Born: Matlock, 18th January 1858, died: Marple 1941
1st August 1889 - 31st May 1893
In all probability Manchester City Football Club would not exist at all if it hadn't been for the involvement of Lawrence Furniss. Furniss was typical of many inhabitants of West Gorton in the early 1880s in that he was born away from Manchester, in his case Matlock, and had come to settle in the area because of work and the opportunities the world's first industrial city gave. According to the 1861 census, the three year old Furniss was living at Matlock Railway Station, where he had been born and where his father Edwin was the station master. By 1871 the family were living at Cromford station master's house and, interestingly, the former waiting room building at this station was photographed and used by City supporting Oasis on the cover of their first number one single “Some Might Say” and is now promoted as one of rock's pilgrimage sites.
Furniss himself became a railway worker – by 1881 he is recorded as being a railway clerk at Matlock – and it is believed he moved to Manchester as a result of railway opportunities. Perhaps because of his upbringing, or maybe a desire to play his part within the local community, he became a key member of the St. Mark's congregation. Eventually he became a Sidesman at the church, but he also tried to play his part in many other social activities and he became a player with the church's football team, with his first known games occurring during 1884-85.
It is believed his playing career came to an end during 1886-87 following a serious knee injury, but looking at the way his life and football career developed from that point it's clear Furniss cared passionately about the Club, and he moved into a more administrative role. He also helped with the usual non-playing tasks such as upkeep of ground, search for players, paying of rents, purchase of kit etc.
Furniss clearly helped the club become focused as it moved away from its church roots, although he himself remained a key figure at the church for many years. He was responsible for locating at least one of Gorton''s grounds, and for playing a significant role in the development of Hyde Road. In later life he was also a prime mover behind the creation of Maine Road – in fact some supporters argued the stadium should be named after him.
In 1889 at the age of 31, he became Ardwick's secretary-manager. Various figures had played the lead role before, but Furniss' appointment seemed to take the Club on to another level. Clearly, he wanted to see Ardwick compete with the best and with the Football League's first season occurring during 1888-89 it is clear that Ardwick had something to aim for.
By the summer of 1891 Furniss had guided Ardwick to their first significant success – the Manchester Cup – and had seen his side admitted to the Football Alliance - a league that included other progressive clubs such as Small Heath (Birmingham City) and Sheffield Wednesday – although he had tried to get his side entered into the Football League. That prize came a mere 12 months later. Furniss was only 34 years of age, making him the Club's youngest League manager until the appointment of Peter Reid in 1989.
The 1892-93 season was, on the whole, a successful one for both Furniss and Ardwick. A 7-0 victory on the opening day against Bootle ensured the Ardwick led the very first Second Division table, and one defeat in the opening nine matches gave Furniss a great deal of satisfaction. Sadly, a poor run in December and January prevented the side from seriously making a Second Division title challenge, and they ended the season fifth.
Furniss had taken the club further than perhaps even he could have anticipated in 1889, and he decided to move aside for the rather more vocal and some would say dynamic Joshua Parlby. He then became a major driving force behind the scenes and is believed to have been the peacemaker in 1894 when Parlby was pushing to relaunch the Club as Manchester City, while other senior figures were tying to keep Ardwick in existence. Such was his commitment to the Blue cause that he personally paid off Ardwick's debts (£70) from his own money and was forced to delay his own wedding by 3 years. Put simply Manchester City could not have been allowed to compete without this commitment. Around the same time he spotted Billy Meredith and played a significant part in his arrival at City.
Furniss became a board member in 1903 and remained until the investigations into the alleged bribe and illegal payments scandal (1906). It does not appear that he was held responsible for the Club's problems and he certainly wasn't penalised, and so it seems he left the Board to pursue business interests outside of the game. It is known he moved from Longsight and joined his brother Edwin in Mellor, Stockport, as Estates Manager for the Roman Lakes – a significant leisure attraction of the period. He remained there for the rest of his life, although during World War One he was asked to rejoin the Manchester City board by Albert Alexander senior. In 1916 he became Chairman for a brief period, then in 1921 he took the Chair again.
In 1928, around the time of his seventieth birthday, he stood down as Chairman and three years later he was elected as the Club's first President. This role was a significant ambassadorial role and was a major mark of what Furniss had achieved.
He continued to watch the Blues throughout his later years, although health issues limited his visits during World War Two. He passed away in 1941. His death ended the Club's direct connections with the 1880s founding fathers – and mother Georgina Connell.
Some historians believe Furniss was secretary of Chesterfield (1906-7) during his time off the City board, however that seems unlikely due to his close involvement with the Roman Lakes at Mellor.
All history and statistical material has been produced based on the research and writing of Manchester football historian Gary James (www.facebook.com/GaryJames4). It is maintained by Ric Turner & Gary James. All text remains the copyright of the original contributors.
Gary's book, Manchester - the City Years: Tracing the Story of Manchester City from the 1860s to the Modern Day, is available to order on Amazon.