8 years as United’s captain from 1905 to 1913
From formation of the new United team to League Champions 1907- 08
On 30 September 1903 United announced that they had appointed the Burnley secretary James Ernest Mangnall as the new secretary of Manchester United. Joining United on the recommendation of J.J. Bentley, president of the Football League and a Manchester United director, Mangnall became the first Manchester United secretary to wield managerial powers.
Mangnall took over total responsibility for team affairs, including scouting, signing and training the players. His aim was to make United a powerful member of the top division and he used Davies's wealth to that end. He scoured the country, signing, among others, goalkeeper Harry Moger from Southern League Southampton and Charlie Roberts from Grimsby Town, but he discovered Dick Duckworth on his doorstep, playing for Newton Heath Athletic. Despite all this activity, Mangnall found promotion
just as difficult as his predecessor had done. In his first season, United were challenging for the runners-up spot until the spring. They eventually finished in third place, a solitary point behind Woolwich Arsenal, the runners-up to champions Preston. North End.
At the end of the season, Bank Street hosted an international match for the first time. On 4 April 1904, a Football League XI defeated the Scottish League 2-1, attracting some 40,000 spectators to the rain-soaked ground. However, the use of Bank Street for such matches was a side-show to the main event -the attempt to gain promotion.
Confidence was high during the 1904 close season. The signing of Charlie Roberts from Grimsby on 22 April for a fee of £600 had strengthened United's defence and a strong challenge for promotion was expected. Roberts slotted into a half-back line that would soon be famous across the country. Dick Duckworth, Charlie Roberts and Alec Bell formed one of the most secure defensive lines in the Football League, ably supported by their full-backs Robert Bonthron and Vince Hayes. United began to gain a reputation for solid defending and for being difficult to beat.
In fact, they remained unbeaten from 24 September 1904 until 21 January 1905. Despite this, they still failed in their bid to return to the First Division. A second consecutive third place was their prize at the end of season. They finished three points behind runners-up Bolton Wanderers, having won five more points than they had the previous season.
Pressure was beginning to mount on Ernest Mangnall. He had spent considerable sums of Davies's money yet the club was still stuck in the Second Division. It seemed as though it would be third time lucky at the start of the 1905-06 season. Bristol City was an early visitor to Bank Street and some 15,000 spectators saw United demolish the West Country side 5-1. This was Charlie Roberts's first league match as captain of the team, a position he held until 1913.
United had a fantastic season and, ironically, only the outstanding play of Bristol City deprived them of the Second Division championship. A 1-1 draw with third-placed Chelsea before a 60,000 Easter crowd virtually assured United of second place, although it took a victory over Leeds City with three matches remaining to confirm their promotion. Bristol City and United were head and shoulders above the other teams in the division,
United finishing a massive nine points ahead of Chelsea. A 6-0 home victory over a totally outclassed Burton United team finished off the season. There were, as the newspapers of the day described it, "remarkable scenes" at Clayton with fireworks and flowers before re match:
During the interval there was another battle of flowers, scores of buttonholes being thrown from the box of the president to the onlookers below. More fireworks were discharged, and a gang of whole-hearted supporters known as the "Rocca Brigade" caused much amusement with their coloured hats and umbrellas.
At the end of the match the ecstatic crowd invaded the pitch and carried each United player shoulder high from the ground.
Now the challenge was to make an impact in the top division. The omens looked good. In the 1906 FA Cup, United had reached the quarter-finals for the first time since 1897 defeating Staple Hill and Norwich City before an amazing 5-1 victory over the Cup holders, Aston Villa, in front of a crowd of 35,000 at Bank Street. According to one local newspaper article:
They smote the proud Cup holders hip and thigh, and made themselves -in one afternoon -the most famous team in England. Even their supporters, who knew very well that in spite of artificial league classification, United were the equals of any side -were surprised by the greatness they showed. They outplayed the crack Birmingham men in all the art and subtlety of attack as well as in dash and endurance.
A 2-3 home defeat by Woolwich Arsenal ended United's best Cup run yet. )
Across at Hyde Road, Manchester City was a club in turmoil. Still under investigation by the Football Association over illegal payments to players (at a time of restricted wages) and further player transfer irregularities, in August 1905 their star player, Billy Meredith, was suspended for alleged match-fixing. He was transfer- listed in May }906. Soon afterwards, the FA imposed bans on the directors and the club secretary, while many of the first team were suspended from playing until 1 January 1907. Clubs from all over the country were delighted and were soon eyeing up the City players as potential recruits to their sides once their suspensions had lapsed. The club organised an auction at the Queen's Hotel and the secretaries of other Football League and Southern League clubs arrived to bid for the City stars -players who only two years before had won the FA Cup.
They were too late. Ernest Mangnall had got there first, quickly negotiating a free transfer for Billy Meredith and soon after that acquiring Sandy Turnbull, Herbert Burgess and Jimmy Bannister. The other clubs were furious that Mangnall had arranged this without their knowledge.
United brought all their new players into action the moment their suspensions expired. On New Year's Day 1907, all four of the former City stars made their debuts in a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Bank Street in front of 40,000 spectators. For Sandy Turnbull it was an especially good feeling to be playing again -it was his goal, from a Meredith cross, that won the match. United, renowned for a strong defence, now had a first-rate attacking line and they stormed up the table to finish in eighth place.
After one season in the top division, United were ready for a championship challenge. Three straight wins at the start of 1907-08 showed United's intent and, after a defeat against Middlesborough, the United bandwagon rolled on with ten more consecutive wins and an impressive 37 goals.
The team was in irresistible championship-winning form, playing an attractive, controlled passing game. Occasional defeats were brushed aside as they dominated the league campaign. Winning 23 of their 38 league matches, United finished the season with 52 points, nine points ahead of runners-up Aston Villa. Sandy Turnbull had been in fantastic form, especially in the first half of the season. His 25 goals in 30 appearances were a club record, and was one that stood until Jack Rowley hit 26 goals in 1946-47. Manchester United were First Division champions just six years after the liquidation of Newton Heath; for John Davies, the taste of success must have been especially sweet.