Clowes Street/Thomas Street
St. Mark's Church was based on Clowes Street in West Gorton, and earlier histories of the Blues claim the Club's first pitch was on Clowes Street itself. This seems unlikely as most of the Clowes Street area was already occupied by housing and industry. This makes it extremely difficult to locate the exact site of this pitch. The initial match report talks of the first reported game taking place in Longsight, but that seems to be an error on the part of the writer at the time. The first true clue of where the ground could have been comes from the 'Book Of Football' published in 1905. This states that the site of the first pitch had been developed between 1881 and 1905 into the Brooks & Doxey's Union Iron Works.
The iron works was actually on Thomas Street, a road running parallel to Clowes Street, and maps from the late 1880s do show sufficient land next to the original factory for a football pitch. This land at Brooks & Doxey's was more or less directly north of St. Mark's Church and was certainly an extremely short walk from the church, and so could easily have been the Club's first pitch. It is highly likely the players themselves would have changed in the Church, or its schoolroom, and been able to walk along William Street – the road St. Mark's actually faced on to – to the land.
Unfortunately, after over two decades of research I have yet to prove conclusively where this first pitch was. It is my opinion, however, that the Brooks & Doxey's land was the club's first pitch, and that two of the Club's founding fathers, William Beastow and Thomas Goodbehere, may have been aware of the potential of the land from their working places within the iron works. Both men worked at Brooks & Doxey's and both men worked hard to ensure St. Mark's developed; therefore it seems likely they would have searched for a site. If this was not the pitch, then it really is difficult to say where else in the West Gorton parish of St. Mark's the game could have been played.
Wherever the pitch was, it has to be remembered that in 1880 it was nothing more than wasteland. Beastow and Goodbehere believed it was good enough for their purpose however, and the fledgling club played its first reported game there on 13th November 1880, with the first opponents being the Baptist church from Macclesfield. Both teams fielded 12 players, and the pitch markings would have been questionable – reports from later in the decade suggest local residents knew about rugby but not association football – nevertheless the game itself was a major achievement.
After the initial game St. Mark's are known to have played a further two home games – Arcadians from Harpurhey on 27th November 1880 and Hurst from Ashton under Lyne on 26th February 1881. Both of these matches talk of the ground as being in Longsight, and the Hurst report gives an indication to the quality of the ground – “The ground was in a very sloppy state, and consequently the falls were very numerous.”
It is highly probable St. Mark's played a few more matches at home that season, however the records simply do not exist.
Today the site of St. Mark's church is occupied by a small parade of shops and a social club at Gorton Villa Walk (ironically, Gorton Villa FC was one of the Club's biggest rivals throughout the 1880s). Gorton Villa Walk follows the original line of Clowes Street, however Clowes Street itself has been re-routed somewhat. The street starts at a junction with Hyde Road and follows its original course for a few hundred metres then it bends around a small housing estate, until it meets Wenlock Way, the street formerly known as Thomas Street. The new junction of Clowes Street and Wenlock Way is roughly situated in front of the site of the Brooks & Doxey's works entrance in 1880.
The site believed to be that of the first pitch at Thomas Street is currently the car park for the Fujitsu office block a little further down Wenlock Way.
Interestingly, all of this area – in particular the houses on Gorton Villa Walk and the shopping parade occupying the St. Mark's site – have been used for the television series Shameless which features a Manchester City supporting family.
A plaque detailing City's formation is positioned on the Aces public house (named after the Belle Vue Aces speedway team), however this is incorrectly placed and should be positioned on Gorton Villa Walk to highlight the actual site of St. Mark's Church.
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.