huge margin in a 38 game season, where victory brought two points.
Then came the trophy that was still regarded as the pinnacle of English football – the FA Cup – on 24 April 1909, with a 1-0 victory over Bristol City at Crystal Palace in south London. Scottish forward Sandy Turnbull, who would go on to score over 100 goals for the club, hit the winner midway through the first half.
The win squared a circle that had begun on a rough patch of land behind the railway works at Newton Heath, via ignominious defeat at Fleetwood, to glorious victory in London.
Bristol City 0 – 1 Manchester United (Turnbull)
Crystal Palace, London (71,401)
United: H Moger, G Stacey, V Hayes, D Duckworth, C Roberts, A Bell, B Meredith, H Halse, J Turnbull, S Turnbull, G Wall
And as the Reds take to the field as Eastlands, one multi-billion corportation against the Sultan’s plaything, it serves us well to remember the club’s roots: a humbling FA Cup elimination at the hands of Fleetwood Rangers, October 1886.