Manchester: The City Years

Hyde Road/Bennett Street

1887-1923


The landlord of the Bull's Head gave Gorton another opportunity to progress, even if at the time the committee found the news a serious blow. The Bull's Head ground was never likely to see the Club establish themselves as one of football's elite and, although this would not have been considered at the time, Gorton's move came at a moment in history when football was about to become much more professional in its outlook. Some clubs were already paying players, and the whole game was about to go through a major change with the formation of the Football League in 1888. Gorton's move in 1887 was able to lay the foundations for the Club's later move into League football.

It was actually McKenzie, the Club captain, who first discovered the potential of wasteland located close to his workplace. This land was a decent size, but wasn't used for any kind of recreational activity whatsoever at the time. McKenzie felt it offered potential nevertheless and he immediately told the leading committee members of the find. It is believed they took some convincing as the land was uneven and riddled with polluted streams, however with few other options the Gortonians decided it did have potential. In addition, Lawrence Furniss and Walter Chew were both aware that this land lay closer to the Club's spiritual home, St. Mark's Church, than any of the previous venues other than perhaps the very first ground.

Furniss identified that the land belonged to the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire railway and after some negotiation Gorton were able to rent the land for £10 for a period of seven months. Furniss, Chew and company spent a few weeks trying to level an area suitable as a pitch and by late August the ground was ready. It was still relatively basic but it was deemed suitable for a relaunch of the Club. The move to this ground caused the committee to consider changing the name of the Club. As the new ground was based in the district of Ardwick, rather than Gorton, the committee felt a change was needed and Ardwick AFC was born. A circular was issued on 23rd August 1887 and the inaugural meeting was held at the Hyde Road Hotel on 30th August.

The Hyde Road Hotel became the headquarters of the Club and was also used as dressing rooms for several years.

Within a decade the Hyde Road ground, as it became known, had grown from nothing to become a major venue. In some ways the ground developed at a similar rate to the Club. In 1892 Ardwick were founder members of Division Two, then two years later the Club reformed as Manchester City, and in 1896 the Blues were the third best supported side in the League behind Everton and Aston Villa.

Hyde Road staged inter-league games between England and Ireland and significant domestic games such as the 1905 FA Cup semi-final between Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday.

By this time crowds of 40,000 could be housed, although contemporary reports suggest attendances were actually higher. The stadium was often packed and it is impossible to now identify the actual attendances of games at this time. Journalists would state that the crowd was around 40,000, while the Club appear to have downplayed the number that were actually present for financial and safety reasons. A few games, most notably a Cup tie with Sunderland in 1913 and a League game with Burnley in 1921, caused local journalists to question the Club's management about safety, organisation, and attendance of games at Hyde Road.

At regular intervals suggestions were made that the Blues would have to move, but each time the directors looked elsewhere they would come back and announce that Hyde Road would continue to be the Club's home. There was a feeling amongst the senior committee men that City would only move if a significantly better venue could be found.

In March 1920 Hyde Road became the first provincial ground to be visited by a reigning monarch when King George V attended City's victory over Liverpool. He did this because he knew it would be a great way to meet a large number of Mancunians as City remained Manchester's number one club despite United's move to Old Trafford in 1910.

Actually, United's development of Old Trafford caused the Blues to improve Hyde Road considerably in 1910. City decided to improve facilities for all supporters, and set plans in place to provide shelter for a total of 35,000 spectators. This would be achieved by erecting multi-span roofs on the three remaining open sides. By the start of the new season the work was complete - bringing much pride to Mancunians.

These ground improvements, which meant that all four sides had cover (no other Manchester football venue could match this until the 1970s), significantly improved the facilities, but the fact was that the venue's 40,000 capacity was still far too small. The close proximity of railway lines, factories, and housing, prevented expansion, and so the Blues still looked to find a larger site. By 1920 the Blues were publicly planning a move to a site at Belle Vue, but in November of that year fire destroyed the Club's 1890s Main Stand. The rest of the stadium survived, but a move became absolutely vital if the Blues were to capitalise on their popularity.

City should have moved immediately but discussions with United, the owners of the only venue worth considering, were difficult and the Blues deemed it better to soldier on at Hyde Road. In fact local newspapers were highly critical of United's terms, and accused the Reds of opportunism. According to the Athletic News the terms were: “City should take the equivalent of last season's gate in the corresponding match and that the remainder should belong to the United. As gates have increased by 30 per cent at the very least in the First Division matches the Manchester City directors declined to entertain the proposal, and no wonder Manchester United did not in our opinion manifest the much-vaunted League spirit.”

“They missed a great opportunity to make the club popular by a fine sporting act. The followers of Manchester City have greater affection for the old club than ever. And they have formed a just opinion of their neighbours.”

Rather than pay exorbitant rental to their rivals the Blues patched up the ground and found enough breathing space to create magnificent plans for the future. Interestingly, City's attempts to patch up Hyde Road brought the Club national attention and journalists from all over the United Kingdom came to Manchester to check on City's progress. The Glasgow Evening Times was particularly impressed: “Manchester City must have some good friends. They are of course the popular club in Manchester. It was surprising to find a fine new stand, estimated to hold 6,000 spectators, rising to the height of 25 tiers on the site of the old structure. In addition, extensive new terracing had been carried out, and new dressing rooms for both teams and offices had been erected. Talk about the building of an American city!”

