Update #11 : United Teams through the ages (Manchester United 1903 - 1904)

Manchester United’s manager in 1903 was James West ( pictured in the team photograph bottom row on the left ), under him they had begun the season very poorly with two defeats and a draw, on Monday 28th September he resigned his position and Ernest Mangnall became the new United manager. Mangnall joined the club from Burnley where he had served as secretary. He would go on to become United’s first “great” manager. The new manager had been born in Bolton and was well known in sporting circles in the North west. He was known in particular for his love of cycling, and during his youth had actually cycled the length of Great Britain from John O’ Groats to Lands end, he could often be spotted riding his bike to the ground.

Ernest Mangnall the new United manager in the 1903-1904 season

With United’s financial status at last secure Mangall proved himself a shrewd buyer in the transfer market. He brought goalie Harry Moger to United, along with Alex Bell, Dick Duckworth, and a great centre half in Charlie Roberts. His greatest coup however was bringing the great Billy Meredith across from Man City ( more about Meridith in the next update ), other Man City rebels quickly followed Meredith’s path and United stole away Herbert Burgess, Sandy Turnbull, and Jimmy Bannister from their rivals.

Meredith and Roberts at the time were considered the most talented players in the land. With the new manager and new players United finished third in the league and just missed promotion to the first division.

This was Manchester Uniteds 12th season in the football league.

Season Statistics 1903-1904

Chairman : John Henry Davies
Manager : Ernest Mangnall
Second Division : 3rd
FA Cup : Second Round
Top goalscorer League : Tommy Arkesden (11), Billy Grassam (11), Billy Griffiths (11)
All : Tommy Arkesden (15)
Highest home attendance : 40,000 vs Bristol City (5 September 1903), 40,000 vs Woolwich Arsenal (30 January 1904)
Lowest home attendance : 6,000 vs Gainsborough Trinity (19 December 1903)
Average home attendance : 16,737

The top goal scorer in all competions in the 1903-1904 season was Thomas Arthur “Tommmy” Arkesden (July 1878 – 25 June 1921), also known as Tom Arkesden, was an English footballer who played as a forward. Born in Warwick, Arkesden played for Burton Wanderers, Derby County, and Burton United, before joining Manchester United for £150 on February 2, 1903. In 1907, he was transferred to Gainsborough Trinity. In 79 matches for Manchester United, he scored 33 goals.


Top goalscorer in all competitions Thomas Arthur “Tommmy” Arkesden

The picture below is the home kit worn by Manchester United from 1903-1907. The Manchester Evening News of August 8th, 1903 suggests that the sock bands were blue rather than red.


In April 1904 United made what was to be one of the most important deals in their early history when they signed a young half back from Grimsby by the name of Charlie Roberts. His transfer on the evening of Friday, 22nd April was largely overshadowed by Manchester City’s appearance in the Cup final the following day and passed unmentioned in both the local and national press. Even when he made his debut the following day in a second division fixture versus Burton United at Clayton it went almost unnoticed. The Manchester Evening News, however, in its match report commented ’ Roberts gave a capital display and his sound play was all the more remarkable when it is remembered that he had made a long journey from Grimsby that morning '. But it was the Athletic News whose astute reporter realised that in Roberts United had made an important purchase when he wrote that ’ Roberts was almost the best man on the field. His presence certainly strengthened the line and he may be safely looked to as a player who will give a satisfactory account of himself in the future.

United won the game against Burton 2-0 to end the season in third position just one point behind Woolwich Arsenal. It may have been a disappointment to have missed out on promotion, but in Roberts United had sowed the seeds that would reap dividends in the years ahead.

The picture below is an original postcard of Charlie Roberts who played 299 games as a half back and scored 23 goals from 1903-1913. A wonderful player who won 2 League Championships in 1908 and 1911, English Cup in 1909, and could run 100 yards in 11 seconds (impressive).

He left the club after the Directors refused to grant him a second benefit. Oldham paid a club record fee of £1,750 for him (they dont pay much more today :grin: ). He was made club captain and guided them to their highest ever League finish in 1914/15 - runners up to Everton. One of United’s finest captains.

Original photograph of Charlie Roberts one of Uniteds greatest captains.

To be continued …