The saviour of Man Utd

Date published: Tuesday 20th December 2011 7:22

The Red Devils owe much to Gibson

Ok, quick quiz. Name the year? And, name the person?

Its approaching Christmas and the British Economy is struggling. Many countries across Europe are having domestic problems and cracks are appearing between the friendships of some of Europe’s leading powers. In world football, Uruguay are celebrating victory in a major international tournament. Domestically, United are in huge debt, there is seemingly only one man who can make United the force they ought to be, City have the upper hand of the Manchester clubs and United are looking to a policy of nurturing precocious young talent in the hope of bringing unbridled success to Old Trafford.

Of course, you could be forgiven for thinking I am talking about the United of today. After all, the British economy is in disarray, you cant open a newspaper without reading about the latest European country to be in crisis and, in World football, Uruguay are celebrating having lifted the Copa America title. City seemingly have the upper hand of the two Manchester clubs and United are looking to nurture their latest crop of precocious young talents in an attempt to add to their 19 titles. And, we all know by now that United are crippled by debt.

Must be 2011. The ‘United’ saviour must be Sir Alex Ferguson. Right? Wrong. They year is 1931 and the saviour United are looking to is James W Gibson. United’s first, and perhaps most important saviour.

Ask any United fan who is the single most important person involved in United’s History and you’ll be lucky to find an answer which isn’t either Sir Alex Ferguson or Sir Matt Busby. But, in December 1931, United were on the brink. It all looked lost and the great club we see today was almost out of business. This was proper ‘squeaky bum time’.

But, in what today would be considered true United style, everything changed in an instant. From the jaws of what would have been the most final defeat, one man stepped in, saved the club and laid the foundations for every single victory, every single title, every single last minute winner and every thing Manchester United have achieved since Sir Alex Ferguson was born. Every United fan needs to know the story of James W Gibson. His story is the story of Manchester United.

On December 19th 1931, United club secretary Walter Crickmer went to the house of respected Manchester businessman James W Gibson. An hour or so later, Crickmer left with around £2000 to pay the players and buy time from the debtors and, most importantly, a pledge to act as guarantor for the club’s debts.

And there it began. James W Gibson contributed his time, his energy, his finances and the remainder of his life to setting Manchester United on the path to greatness. From that day forward, everything which Sir Alex Ferguson would describe as the ‘fabric’ of the club was introduced.

Gibson went on to be elected chairman and President of United who continued to improve as a result of the stability and security offered by Gibson’s support. Then, in 1935/36 United completed a 19 match unbeaten run to win promotion back to Division One. Despite a much improved Manchester United, the club remained heavily in debt and heavily indebted to Gibson. Gibson continued to act as guarantor and continued to selflessly prop up the club in the face of much adversity.


It was this financial adversity and the irrepressible support and determination of Gibson which led to the focus on improving Manchester United to shift towards producing and nurturing the best young talent – a unique characteristic which has since been synonymous with United’s success. The Manchester United Junior Athletic Club was formed and arrangements were made for the team to train at what would later be referred to as The Cliff. The junior side won their amateur league in 1939 scoring over 200 goals and the first team continued to flourish, finishing in their highest league position for ten years.

Of course, 1939 brought about the Second World War and the country’s attention turned to the war effort. Regional league’s were set up and United had moderate success in the Football League North Cup – runners up in 1945 and winning the trophy in 1942. Devastatingly, Old Trafford was bombed in 1941 yet Gibson refused to give up, refused to stop fighting and in a time of turmoil and tragedy, Gibson showed the spirit, bravery and determination which has been intrinsic to Manchester United ever since. After the war, 1945 and 1948 proved to be a landmark years for United.

1945 saw the appointment of one of the other United ‘saviours’ – Sir Matt Busby. Busby was offered the manager’s job at United and again, Gibson proved to be revolutionary in his approach to running the club. Busby was insistent on having total control over training, tactics, match day teams, transfers, everything.

Sound familiar? Following on from the implementation of a successful youth system, the changes to the match day experience for fans and the improvements in making matches at Old Trafford more accessible to the masses, Gibson recognised that giving Busby an unprecedented level of control over not just the team, but the club, was a groundbreaking move which needed to be made. Busby was offered a five year deal and we know what happened next.

1948 saw rebuilding works take place at Old Trafford and, just as importantly, after being League runners up for two years running, United won their first major honours under the control of their saviour, James W Gibson. United played Blackpool in the FA Cup Final at Wembley and won 4-2.

Gibson sadly died in 1951 when fittingly, United went on to win the title. Twenty years of his life had been given to Manchester United and, like I said above, every victory, every last minute winner, every goal, pass and tackle, every celebration and every single title can be traced back to and is owed to 1 man. James W Gibson – United’s first and most important saviour.

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