Inevitably, Hyde Road was unable to cope with City's continuing growth and the management realised a move was absolutely vital. During the 1921-2 season they planned to develop a new stadium - in the truest sense of the word - at Moss Side, and managed to prolong the life of Hyde Road until the start of the 1923-4 season. The last game at Hyde Road was a public practice match in August 1923. Afterwards it was dismantled and within a decade or so all trace had disappeared for ever, or so everyone believed. In the late 1990s metalwork from one of the Club's multi-span roofs was rediscovered as the roof of a factory in Sale. The building has since been demolished, but another section of roof still survives today as a football stand at Halifax Town's Shay Stadium. City sold the stand and a few turnstiles to Halifax for £1,000, and this stand remains a key feature of the Shay today, however since the mid-1990s redevelopment plans for the Shay have frequently predicted the demise of the stand but financial problems have ensured the stand remains.

The site occupied by the Hyde Road ground is currently used as a storage yard for containers and lorries, after several years use as a skid pan for the Hyde Road bus depot. In the main the site has not housed any form of building and so when travelling past by railway towards Piccadilly train station, it is still possible to visualise how the venue would have looked when first found in the 1880s.

SIGNIFICANT HYDE ROAD GROUND INFORMATION

THE STANDS

THE MAIN STAND:

Erected in 1899 after being purchased from the Fulham Pageant for approximately £1,500. Destroyed by Fire November 1920. The Main Stand had replaced an earlier 1,000 seater stand, built in 1888 by Chester's Brewery.

Capacity: usually stated as 4,000, although this may in fact be the seated capacity. The stand was divided into two sections with the upper tier all seated. In front of this was a paddock which may have held up to a further 4,000. After the 1920 fire the replacement stand was reported as holding 6,000 by several newspapers.

THE GALLOWAY END:

Roofed during the 1910 close season as part of a £3,000 refurbishment plan (an incredible sum; Huddersfield spent fractionally more than this on the creation of their state of the art Main Stand the following year). This end of the ground was split in two by a railway loop line that ran into Galloway's boiler works. The area closest to the Main Stand corner became the 'Boy's Stand', but the same roof covered that and the main terracing. At the other corner, where the Galloway End met the Popular Side the terracing was oddly shaped because terraced houses on Bennett Street cut into the terracing. Footage of the 1905 inter-league match between the English and Irish Leagues show that large wooden screens had been erected at this end to stop those living in the houses from viewing the game.

A plan of 1894 shows an earlier stand at this end of the ground. No trace of this appears on any photographs or plans post 1901.

Capacity: c.9,000

THE STONE YARD STAND (sometimes referred to as the 'Hotel End', or Hyde Road Stand):

Roofed 1910. A large section of this irregular shaped stand was seated with a paddock in front, the rest was basic terracing. The seated section (closest to the Main Stand) was used to house the directors, press and season ticket holders following the 1920 Main Stand fire. Despite its importance, the club were unable to erect any turnstiles at this end of the ground.

Capacity: c.2,000 seats and 4,000 standing.

THE POPULAR SIDE:

Roofed in 1910. This terracing was the home to City's most passionate supporters, and was usually the area where crushing occurred during big matches. Many important games saw supporters climb up on to the roof for a better view. The roof at this side only covered around three quarters of the stand's length due to the proximity of terraced houses on Bennett Street. Footage from 1905 shows a small roof placed at the back of this terracing. It could only have covered a very small number of fans at the time.

Capacity: c.17,000

TURNSTILES:

The first pay box was erected around 1888 for a cost of £5 15s. Due to a stone yard, the railway, and Galloway's works, Bennett Street was the only true area available for turnstiles and entrances. This caused serious problems both before and after all major games, as the street was simply unable to cope with the large volume of people attending City's matches. At the time of Maine Road's demolition in 2003, at least thirteen turnstiles were identified as being from Hyde Road, with four known to have been in place at Hyde Road in 1896, possibly earlier.

FACTS & FIGURES

Highest official attendance: 41, 709 V Sunderland, F.A. Cup Second Round on 1st February 1913

Probable highest: V. Burnley, First Division game on 26th March 1921. Attendance was probably somewhere in the region of 50 to 55,000, as fans had smashed down gates to get in. Photographs suggest that The Popular side roof was also full of spectators.

First Game: Ardwick v Hooley Hill (Denton) 17/9/1887

First Football League game: 3rd September 1892 V Bootle

Last Football League game: 28th April 1923 V Newcastle United

Most important game staged at Hyde Road: 25th March 1905 Newcastle United V Sheffield Wednesday

Highest Average Attendance: c.31,020 1920-2

HYDE ROAD PROGRESSIVE CAPACITY

  • 1887 – 4,000
  • 1888 – 7,000
  • 1891 – 10,000
  • 1892 – 20,000
  • 1896 – 25,000
  • 1899 – 30,000
  • 1904 – 40,000
  • 1910 – 40,000 (covered accommodation for 35,000)
  • 1920 – 45,000
  • 1921 – 40,000

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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