Manchester: The City Years

Wilf Wild


Wilf Wild

Born: Born: ? Died: December 1950

14th March 1932 - 1st November 1946

Wilf Wild is a name few modern supporters will recognise, but he is clearly one of Manchester’s greatest managers. He was City’s longest serving manager and the Club’s most successful manager of the pre-Mercer period, Wild was also the first manager to bring the League title to the Blues, and the first Manchester manager to win the FA Cup at Wembley.

He joined the Blues in 1920 as assistant secretary to Ernest Mangnall. In those days the position of manager and secretary was very much classed as one role and Mangnall was expected to shoulder the burden of ground developments as well as team selection and other managerial tasks. Understandably, Mangnall felt he needed support and so Wild assisted Mangnall mostly on the administrative side.

Although Wild was delighted with his role, he felt the responsibility which Mangnall had was too great. Mangnall, it should be remembered was fully occupied with the move from Hyde Road to Maine Road, and the usual Club management issues such as managing the team, all ticketing matters, and all ground issues. Behind the scenes Wild felt he could see a more productive way for the club to develop. He was a great advocate of splitting the role of manager and secretary.

When Mangnall’s contract wasn’t renewed in 1924 the chance came for Wild to shape the future direction of the club. He worked with the directors to encourage a new approach, and David Ashworth was appointed manager with Wild focusing purely on secretarial duties. It seems a rather obvious approach, but in 1924 this was revolutionary. It is very difficult today to understand how the club secretary could be expected to manage the side – no matter how knowledgeable about football today’s secretary Bernard Halford is, it’s clear he could not manage the side, nor could Stuart Pearce perform Halford’s duties – but in 1924 this was the norm.

From then on Wild took on the greater share of secretarial duties as David Ashworth and Peter Hodge were both allowed to focus on team issues, however, when Hodge returned to Filbert Street, it seems the directors felt the two roles could still be performed by one man, and Wild was given total responsibility for both areas.

The directors must have agreed this action during early February when they discovered that Hodge was planning on moving back to Leicester. They could have searched for a new manager, but perhaps they felt that was unnecessary after seeing the work Wild was already performing. Certainly players from the period worked well for Wild.

Wild performed exceptionally well as City’s leader and in his first two seasons he guided them to consecutive FA Cup finals, and 1934 he guided the Blues to the F.A. Cup Final, with success arriving on the second occasion. As well as the on-field success these seasons brought many challenges off the pitch, particular as City were hitting the headlines for record crowds.

With Wild splitting his time between the two roles the club should have expected to enter a period of mediocrity but instead Wild’s side became one of the leading forces in the game. Those finals made City a very entertaining side to watch. Wild seemed to possess a Midas touch, especially when you consider that Wild still had responsibility for crowd control, safety issues, ground developments – including the development of the main section of the Platt Lane Stand in 1935 – and even the control of accounts and payment of wages.

In 1936-7 he managed City to their first League Championship after selecting players of the calibre of Alec Herd, Sam Barkas, Matt Busby, Peter Doherty - some say the greatest Irish player of all time - and Frank Swift. Despite the success Wild was also a victim of City's peculiar unpredictable streak when, the following year, the Blues were relegated. Although it wasn't known at the time, it was a particularly bad time to enter the Second Division as war in 1939 ensured the Blues remained out of the top flight until 1947.

The pressure on him was immense and yet he came through it well. In fact the biggest test of all came in 1939 when Wild had to work closely with the club directors to ensure City survived the war years. As with all walks of life, the war brought many pressures Wild’s way but again he succeeded in the role.

Understandably when peacetime football resumed in 1946 Wild was determined to relinquish control of the team. After fourteen difficult but mainly successful years he asked the Board to bring in a new man. Former Captain Sam Cowan was recruited in December 1946 and Wild was allowed back to perform the role of secretary. From that point on the two roles were kept separate as Wild had first suggested, but even then the role of secretary was still a major one. According to former player Johnny Hart, who started working for the club as an office boy under Wild, there were only about three office staff including Wild and Hart. This seems a relatively small number to run a major football club, but this was typical of most clubs around this time.

Hart has many stories of how Wild had to cope with the dual role: “I remember him in the dressing room giving his customary team talk – ‘watch the first five minutes and the last five, and don’t do anything silly’ – then at about twenty to three there was a knock on the door. I followed him out, we walked down the tunnel and he picked up a loud hailer. He went on to the touchline, shouting instructions to the crowd to move over, and make room for latecomers! Then he headed back to the dressing room to talk with the players a bit more. He had to share the role!”

“On another occasion I remember the Chief Scout Albert Kavanagh coming in at about 11. Wild asked him where he was going. Albert said, ‘I was thinking about going to watch some lads on Hough End.’ Wild said ‘No. I want you to go to Halifax.’ Albert pointed out the time and how difficult it would be to get there on time, but it was no use. Then he said, ‘I’ll have no dinner’, so Wild leans over. I thought he was going to get some money to give to him, but he opened up his own lunchbox, pulled out a scrappy sandwich and handed it to Albert: ‘Here have this. Now get off to Halifax.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Sadly, Wild passed away in December 1950. He was still the club’s secretary at this point and his death shocked many connected with the club. His wife Betty also worked at the club and she remained a popular presence through to her retirement in the 1960s. She later moved to Lytham St. Annes.

Wild brought the club success in the two major competitions of the period, and saw the ground develop in an impressive manner. He had total responsibility for events on the pitch and off it during a period when the Blues re-established themselves as a major side. Neutrals generally acknowledge that Arsenal were the team of the thirties, but Wild’s City were the only other side who came close to matching them.

He may not be the first name most think of when they talk about great City managers, but Wild was the most successful of all Blue managers until the arrival of Joe Mercer in 1965.


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.

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