Billy Meredith’s Last Game: 1924 FA Cup Semi

On this day (29th March) in 1924 Manchester City faced Newcastle United in the FA Cup semi-final. Not only that but the game was to be the last competitive game played by City’s legendary winger Billy Meredith. Meredith’s Manchester career began in 1894 when he joined City.

Here for subscribers is the story of that game, plus a contemporary match report and links to a film of Meredith’s last game. Enjoy!

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A National Crowd Record Set in 1924

Manchester City had moved to their new Maine Road stadium in August 1923. The capacity of the venue was estimated at around 90,000 but was actually around about 83,000 when the stadium opened (it was enlarged in 1931 and 1935). The move had been anticipated for almost 25 years as the club’s old 40,000 capacity ground at Hyde Road was always viewed as being too small and cramped.

In the new stadium’s first season a decent FA Cup run allowed Maine Road to prove its value as the Blues sought to reach Wembley for the first time (Wembley had been built by the same people as Maine Road, but the London stadium had been criticised extensively at this time for poor crowd management and other issues).

The quarter-final tie was to be played at home to First Division high flyers Cardiff City.  The prospect of the match excited everyone.  Cardiff “The Pride Of Wales” against Billy Meredith “The Footballing Prince Of Wales” was how one journalist described it – Meredith was 49 and had returned to City’s first team (meaning he was the only man to play home games at Hyde Road, Bank Street, Old Trafford and Maine Road).

The prospect of Meredith taking City to Wembley excited Manchester, while thousands of Welsh supporters were also eager to see the game. This was a game that was expected to test the capacity of the new venue – the Cardiff fans paid rail fare of 21s 2d day return.  Some had travelled through the night, with a long wait at Shrewsbury, while others had stayed at Manchester’s best hotels.  According to one report a few Cardiff supporters had booked rooms at the Midland, the Queen’s, and at least fifty rooms at the Grand Hotel.

Many of these Welsh fans arrived at Maine Road and started queuing a full five hours before kick-off.  By 12.30 the club decided to open the turnstiles thirty minutes earlier than normal to avoid crowd control problems later.  There were also around 150 policemen in the ground, persuading supporters to move from the most congested areas of the popular side (later known as the Kippax).  

One report concentrated on the size of the crowd and the prospect of whether capacity would be reached.  It stated that early indications suggested that the crowd would be huge, but that Maine Road would not be full.  It’s reporter also witnessed an activity that many people say occurred at many grounds, but few can prove:  “Room was made for the foolish late-comers, and in a little while the congestion was so great that boys were extricated from the mass and rolled over the heads of the spectators in order that they might find sanctuary inside the concrete wall.”

The official attendance was in fact 76,166, with receipts of £4,909, proving the value of City’s new stadium.  This was an English national record for any game on a club ground (and for any game played outside of Glasgow and London) and was beaten in 1934 when City once again enjoyed a record breaking crowd at Maine Road. This means that City have held this record since 1924!

The game ended goalless – despite City’s superstitious wearing of scarlet (yes – scarlet!) as at Brighton in an earlier round – with Meredith unable to keep up with the speed of the game at times.  Even so, he was still one of the better players on the pitch and his tactical awareness was much needed.

City won the replay but were defeated in the semi final. Two years later they did however become the first of the Manchester sides to play at Wembley Stadium.

You can read about the attendance that brought this record (again by City at Maine Road) here:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/?p=2029

Other record crowd articles can be seen here:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/?s=record+crowd

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Manchester City V Brighton – The Story And Film Of The First Ever Meeting

Tomorrow (13th January 2021) Manchester City and Brighton meet in the Premier League. So far there have only been 24 games between the two clubs with the first coming in 1924. This game was a newsworthy FA Cup tie due to the return of a legend to the City team. In fact it was so newsworthy that a movie company sent their camera (you’ll see from the footage it never moved!) to Brighton’s Goldstone Ground to capture the return of a true Blue hero.

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