Old Trafford - this image is copyright free
Football is an industrial sized sport which came about with the Industrial Revolution. Nineteenth century people generally had more leisure time, higher wages, and, in the railways, a way to travel easily and cheaply. Reflecting the importance of railways in football's development, a number of what would one day be major clubs established themselves next to railway stations. Arsenal, for example, moved from Woolwich to a site in north London next to a Piccadilly Line station, and Chelsea based their club next to Fulham Broadway Underground station. The influence of railways is particularly clear in the case of Manchester United, formed in 1878 as a works team of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway depot at Newton Heath. But while football came about as part of a new industrial society, football had different priorities to industry and business. Wray Vamplew has written: "Many sports clubs do not obey the economic rules of the game because they are utility maximisers rather than profit maximisers, in that they are willing to sacrifice profits for the sake of winning games and championships." (Professional Sport In Britain 1875 - 1914.) This seems to be true of Manchester United from the beginning. By January 1902 Newton Heath FC was bankrupt, but even with this history of financial failure, the club still managed to get investment from four local businessmen, and was recreated in April 1902 as Manchester United.
The club then had a chequered history until 1938, since when it has almost always remained in England's foremost footballing division. Not even the disastrous loss of eight players from Matt Busby's famous team in an air crash in Munich in 1958 caused lasting damage to the team's fortunes. Today Manchester United remains a top team in the English Premiership. Ironically, however, the team continues to demonstrate the financial contradictions faced by those railway workers back in the late 1800s. In May 2005 the American venture capitalist Malcolm Glazer offered £750 million for the club. Although Glazer had made money in American sport, you do have to wonder what he was looking for in buying an English football club. As David Goldblatt wrote in 2006: "It has proved almost impossible by legal means to make a football club profitable. The stock market does not lie: of the twenty two clubs that have been listed in the UK only twelve remain, and those that do have consistently traded at a mere fraction of their initial offer price." (The Ball Is Round P685)
The deal which was done to buy Manchester United did not remove its financial worries: in fact the Glazer family saddled the club with an additional £250 million in debt secured against its assets. There was also a bewildering structure of financial instruments and Wall Street loans, which according to Goldblatt was more to do with smoke and mirrors than a solid business plan. To keep up with clubs like Chelsea, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, it is a simple fact that uneconomic amounts of money have to be invested to have a hope of winning. As Wray Vamplew said football is a utility maximiser not a profit maximiser. For some people there is nothing wrong with this. Fabulously wealthy people, once they have made their fortune, have always tended to look for some kind of higher purpose for their money. Often this was the Church. Today's super rich can put their money into football clubs, who play for glory and trophies rather than profit. Elton John, Flavio Briatore, and of course Abramovich have done this. Chelsea have been highly successful with Abramovich's help, but in 2005 Chelsea also posted the biggest annual loss for a club in English football history, at £140 million. In 2006 Chelsea's income was twice that of Manchester United (see The Ball Is Round P771). The backers of any team, Manchester United included, have to accept that inspite of television deregulation, and trinkets stamped with a club brand and sold in Asia, football is not the place to make money. In many ways, as many commentators have pointed out, football has taken the place of religion. This is a game which brings large numbers of people together and allows them to give praise to their idols in a state of heightened emotion. Football is not a place to make money, it is instead a place where money looks for something bigger.
The history of footlball is of course fascinating for fans. It also provides a significant commentary on modern industrial history. Manchester United Museum was England's first purpose built football museum, opening in 1986. The museum tells the story of the club from its origin to its present day incarnation, using over a thousand exhibits and interactive displays.
Address: North Stand, Old Trafford, Sir Matt Busby Way, Manchester, M16 0RA
Directions: Old Trafford in just off the A56 or the A5081 in Greater Manchester. The best way to get to the station is to take a train to Manchester Piccadilly and then catch the Metro to Old Trafford Metro station. Click here for an interactive map centred on Old Trafford.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Access: Level access is good. Adapted toilet facilities available.
telephone: 0161 868 8000