Manchester United Heroes and Legends – John Henry Davies, The Legend is Born

9 Manchester United team, dubbed the Outcast FC for refusing the FA's shutdown order. Credit: Image: The Guardian

Stafford and Lawton to the Rescue

Harry Stafford - Wikipedia
Rendering of Harry Stafford. Credit: Image: Wikipedia

Welcome to part two of the life of the legendary savior of Manchester United, John Henry Davies. We last left off with George Lawton arriving to the Bank Street grounds to watch his beloved Newton Heath play.

Lawton had arrived at the stadium to the disappointment of the game being canceled. He and Harry Stafford were on their way to see Davies to beg for his help.

A wind-up order against Newton Heath was looming. It was up to Lawton and Stafford to convince Davies to invest in the club. When the two men arrived at Davies’ estate, they were frantic.

The Meeting that Saved Newton Heath

John Henry was immediately taken by their passion and devotion to their club. He knew the two men personally and trusted their advice. He also respected men of character and passion, which clearly Lawton and Stafford both were.

It didn’t take much convincing to rope Davies into a modest initial investment. In February of 1902, Davies had purchased a player for Newton Heath whom they desperately needed.  This was an initial step to endear himself to the board and show the club he was a serious investor.

Was it Too Little Too Late?

Newton Heath club chairman Fred Palmer center back row. Credit: Image: RedCafe

Not a month later, Fred Palmer, the Newton Heath chairman, called a townhall meeting for local supporters and investors. He announced the club were in the modern equivalent of about £300,000 in debt. The banks and creditors were beginning the process of permanently shutting down the club.

Harry Stafford was in attendance and asked what it would take to keep the club running. Palmer explained that it would take about the modern equivalent of £175,000 to paydown debts and payroll. This was about £1000 at the time.

Little did Palmer know that Stafford had an ace up his sleeve. Our original Captain Marvel, Stafford announced that he, George Lawton, John Henry Davies and two other local businessmen were prepared to invest £200 each to keep the club’s doors open.

A Parody to Today

Biggest fool in all of Manchester

Initially, the Newton Heath board resisted this investment. Many of the men on the board knowing Davies personally, assumed that this was his first step in attempting to take over the club.

Not many on the board had any emotional attachment to Newton Heath. Sound familiar. But they had all invested significant funds into the club. They were not ready to relinquish their investment to John Henry.

As if they had a choice. Davies, indeed, intended to use his initial investment as a springboard. He wanted to own the club outright. Newton Heath was to be the jewel in the crown of his alcohol empire. It was the perfect place to distribute mass amounts of his beer.

John Henry’s Legacy Begins

It was also the perfect place for him cement his legacy. Stafford and Lawton’s dedication and passion had categorically made him into one of Newton Heath’s biggest fans. Davies saw himself doing great things with Newton Heath.

The board had only one other choice, accept liquidation and bankruptcy. They had to accept the combined investment. After the shutdown order was stayed John Henry immediately tabled a proposal for his takeover of the club.

On April 11, 1902 Davies presented the board with a starting offer of £110, and to pay off Newton Heath’s substantial debt. In return he wanted total control of the club.

The Deal of the Century

The board staunchly refused out of spite, pride, and principle. But Davies immediately returned with a fresh offer of £210. This time the board could not stay their greed, or desire to cut their losses. They did not hesitate and immediately sold to Davies.

John Henry Davies had single handily reached into the primordial quicksand that was rapidly abstracting Newton Heath from history and dragged them to salvation.

Manchester United is Born

Manchester United Logo 1902
Brand new Manchester United badge, circa 1902. Credit: Image: 1000Logos

By May, Davies had changed the team’s name to Manchester United and had begun plans to build a new stadium. Before the season was over John Henry would lead United to their first trophy. They beat Manchester City in the then named Senior Cup.

At the beginning of the 1902/03, in September of 1902, Manchester United first dawned their now famous red and white kits. This was the moment the nickname “The Reds” was born.

Davies was a proud Mancunian, and he had a big dream for Manchester United. He wanted The Reds to become a nationally acclaimed team. He wanted to elevate the club beyond a mildly successful district side to a club all of Europe knew.

‘What is in a Name?’

English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
William Shakespeare, author of the quote ‘”What is in a name?…” Credit: Image: The BBC

This dream even extended to his naming the team Manchester United. He insisted throughout negotiations that Manchester had to be in the new name of the team. He wanted everyone to know where this team came from and that its fans and ownership were proud of those origins.

The full name, Manchester United, apparently came from club Captain Harry Stafford. In early 1901 Stafford was asked to play in a north vs south exhibition match. He was to lead a team of players gathered from local Manchester teams against a team of players massed from southern city teams.

The organizers inquired as to the name of the north’s team and Stafford promptly replied ‘Manchester United’. When Newton Heath was in dire need of rebranding in April of 1902, Stafford again suggested the name Manchester United.

