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Sunday, January 08, 2006

The James Gibson Years

On May 12th and in the subsequent days of the takeover, some Reds compared the situation and the possible dark days ahead if the debt leads us on the path to self destruction, with those of the 1930s, when United were in a terrible way and James Gibson stepped in to help the club. Using the incomparable history of United - Manchester United by Percy Young- we let the author himself explain those difficult times in our history.

By the end of the 29/30 season, 27 matches were lost. Nine matches were played up to October 6th, and all nine were lost. Any who are captivated by symbolism may note that in the 9th match - against Manchester City - United finished with only nine men, and that victory did not come until the 13th match, when Birmingham were beaten 2-0.

It poured with rain throughout the game, but at the end 12,000 hardy partisans, soaked to the skin, 'gave an ovation that would have flattered any cup tie victors'. Joy was brief.

During that ill fated season, the disgruntled among the supporters attempted to stage a revolution. On 17th October 1930, a meeting under the chairmanship of Mr S. Mason took place in Hulme Town Hall. There were 3,000 at the meeting and two resolutions were carried; there was no confidence in the Board of Management; there would be a boycott of tomorrow's match against Arsenal. Among those who spoke against the second was (former player) Charlie Roberts, who said ‘the players had his deepest sympathy, and he blamed the management for the present position at Old Trafford. The management had created their own trouble, and they could not say they have never had warning. He could not understand why the management called themselves businessmen, and yet were losing at least a large sum of money a week through lack of enterprise'.

The boycott failed. On the Saturday there was a gate of 30,000, which cheerlessly noticed the eleventh successive defeat. What was wrong? All Manchester wished to know the answer, none more than the newspaper reporters. After the Arsenal match Allied Newspapers asked if a deputation could wait on the Board to "talk informally over the position of the team'. The directors replied that the time was not opportune.

In 1928 there was added to the liabilities in the balance sheet the sum of £17,849 18s.8d, in respect of "Mortgage on Land, Buildings, and charge on floating assets of the club". This item remained constant for more than twenty years. In 1930 there was a loss on the season of £1,341, and the sundry creditors item had leapt upward to £11,222. The 1931 balance sheet showed a loss of £2,509; a decrease in receipts on first team matches of £7,601, and of £548 in respect of reserve matches. There was an overdraft of £2,105 at the bank, and cash in hand was only £12.12s. 9d. An explanatory note acknowledged that;

‘The results on the field of play have been very disappointing. It must not be overlooked, however, than an abnormal number of injuries have made it impossible to obtain a settled team and in addition, circumstances have not been favourable, nor has the opportunity arisen when new talent might have been added to the playing strength. It is hoped that an eventual reorganisation will result in an improvement during the ensuing season.’

Not Unnaturally the directors could not see their way to paying a Dividend. At the Annual General Meeting, however, words of wisdom and prophecy were heard. 'The United's first business' it was stated, 'and one more important even than securing promotion is to build up an efficient side from youth.'

On 5 April 1931, Bamlett's unhappy reign came to an end, and Walter Crickmer carried on as Secretary-Manager. In the autumn disaster seemed inevitable. The brewery company were requested to allow payment of the mortgage interest to stand over. An application was made to the Stretford Urban District Council for permission to pay certain road charges in installments. There was arrears of Income Tax. The problem of existence appeared insoluble, and if a crash came it would, like larger financial calamities of the 1930's, involve many people. For instance, players had been in the habit of investing their benefit money with the club at an interest rate of £5 10s od. per annum, and they would suffer for their loyalty and confidence in their employers. On 18th December the bank refused any more credit and there was nothing available for the player's wages. Even if they were to forgo their emoluments, as they offered, it was clear that there would, so to speak, be no ship left to avail itself of any later favourable tide. The hour, however, produced the man.

J.W. Gibson, a member of the clothing firm of Biggs, Jones, Gibson, Ltd, decided to intervene. He saw to it that the players received their due payment, and immediately placed £2,000 at the disposal of the Club. He firmly stated to the press that that would be the limit of his beneficence unless the public showed adequate interest and gave whole-hearted backing. If this was forthcoming means would be devised whereby a new manager (at a salary of £1,000 per year) would be appointed, and a sum of from £12,000 to £20,000 spent on players.

