The Birth of the Blues

On this day (13 November) in 1880 the first reported game played by St. Mark’s Church side took place in Gorton and ended in a 2-1 defeat by the Baptist Church from Macclesfield.  Both sides fielded 12 players. Please note this is the first reported game and at no time is it described as the first game. There may have been earlier matches. There are lots of myths about the birth of St Mark’s (many of which will be spread today no doubt!), the club that went through various changes that led to the creation of Manchester City in 1894. I would urge everyone to read the facts, rather than the fiction, and take a look at this:

The Pride of Manchester?

As we build up to the Manchester derby this weekend the usual questions of who represents Manchester best crops up, as does the ‘you’re not from Manchester’ argument. People also talk about Manchester history and so on, so I thought I’d write a few thoughts here to hopefully help anyone with their Manchester geography, history etc. Some fans will love this; some may hate it, but either way it’s all factual. Here goes….

On the question of history: The earliest recorded game for Manchester United (as Newton Heath) is in November 1880 (against Bolton Wanderer’s 2nd team) while the earliest recorded game for Manchester City (as St Mark’s West Gorton) was one week earlier than United’s game. Much is made of the 1878 formation date but that’s a bit of a red herring. There is no evidence of football participation by the Heathens until November 1880. From 1878 Newton Heath did play cricket and perform athletics. Similarly, St Mark’s are known to have played cricket from the 1860s but this does not mean the club should trace its history of football activity to 1867 (or any other date prior to 1880). I go into a lot more detail on all of this in The Emergence of Footballing Cultures: Manchester 1840-1919 but subscribers can also read the evidence & more via the following link:

Of course City was the first of the two clubs to take on the Manchester name, doing so in 1894. That year Newton Heath also tried to reform as Manchester but were prevented from doing so as there was already a Manchester FC in existence (the rugby club). Again you can read the evidence and facts in the Emergence of Footballing Cultures:

Also on the question of history… Manchester City were the first to find national success when they won the Second Division title in 1899 (also becoming the first Manchester side to earn promotion). City were also the first Manchester team to win a major trophy when they won the FA Cup in 1904. United were the first team to win the League with their first national success coming in 1908. United were the first to win a European trophy, winning the European Cup at Wembley in 1968, while City’s first European trophy (the European Cup Winners’ Cup) came in 1970 at Vienna. Both successes of course predate the first UEFA-tournament successes of Liverpool, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea, Juventus and so many other perceived European giants (note: The Fairs Cup was not a UEFA tournament).

On representing the city of Manchester the point is often made, usually by City fans, that United ‘don’t come from Manchester’, so here’s a bit about geography: It is true that Old Trafford is not in the city of Manchester and that it’s in the borough of Trafford (not Salford as some say). United have been based there since 1910. Of course Trafford is within Greater Manchester, just as Bolton, Wigan, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside and the city of Salford are. Prior to 1910 United played in Clayton and Newton Heath. At the time of their formation Newton Heath was not a part of Manchester. It was added to the city in 1890.

Similarly, West Gorton, where Manchester City was first founded as St Mark’s (West Gorton) was not part of the city of Manchester until 1890. Neither club was based in the city of Manchester at time of formation. City’s roots included various moves and name changes, with them settling in Ardwick in 1887. Ardwick had been incorporated into Manchester in 1838, meaning that from 1887 the Blues were based within the city of Manchester. The club moved to Maine Road in 1923 and their current home in 2003, both of which were within the city of Manchester by the time of the club’s move. Whichever way you look at it City have been based in the city of Manchester since 1887 while Newton Heath/United were based in the city of Manchester from 1890 to 1910. So for those who would like the maths that’s 135 years v 20 years.

In terms of first blood in the Manchester derby… Newton Heath beat Ardwick in the first derby in a first team competition that still counts today. That was the FA Cup in 1890-91 and you can read about that here:

Ultimately, all of these are merely bragging rights for particular views but I thought I’d post the facts because, all too often the facts get misreported and myths profligate.

Video Talk on History of Football in Manchester

I didn’t realise this was available but here’s film of a talk plus Q&A I did about the early history of football in Manchester. It’s of interest to anyone keen on the origins of football or any of the Manchester clubs… Indeed the social history of Manchester. It lasts about 55 minutes and was part of the promotional work connected with my book ‘The Emergence of Footballing Cultures: Manchester 1840-1919’, published by Manchester University Press.

