Heathens Rising #1: prologue

“It is a place of filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, Hell upon Earth.”

Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

18th January 1902: Bank Street, Manchester.

The rain arrives suddenly in sheets, drum-beating small windows thick with grease and grime in a futile effort to erase the reflections of a thousand factory chimneys that shimmer there. In cohort and from the end of the cobbles an ally emerges, a knocker-up to join the tap one by one with a three yard stick for a halfpenny a house and a flick of his boot to basement doors, lest a worker should be late and lose his means to his shilling a day. In terraced back-to-backs stacked like coffins, and in their cellars and twisted alleys, a million humans stir.

Manchester, a town built on grit, torn skin and broken backs and bones. The Cottonopolis of monolithic mills and the incessant drone of a pittance of a wage whose absence can kill a man’s family within a week. The need to earn, to work, to eat, always there in every waking moment.

But hope lies here also, on Saturdays at 3pm when a man can forget his woes for a penny at a gate that stands in front of a field at the end of the street, when a football team called Newton Heath take to the field in their proud white and navy livery, changed only the previous year from their famous green and gold.

“In our Yorkshire mines, we have to buy our own candles, one said. That’s nothing, the Heathens fan replied, here we make our candles from the dead.”

Walter Howarth, Manchester Guardian, 20th January 1902

The week before it was the turn of Doncaster to visit in a violent affair that saw four players take to blows over a disputed goal, only to take a two-nil defeat with them on their long journey home. Walter Howarth, the Manchester Guardian journalist, outlined the battle and quoted a conversation between two rival fans: “In our Yorkshire mines, we have to buy our own candles, one said. That’s nothing, the Heathens fan replied, here we make our candles from the dead.”

Harry Stafford the first captain of Manchester United.jpg
Harry Stafford, Club Captain

It was a torrid affair, all right, the temperature rising in the chill air when every tackle came in and as the filth began to cover both sets of shirts. But at the final whistle all that mattered for the Bank Street masses was another well earned victory to lift them to 10th place in the Second Division of the Football League, banishing for a while the financial worries that threatened their very existence, which their Captain, the great Harry Stafford was seeking to correct.

With the threat of bankrupcy looming, rumours were running wild in the crowd of a possible saviour bid by the Manchester brewer John Henry Davies who was looking to spread his investments into football.

However, just one week later on the day that a £2,600 club debt became repayable 11th hour talks broke down (some say due to a disagreement over him wanting the club to be renamed “Manchester United“, among other points of contention) and the club’s gates were locked by the bailiffs for what would turn out to be the lowest moment in it’s history (AUTHOR NOTE: for more on this please read my alternate Newton Heath history blog here: Heathens resurrected special: an alternate history part 1 – 1878 to 1970.)

30th May 2018: Extract from the article “Dancing in the Green and Gold: Newton Heath achieve quintuple greatness” by Liam Howarth, Manchester Evening News

“Forever and a day Newton Heath fans will ask “where did you watch the Heathens win the quintuple by beating Manchester City in the Champions League final?” ”

Clive Tyldesley, UCL final, Camp Nou, 29th May 2018

“They poured from the houses to surround the stadium, a flood of green and gold unable to be contained after the final-whistle roar that emanated as one tremendous wave of sound from the streets surrounding New Bank Street, wanting to be close again to their beloved Heathens and all that they stood for. Families united in the sheer joy of the boundless possibilities of the beautiful game.

For as you know readers this has been a tortuous journey, many fans remembering the zig-zagging years of the 80s and 90s when the Heathens pinged cruelly between the top two divisions unable to settle and find any semblance of consistent form.

For those even older the memories are much worse, with stories of families divided between the green/gold and the sky blue of the neighbouring Manchester City after their board members were reputed to have blocked the building of a new stadium in the Old Trafford area of the city in the scorching summer of 1976 (AUTHOR NOTE: read more about this in Heathens resurrected special: an alternate history part 2 – 1971 to 1999) .

Then of course there was Heathens Global, the Newton Heath board’s ambitious world franchise project with one aim and one aim alone, to succeed on the field as no English team had done before. The dream? To create a worldwide nursery for the best young players and serve as a feeding ground not only for financial growth but also for the Heathen’s first team, resulting in no less than 7 such starting players in that UCL final coming from affiliates as widespread as Penarol Peganos (transl. “Penarol Heathens”) in Uruguay and Hopetown Heathens in South Africa.

So this, it almost goes without saying is so far the pinnacle of this great club’s history, a world of Heathens rejoicing from twenty-one clubs in eighteen countries. A world where Newton Heath and the northern tenacity they represent has finally transcended the confinements of their bleak Manchester industrial origins to worldwide renown.

Where too then but up for Newton Heath from this day forward? The prospects are looking very good indeed if you see the world in shades of green and gold today.”

Liam Howarth, Manchester Evening News, 30th May 2018

end of episode 1 ..

.. follow the blog for the next episode, Heathens Rising #2: how the mighty fall, coming soon ..

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