Left Captains Roberts and Wedlock at the coin toss before the 1909 FA Cup final at the Crystal Palace. Middle Tense moments for the Bristol City defence ~s United put pressure on their goal. Right Another chance goes begging in front of the Bristol goal as Jimmy Turnbull slips.
Although United was registered as a limited company, and had been since 1907, the FA condemned the club as a private monopoly of John Davies that seldom published accounts and was extravagantly managed. An investigation was organised, possibly in a fit of pique after they discovered that United had had a replica of the FA Cup made and presented it to Mr Davies. Reporting in 1910, the FA Committee recommended that United be" ...properly constituted and managed in accordance with the requirements of the Football Association". They also recommended that United issue shares to the general public and make arrangements for much tighter accounting procedures.
During the 1909 close season, United's players become involved in the battle for players' rights. The Players' Union had been set up in 1898, but by 1908 it was a spent force. However, under the influence of Billy Meredith and Charlie Roberts, it found a new lease of life. This provoked a strong reaction from the Football League who, after the union affiliated itself to the Federation of Trades Unions, tried to destroy it. Players were ordered to resign from the union or be suspended by the FA, but United's players stood by the union. On I July they were suspended, which shocked the football world.
The FA Cup-winning players were banned from Bank Street and forced to train at the Manchester Athletic Club ground in Fallowfield. It was here that the famous "Outcasts" photograph was taken, gaining the players more publicity and support. It was a desperate time for them. Locked out of Bank Street, they were unable to claim their summer wages. Annoyed at their treatment, Sandy Turnbull and a few other players marched into the Bank Street ground and removed some items that were soon to be found on sale in a local pub. Charlie Roberts had them swiftly returned to the club.
Roberts was a prime target for the football authorities. By enticing his resignation from the union, the FA hoped that he would bring the other players with him. Roberts, however, was made of sterner stuff. He, and the other United players, could have resigned from the Players' Union in July and rejoined in September, once the football "season had started. But for Roberts a principle was at stake and despite being due a substantial benefit that season, he and the rest of the players stood firm.
Roberts, the United captain, said they had no grievance with the club, but rather than give way the players were prepared to suffer almost any hardship. ...they were fighting for what they believed was a just principle, and therefore they intended to retain membership of the Players' Union. Manchester Evening News, 28 August 1909
United tried to postpone their first league match of the season - all 27 of their players were suspended. Eventually a truce was called and the league programme started, but despite a full settlement being agreed in October 1909, the FA found it difficult to stop United's players from openly supporting the union.
Left All eyes are on the ball as United swing over another corner, Right Harold Halse, peering from behind a Bristol defender, sees Sandy Turnbull's shot open the scoring.
Never consistent enough to mount a challenge for the title, United finished in fifth place. The real story of the season was United's move away from the noxious fumes and poor playing surface at Bank Street to a brand new, spacious and costly stadium on the other side of Manchester. It is now one of the most famous stadiums in football- Old Trafford.
United started the 1910-11 season in phenomenal form, winning seven of their first eight matches and going top of the First Division table. New signing, Enoch "Knocker" West, who had joined from Nottingham Forest, formed a deadly goalscoring partnership with Sandy Turnbull. West finished top scorer with 19 goals in his 35 appearances. United were in great form, especially at home, with 14 wins and only one defeat. In the FA Cup, they went out to West Ham in the third round, but in the league they battled with Aston Villa for top spot throughout the season. With two matches remaining, United held a single point advantage; but their next match was away to Villa, and they had suffered a record 1-7 defeat at Villa Park the season before. Villa were too strong for United. Despite two goals from Harold Halse, they returned to Manchester a defeated sidehaving conceded four goals. They were one point adrift of the new league leaders. Everything depended on the final match of the season. Third-placed Sunderland were United's opponents at Old Trafford, while Villa travelled to Anfield to face Liverpool.
United had to hope that their old adversaries would defeat the Villa Park men. If they drew, United needed to win by three clear goals to take the title on goal average. At Old Trafford, Sunderland stung United by going into the lead on 22 minutes, but they hit back quickly and powerfully. Goals tom Turnbull, West and Halse gave United a 3-1 interval lead as news came through that Liverpool were 2-0 up. At full time, United were 5-1 victors and there followed a tense wait for news from Anfield to filter through.
As Charlie Roberts remembered:
At the end of the game our supporters rushed across the ground in front of the stand to wait for the final news from Liverpool. Suddenly a tremendous cheer rent the air, and was renewed again and again, and we then knew we were the champions once again. The Saturday Post, 3 July 1916
Manchester United's 1910-11 League Championship winning team line up at their new Old Trafford stadium, ready for the 1911-12 season.
The Charity Shield did not attract a big crowd but at Stamford Bridge, United and Southern League champions Swindon Town served up a 12-goal thriller. Harold Halse was the man of the match, hitting a hat-trick in each half as United won 8-4. The half-time score was 4-3 to United before Swindon collapsed in the second half.
The following season, 1911-12, United barely got into gear, finishing well down the table in 13th place. After 1 January they won just four matches, all at home. There were terrible problems with injuries and illness all season, and it took two wins in the last three matches to drag the club to safety. For long-serving secretary-manager Ernest Mangnall, this was his last season in charge of the club. In August 1912 it was announced to a shocked Manchester public that he would be leaving to join Manchester City. His replacement was the president of the Football League, L.L. Bentley.
At the end of the season, another bombshell hit the club -Charlie Roberts was leaving Old Trafford. His move, to up-and-coming Oldham Athletic, caused uproar among the United fans who were amazed that United could even contemplate selling their long- serving captain; but sell him they did, and for a substantial fee of £1,500.
United became one of the also-rans in the First Division. Never strong enough to mount a challenge for the title, they finished 1913-14 in 14th place although they did retain the Lancashire Cup. In 1914-15 -the last season before the hostilities forced the abandonment of national football competitions -they finished in 18th position, a solitary point above relegated Chelsea. In both
seasons, they were ignominiously knocked out of the FA Cup in the first round.
Supporters, increasingly affected by wartime regulations, stayed away. In 191~15, average attendance more than halved to 11,684 as United managed to win just nine games, all bar one at Old Trafford, and contrived to lose a massive 17 matches. Charlie Roberts, meanwhile, was captaining Oldham to the runners-up position, their highest-ever placing.
As a result of the escalating hostilities, the players realised that organised league football was coming to an end and they saw this as a last chance to make some money before the war ruined their careers or even cost them their lives.
For the duration of the war, United played in the Lancashire section of the regionally organised league. With 17 of the playing staff having joined up by 1915, the club fielded makeshift teams comprising young prospects and local amateurs. Attendance plummeted and the club, in financial chaos, defaulted on bills, notably those for OldTrafford.
For the players, many found that their careers were cut short by the war and were too old to resume their playing careers when peace eventually broke out in 1918. Others, including Sandy Turnbull, the disgraced goalscorer in United's 1909 FA Cup victory, were killed in action.