The press had its reservations. The Guardian wondered whether Mr Gibson was not putting the cart before the horse. ‘We should not’, it averred, ‘be particularly hopeful of the future, say, of a theatre whose management announced that if the public would give it good houses for three possibly poor performances by a company that had fallen into dis-favour they could have a 'star' cast afterwards. It is too much like 'jam tomorrow’.

The directors had no option. The progress of their deliberations is recorded in the minute book. On 21 December 'the chairman explained to the meeting the circumstances under which Mr J. W Gibson had come to the assistance of the Club in its financial crisis and that he had guaranteed to be responsible for the 4 liabilities of the Club until 9 January 1932, and arrangements had been made with the Club's bankers for a new account to be opened.

At this juncture Mr Gibson joined the meeting and after some little discussion the following resolution was passed; 'it was unanimously resolved by the members of the Board of Directors that they do agree and consent to resign their offices as such directors at such times and when Mr James W. Gibson - who is temporarily financing the Club (until 9 January 1932) - desires, for the carrying out of his reorganisation scheme of the Company. After thanking the directors Mr Gibson took his leave.’ The directors at that fateful meeting were Messrs Lawton, Hardman, Yates, Bedford and H.Davies.

Interim measures were taken. Dale and Rowley were transferred to the City for £2,000 and Ridding, Centre-forward, came from the City to Old Trafford. It was determined not to re-engage the Old Trafford band, but as the band-master offered a reduced fee of £2 2s. od. per match this decision was rescinded. The long-suffering public showed encouragement. There were 33,312 spectators at the Christmas Day match at Old Trafford, when the players rose to the occasion by defeating Wolves by 3-2. This piece of gingerbread, however, lost something of its gilt the next day when at Molineux the Wolves ran riot and reversed the previous day's result, winning by 7-0.

On 5 January the directors met again and Gibson stated his terms and was co-opted as a director. His terms were;
1 'Mr Gibson will give an undertaking to the Club that he will take over the whole of the liabilities, subject to the first and second mortgages agreeing to withhold demand for payment of principal for two years unless the assets of the Club are placed in jeopardy.
2 ‘Mr Gibson to have the option of repaying the mortgages within two years.
3 ‘On the present Board of Directors retiring, Mr Gibson will undertake to form a Board of Directors acceptable to the shareholders.
4 ‘Mr Gibson is prepared to send a letter to the present directors of the Club embodying these terms, but subject to his appeal for £20,000 being successful.
5 ‘The proceeds of the appeal for £20,000 are to be put into a separate account at the National Provincial Bank, Limited, Spring Gardens, Manchester, in trust and ear-marked "solely for transfer fees".

On 6 January Gibson held a Press conference, at which he proposed a new issue of ‘Patron's Tickets’ (independent of season tickets), whereby he hoped to raise £30,000. He spoke with competence and enthusiasm, telling how his scheme had the approval of C.E Sutcliffe, Vice-President of the Football League, and how he had been deeply touched by the receipt of the sportsman's equivalent of the proverbial widow's offering - 'a postal order for one shilling from a working man who said he was never able to get to the matches on Saturdays, but hoped that his mite would help to keep the old Club together'. Gibson concluded his address by referring to the ancient tenets promulgated in another context by King James I; 'a football interest', he said, 'was a very important factor in maintaining contented and healthy-minded workpeople.'

Six days later there was a further board meeting, the last held under Lawton's Chairmanship. Gibson pointed out the likelihood of relegation to the Third Division unless players were obtained for many positions. In contrast to his public ebullience he displayed private pessimism, for money was not exactly flowing in from the supporters. However, there were four gentlemen prepared to come in with him and give financial assistance. It was 1902 all over again. In this case the gentlemen were Colonel George Westcott, Hugh Shaw, Matthew Newton, and E.E.Thomson. On 20th January they took over as Directors, and Gibson was elected to the Chair. A week later Gibson became President of the Company'.


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