City Beat us to the Punch

File:Ardwick-badge.jpg
Aedwick AFC badge. Credit: Image: Wikipedia

Manchester City was already taken by our crosstown rivals, who only changed their name a few years before from Ardwick A.F.C. Ardwick was experiencing the same financial trouble as Newton Heath. They succumbed to their poor bookkeeping in 1894 and like Newton Heath were forced to rebrand to stay alive.

The name Manchester United stuck. A town hall meeting was again called for fans and investors where Manchester United was proposed as the new club name. Just like that Newton Heath had become a figment of time and Manchester United rose from its ashes like phoenix.

A New Era Begins at Manchester United

The second game of the 1902/03 season was United’s first at home under their new name and kit. Fans were thrilled with the club’s rejuvenation, and it showed in ticket sales.

Attendance at The Bank almost trebled from Newton Heath’s last home game of the previous season. There was jump from just shy of four thousand attendees to almost twelve thousand.

Without television revenue or sponsors at the time, the club’s profit was a direct reflection of ticket sales. John Henry wasn’t shy of this and immediately saw his pocketbook grow even thicker as the team performed better.

Davies Begins His Rebuild

Davies immediately began laying the foundation for a successful business model at United. His philosophy was simple. If the team was playing entertaining football and performing well, then, more fans would come to games. More fans at games equaled more revenue.

The two would feed each other and create a cyclical path to success. Davies was determined to invest as much as necessary into the club to create a team that could play attacking, entertaining football.

Davies was as generous in his investments to the team as he was ruthless with anyone who disrupted his model of sustainability. He was quick to seek the resignation of manager James West when it was rumored that the FA were investigating him for illegal payments for players.

Mangnall the Great

Ernest Mangnall.jpg
Photo of Ernst Mangnall. Credit: Image: Wikipedia

Ernest Mangnall was immediately brought in. Our first real professional football manager.

Other greats like Sir Matt Busby or Sir Alex Ferguson were certainly paramount in history identifying the United philosophy as all action entertaining football. But this moment, at the start of the 1902/03 season was its birth.

John Henry Davies was the godfather of attacking football at Manchester United. And Mangnall was his Michael Corleone

A Renaissance Under Davies and Mangnall

Under the leadership of Mangnall in 1904 and 1905 Manchester United had managed to cement itself as a top four team. Only three seasons earlier, Newton Heather was regularly finishing in the bottom three.

By 1906 Davies, Stafford, Mangnall and several active board members were heavily invested into the success of the team. John Henry’s stewardship of Manchester United had sparked a renaissance. Suddenly all of the best players and front office staff wanted to be apart of the United revolution.

The Mancunian Giants Crumble

To add further jubilation, Manchester City, who had long been the kings of Manchester, were on the ropes. They were facing sanctions from the FA for both match fixing and for breaking the strictly imposed salary cap. The once heralded Mancunian paladins had crumbled.

Seventeen of ‘Shitty’s’ players were banned from playing football. Their manager was banned from coaching for life. The club chairman and many of the board members received suspensions from professional management. And the club was slapped with the largest sanctions and fines ever imposed on a professional sport team at the time.

Manchester City’s catastrophic failure had opened a new door for Davies. One that he did not intend to miss. At the time, United were working their way up the second division. City’s collapse was an opportunity for United to swipe up a number of players from a title winning side.

Their Loss is Our Gain

Photo of Billy Meredith. Credit Image: Wikipedia

Football’s first true super star, Billy Meredith swapped blue for red. United also managed to poach Sandy Turnbull, Jimmy Turnbull, Harold House, Jimmy Banister and Herbert Burgess from City. United now had a star-studded title winning side full of experience and youth.

John Henry Davies was there to swipe aside the remanence of what was Manchester Shitty. He then lifted Manchester United to a new, unprecedented height. Almost overnight, Manchester the city went from hemorrhaging blue to bleeding red.

When the 1906/07 season started United were back in the topflight with a squad of proven winners. All of it was down to Davies’ investment and leadership. He had the vision and ability to execute it. And in less then five years United went from bottom of the second tier to contenders in the first division.

Davies’ Holistic Model

Manchester United F,C, 1908-1909
1908 League One Champions and Community Shield Champions, Manchester United. Credit: Image: The Mirror

In the summer of 1908 Manchester United celebrated their second trophy after winning the league. In true style Davies hosted a grand banquet. Fans, players and board members were all in attendance. This was the first of many such celebrations the Davies family would host.

John Henry believed that all levels of the club, from the fans to the board were all just as important. He also believed that these groups needed to intermingle. He wanted to use such celebratory events as an opportunity to create a melting pot of ideas and opinions.

No person was too small an no idea was too preposterous.

Manchester United Becomes a Global Brand

Newspaper clipping of Manchester United’s return from their European tournament. Credit: Image: Gottfried Fuchs

After winning the league, Manchester United went on European tour in 1908. It was the first time the team would see continental competition. The tour fed further into the identity Davies was trying to create for Manchester United.

He wanted the Red Devils to be a global brand. What better way to introduce them to the world than to pit them against the best that Europe had to offer. The competition ultimately ended under sensational circumstances. But that is another story in itself and one we don’t have time to get into right now.

