When workers of the carriage and wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company formed a football club in Newton Heath in 1878 little could they know they were in fact the founder fathers of what was to become the most famous and richest club in the world. They called their team Newton Heath LYR and played on an unenclosed area of wasteland in North Road. Clad in yellow and green halves, the corporate colours of their employer, they were known as the ‘The Railwaymen’. There’s a mention of ‘Newtonians’ in the Manchester Guardian in 1882 and ‘The Heathens in 1887 before ‘The Heathians’ became an established nickname.
The yellow and green halves interestingly reappeared briefly in the 1990s amongst United’s plethora of away kits. Early matches were played against other departments of the LYR or other railway company teams. The club was elected into League Division One for the 1892/93 season and this feat coincided with a name change to plain Newton Heath.
A move to another home venue was made for the 1893/94 season to Bank Street, Clayton. With attendances often very poor and the club languishing in the Second Division Newton Heath found themselves on the very edge of bankruptcy during the 1901/02 season. John Davies, a local wealthy brewer, took control and this new benefactor provided money for the club to buy suitable players.
There was an immediate and dramatic change in the club’s fortunes under his chairmanship, together with a new image. Neighbouring Ardwick had changed their name to Manchester City and Davies argued that Newton Heath, too, should give the impression of a big-city club. After the names Manchester Central and Manchester Celtic were rejected the title Manchester United was formally adopted in April 1902. Not only the name changed, but so did the colours. White shirts with black shorts were tried briefly, followed by red shirts. There was quite a long period of all white with a large red V. Soon the famous red shirts re-entered Manchester United’s folklore, inspiring the nickname the ‘Reds’, which would eventually become ‘The Red Devils’. Legend has it that the French press were so impressed by all-red Salford Rugby Club’s performance on tour in France in 1934 they branded them ‘Les Diables Rouges’, only to be adopted by the United faithful by the 1950’s.
The words Old Trafford came to the Manchester United scene for the first time amid the 1909/10 season. Chairman John Davies bought the premises for £60,000, and the club moved lock, stock and barrel from their old home of Bank Street. United’s first match at Old Trafford was on 19 February 1910. Its future and the club’s looked bleak after the ground was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War. However, the ground was rebuilt and so was the team by their new manager Matt Busby. He gave debuts to cool and confident young stars, provoking the illustrious nickname ‘Busby Babes’. In the mid 1950’s the average age of Busby’s team was just 22. In 1958 Manchester United were bereft of the majority of their young stars in the Munich air crash.
Red shirts with white shorts have remained the club’s colours since the early part of the Twentieth century, and in the main they have been allied with black socks – the tricolour effect of red, white and black being distinctively that of Manchester United. The early white shirts with a red V worn in the 1909 Cup Final were decorated with the red rose of Lancashire. But for much of their history the full coat of arms of the city of Manchester adorned the shirts for special occasions. The bendlets (diagonal stripes) in the shield are from the arms of the family of Grelley, feudal lords of Manchester. The ship in the chief alludes to the Ship Canal. Although the canal was not opened until 1894 it was projected much earlier, and designs for it were prepared in 1840, two years before these arms were granted. The supporting lion is a royal icon and the antelope, a Beaufort emblem, represents the Duchy of Lancaster, to which the roses on the supporters likewise allude. The crest, a representation of a globe with busy bees signifies worldwide industry.
The motto Concilio et Labore means ‘By counsel and by labour’. A stylised version of the city’s shield developed in the Sixties, a squared-off shield of red with three gold bends (diagonal stripes) with a white chief with a sailing ship for the Canal. Around the badge were two red scrolls inscribed with the club name. As corporate concerns took hold the club adapted the badge to maintain the shape and scrolls of the old badge, but replaced the bends with the club logo, a red devil on a gold background. A fiercely copyrighted image! Now if we were to write a book about the history of away strips!