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
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
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
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.