Here’s the recording:

If you are interested in the book then that can be bought direct from Manchester University Press or via usual retailers, such as Amazon:

You can find a list of my other books here:

The Origins of Manchester City: Facts Not Fiction

Manchester City’s birth as City in April 1894 was a major landmark moment and is rightly celebrated today on the club’s badge. But, this came after over 14 years of development as a community club representing districts in east Manchester. For this subscriber piece I’ve decided to focus on the earliest years of the club that became City, focusing on the period before 1884. I explain some of the myths that have developed and highlight the facts.

The Origins

Manchester City’s birth as City in April 1894 was a major landmark moment and is rightly celebrated today on the club’s badge. But, this came after over 14 years of development as a community club representing districts in east Manchester. For this website piece today I’ve decided to focus on the earliest years of the club that became City, focusing on the period before 1884.

In the beginning

St Mark’s Church opened in West Gorton – a separate township to Gorton and outside the city’s boundaries at the time – in 1865. In the years that followed the rector Arthur Connell (pictured above) and his wife Anna worked tirelessly for the parish and as his family grew (he had a son and two daughters) they became involved in parish activities, especially his daughter Georgina. She established a number of initiatives while her siblings pursued careers elsewhere. Big sister Anna worked as a Governess, near Preston, returning by 1879 when she established a Working Men’s Club at St Mark’s.

Over the years many myths have developed and so it is important to spell out the facts as we know them based on the latest research. One of the myths is that Anna Connell established the football club. There is no evidence whatsoever that she actually did this. Prior to 1983 no publication ever credited the club’s formation to Anna and no contemporary reports mention her in connection with the football club at all. The story of how her name became linked is a long complicated one which I’ve spelt out in several publications, including Manchester: A Football History (2nd edition, 2010), Manchester The City Years (2012). My Manchester City Folklore book provides the latest research. Paul Toovey, author of several City books, has also analysed this period in great detail.

What is known

Within a couple of years of St Mark’s Church opening a cricket club was established. This played in the late 1860s and by the late 1870s had grown, comprising of at least two teams. Church Warden William Beastow was involved with the cricket team, as were his sons, and at some point in either 1879 or 1880 the younger men and boys decided to add other sporting activities. They established a rugby team and an association football team with both their earliest known games occurring in November 1880. Both the rugby and cricket teams eventually faded but the football team developed and grew. Beastow retained involvement with the sports clubs. 

By 1883 the football club dropped references to the church from its name and later that year it merged with another team called Belle Vue Rangers.

The Founders?

The desire to find names attached to the formation of any club is often fruitless. Historians search for firsts, founders and the like but the truth is that the birth of any organisation is rarely the idea of one person. With St Mark’s people have incorrectly linked the formation of the Working Men’s Club by Anna Connell with the founding of the St Mark’s Cricket Club and ultimately the formation of the football club by cricketers was seen by some as having a direct link to Anna (I fell for this myself for a while!). However, the cricket club predates the Working Men’s Club and, if match reports are anything to go by, it came to prominence at a time in the late 1860s/1870s when Anna was living near Preston. 

There’s no doubt that the community ethos espoused by the Rev Arthur Connell and some members of his family contributed to the well-being of St Mark’s parishioners and may have inspired some to establish clubs and activities, but none of the Connell family could be said to be founders of the football club. That was the boys and young men who played cricket.

One of the boys, Walter Chew, became a major figure in both our club’s history and in Manchester football. In later year he spoke on the BBC and to newspapers on several occasions of the birth of the club. To him it was perfectly clear who founded it and that was his older brother William and some of his friends. One of the older boys, William Sumner, is believed to have been the club’s first captain and his arrival in West Gorton around 1879 coincides with St. Mark’s move into both forms of football. He was an engineering student lodging in Gorton and was also a member of the St. Mark’s cricket club, though Walter did not name Sumner in his interviews.

Walter Chew did play his part in City’s formative seasons though. As well as appearing in some games (many of William’s appearances have previously been credited to Walter but both men did appear for the club in the early 1880s) he was the founder, alongside his cousin, of Belle Vue Rangers. He contributed to the purchase of the club’s first ball and in 1883 he was with the Rangers when they merged with West Gorton. 

There’s much more to be said and written about these formative years but after the merger between West Gorton and Belle Vue Rangers many of the players from the merged club established Gorton AFC in 1884 and, wearing their newly adopted black shirts with white cross pattee, they posed for their first team photo – the earliest known image of our club.

So, here we are around 140 years later. A club created by the boys and young men who played cricket within a supportive community environment encouraged by the church of St Mark’s.  The formation of the club was never about an individual, it was about building a team and community spirit. 

Manchester A Football History part 5

This is the fourth chapter of the 2010 edition of the book Manchester A Football History (Gary James, published by James Ward). Subscribers get full access to this; every earlier chapter; every upcoming chapter; and all other material on for as long as they subscribe.

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