February 1910: the opening of Old Trafford

The opening of Manchester United’s new ground was one of the big footballing stories of not just February 1910, but the whole of 1910.

In the novel “Making the Arsenal” Jacko Jones is sent to Manchester with his photographer Edward Buckingham, to cover the first game there.  Jacko has already started to ask questions about the work of Archie Leitch, the architect, who was responsible for the new ground.

Here’s the extract from Making the Arsenal for Saturday 19th February.  If you are interested in reading the whole book there’s details here.


Having spent a journey with Edward who proclaimed in a loud voice that he had never travelled third class before, and then spent the night in one of the dirtiest “hotels” (I use the word in its widest sense) in the Kingdom I did my job by covering the social side of the first match at Manchester United’s new ground, Old Trafford, where the home side dutifully lost by 3 goals to 4 against Liverpool.

Edward took pictures of the impressive new ground, before, during and after, and I explained to him why this was a perfect example of a fixed match – the Manchester team couldn’t put two passes together.

The hacks handout says the ground cost £60,000.   It has a capacity of 80,000 and looked just about full to me, so I guess they will be making quite a packet on each game.   And would you believe it, it was designed by none other than Archibald Leitch: the man who worked on the stand at Woolwich, who designed the crumbling ground at Chelsea – about which I wanted to write something anyway – and who worked for Norris at Fulham.

And would you believe it (again) Mr Leitch himself was there and I got an interview and Edward another picture.

First surprise, the chap is Scotch, although I suppose with the name “Archie” I ought to have guessed.    His first big job was Ibrox Park for Glasgow Rangers in 1899.  I wrote down a lot of stuff about balustrades and pediments which I didn’t understand, but trusted that we would have someone in the office who could decipher it, and maybe use as a separate piece.  It was only after I had finished the interview that Alfie Jardine from Athletic News (yet another man who said he was enjoying my new approach to football)  tapped me on the shoulder and told me that in 1902 one of the terraces at Ibrox fell down and over 20 people died.  Given that, I am amazed that anyone would ever use Leitch again – and that throws the crumbling terrace at Chelsea into a new light.

Anyway, Alfie turned out to be a source of all knowledge about Manchester, especially in return for a few drinks.  I wrote it all up, and as a bit of a joke called the ground “the most handsomest, the most spacious and the most remarkable arena I have ever seen. As a football ground it is unrivalled in the world, it is an honour to Manchester and the home of a team who can do wonders when they are so disposed.”

I thought that was quite funny, although I expect it will get cut, so I then did a piece on how ugly most footballers are.  “Put them out on the streets,” I said, “and they would look like huge louts.  The police would be on their tail, and they would not have to look at the footballers’ hats for their ears and flat heads would give them away.   That is why gentlemen do not play football.  It is not that they cannot – because there is nothing in the class system that says that a gent ain’t got the muscle power to kick a ball.  It is the look. If you look like a gent, you go  into the arts and write books that no one can understand about other books that no one has read.  Look like a thug with flappy ears, and you end up playing professional football.  Indeed the situation is so bad that footballers now have to carry identity cards so as to assure the local constabulary that they are not German spies.”

That should teach him to send me to Manchester.

At Edward’s insistence we travelled back second class.  I told him George and I were going on the stage and wanted Edward as part of the act.  Wouldn’t you know it, he’d acted while at school, and said he would love to.



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Arsenal win the league: the start of the new golden era.

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“Making the Arsenal” – the novel.  Available from Amazon.co.uk and from the publishers direct.

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