Davies Brings Home More Silverware

In the 1909 season United were unable to replicate their success from the previous season. They lost the league in spectacular fashion. But they did bring home silverware in the form of the FA Cup, which at the time was a far more prestigious trophy.

They had lifted the cup almost a decade after Manchester City had become the first Mancunian team to do so. We had finally surpassed our crosstown rivals as the dominant team in Manchester.  

This would mark a promotion to the first division, a run to a European final and three trophies in six years for Davies. Already more than in the entirety for the club’s history. John Henry’s investment had seen the team win Britain’s two most prestigious competitions.

Crises in Football

Billy Meredith portrayed as Guy Fawkes by the Manchester Evening Newswhen he created the Association Football Players Union (January 1909)
Political cartoon of Billy Meredith as the leader of the new players union attempting to topple the FA. Credit: Image: Spartacus Educational

Unfortunately, not all was rosy at Manchester United. Many of the United players, as well as a large group of players from other teams had formed a player’s union. Many of the players across the country were unhappy with their current representation and salary within their respective clubs.

The FA’s imposed salary caps were preventing players from earning a livable wage despite the demands on players being that of a full-time job. Players had no representation or due process when thrown under the bus by corrupt owners or managers.

Even worse, debilitating injuries and player deaths on the field were not uncommon. And absolutely no medical help or compensation was given to players or their families under these circumstances. Tommy Blackstock, a United player, had died during football match only a few years earlier in the 1907 season.

John Henry Davies to the Rescue…Again…

Luckily for the United players and all the players represented by the union, the union vice president was none other than John Henry Davies.

The Manchester United players were amongst the founders of the union. They trusted Davies so much that they were able to convince the rest of the union players to put their fate in his hands.

Davies had endeared himself to the players and showed himself to be a true man of the people. However, his self-made origin and union support had only further sullied his already sullied reputation with the FA.

The FA Claps Back

During the early 1900’s the FA was a pretentious and stilted organization of antediluvian elitists. They had been formed under the council of several aristocratic progeny who wanted to standardize the game.

This group of silver-spooners had grown tired of teams employing ungentlemanly tactics and attempts to unionize. They used the formation of the FA as an inroad to gentrify and standardize the sport.

Not for nothing, their efforts gave us the structure and organization of the game as we see them today. But the construct they had created for the game was naturally bigoted and classist.

John Henry Davies, A Man of the People

John Henry Davies John Henry Davies From Tutbury to Manchester United Saviour
Photo of John Henry Davies Credit: Image: Alchetron

John Henry, being a self-made man from humble origins saw this as an affront. Since his takeover as United owner, he had always looked to improve player rights and representation. His view was, if the FA was going to professionalize the sport, then players need livable wages and competent and objective representation.

Thus, Davies took it upon himself, as the only club chairman to join the union leadership, to fight for the livelihoods of his players. This only further venerated Davies to not just United players and fans, but everyone across football…except the FA.

Davies was even pumping money into football illegally by over paying his players under the table as to not incur sanctions from the FA for breaking the salary cap.

You Can’t Bite the Hand that Feeds

In 1909, the FA had filed several inquisitions against Davies, Manchester United and several other union represented teams. They found that players were overwhelmingly in favor of striking if their demands were not met.

They issued an order across all professional British football. Any players, teams, managers or owners choosing to partake in the rising player union would be suspended from football indefinitely.

But the Manchester United players and John Henry Davies had been at the heart of the formation of the union. They were not as eager to back down from the threats of the FA as several other teams, including Manchester City.

United stood firm and attempted to call the FA’s bluff.

The Outcasts F.C.

1909 Manchester United team, dubbed the Outcast FC for refusing the FA’s shutdown order. Credit: Image: The Guardian

The club resumed business as usual. After a photographer snaped pictures of the team training in the face of the FA sanctions the media had dubbed United as The Outcasts FC. Thus, our second most famous nickname was born.

Davies and Co. were not giving up as easily as the FA had anticipated. This demonstration of resilience encouraged other players to rejoin the union. The threat of the union reforming and striking was too much for the FA.

Suddenly the players union had, overnight, become one of the most significant forces in professional football. And John Henry Davies was apart of the founding leadership of that union. Without Davies’ support of the players its very possible that the entire movement would had fallen the way of the FA.

Davies Wasn’t Done Making Miracles

Davies now had the respect of not just his players, but the entire league and he wasn’t done making miracles happen. His vision would lead Manchester United to their new home and into legend.

Next in this story we will dive into the culmination of Davies life; the completion of Old Trafford. We will also look at how Davies bled and carried United until his dying days.

Stay tuned for the concluding part three of the life of John Henry Davies.

Glory, Glory Man United

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About Keagan Priest McNicol 26 Articles
My Name is Keagan. I am a lifelong fan of the Red Devils and the beautiful game. My favorite things in the world are my family and friends, Manchester United, good food, the great outdoors, sarcasm and tennis. Green and gold until the club is sold.

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