Born on this day (10th September) in 1925, Stan Gibson was one of the unsung heroes of Manchester football. He was City’s groundsman for forty years and created a playing surface worthy of the club’s stature, particularly during the sixties and seventies when the pitch was possibly in its best ever state.
Stan worked as a stoker during the war for the Navy. Always a keen sportsman – he was a Naval boxing champion and had football trials with Burnley – but by his 30s was becoming well known as a groundsman. He arrived at Maine Road from Chorlton Cricket Club in 1959 after a recommendation by City ‘keeper Steve Fleet, and in the years that followed he worked hard to create a perfect pitch.
By the time of City’s promotion in 1966 Stan had made the surface one the club could be proud of. Both Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison were keen to use Stan’s expertise to develop the pitch further, and thereby increase City’s chance of success. Working with Allison, Stan made the pitch the biggest – and many would say the best – in the League.
Both Mercer and Allison recognised his contribution to City’s success. It’s a little known fact that Stan was trusted with the job of looking after the FA Cup following City’s homecoming in 1969. He chose to put the prized possession in the safest place he could think of, and the trophy spent its first night in Manchester locked in his toilet!
Stan loved City – he was even on the club’s books for a while in his youth – and felt the pitch was his own. He could never relax during a match though: “I watch the pitch rather than the game! I shouldn’t really, because I get very upset if I see a divot, especially if it is the opposing side who have churned it up.”
Inevitably, the pop concerts in the 80s and 90s brought him a few headaches, but he welcomed other innovations, such as the undersoil heating implemented in 1979.
Stan was always an important influence and others often sought his views. At one stage Rod Stewart tried to lure him away to tend his own turf, while Ken Bates was desperate for him to join Chelsea. Stan would have none of it: “I know I’m biased, but to me there’s nowhere better than Maine Road, and there’s nothing nicer than someone coming up to me on a Saturday and saying how great the pitch looks. Makes all the toil worthwhile.”
His love for the club and Maine Road was never in doubt, and was perfectly summed up in 1994: “City is my life. That pitch out there is my baby. I can’t keep away from it, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
He leaves his Australian-based son Stuart and his daughter Janice – another popular face around Maine Road.
Stan passed away on Christmas Eve 2001 and this written by me as an obituary for him at the time. It was first published shortly after his death.
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