Manchester City Football Club has become a huge presence on the global stage. Part of this transformation has seen the club and its Arab owners begin transforming East Manchester into a sporting haven. It is quite a fitting move for a club which in its humble beginnings was established in a philanthropic manner.
A long time before Sheikh Mansour, Sergio Aguero or even Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee, what is known today as Manchester City began life in 1880 as St Mark’s, Gorton. It was a project established by members of the church of the same name who were looking to stem a tide of unemployment, lack of opportunity and ill behaviour from local young men. The club began as an all round sporting endeavour with rugby and soccer being played on alternate weekends, as well as its cricket side in the summer months established a number of years previously.
There became a cluster of football clubs around the Gorton area around that time with the St Mark’s side adopting the name Gorton A.F.C in 1884, following an unsuccessful merger with neighbouring side Belle Vue.
The ‘Gortonians’ slowly began to establish themselves in the northern football scene, picking up victories in various cup competitions against their local rivals. The beginnings of what would become the biggest rivalry of all was also evident. Newton Heath, who would become Manchester United, faced off against the Gorton side numerous times throughout these early years. Newton Heath dominated the early period of this rivalry recording a 3-0 victory in what could be considered the first ever Manchester derby in 1881. The height of this dominance came in 1886 when Newton Heath beat Gorton A.F.C a resounding 11-1, this result came at a time where big changes were about to occur for the East Manchester side.
The club was hampered by difficulties with its ground; struggles to find and keep hold of suitable playing fields plagued the club throughout its early years. It would be in 1887 that they managed to find somewhere suitable when an unused piece of land on Hyde Road was discovered which offered the ideal setting for a football ground. As a result of this move the club changed its name once again and became known as Ardwick FC to better reflect their new location.
Ardwick FC continued for a further seven years in which time it achieved its first Manchester District Cup win, beating Newton Heath in the final. They also gained an invitation to the Football League, being amongst the first teams in the newly formed Second Division. However, financial difficulties hit the club hard and in 1894 restructuring was required. After finishing second bottom of the Football League and folding, the team was re-established as Manchester City Football Club.
After achieving financial security, acquiring exciting talent such as Billy Meredith and having a ground to house its growing fan base, the club went on to have great success in the early Twentieth Century following their promotion to the First Division in 1899. The Hyde Road ground would house City for a further two decades until it was deemed too small and too dangerous to continue to use. The club would move a few miles across town to Maine Road and, as decades went by, they probably faced more ups and downs than any other team in the country. However its beginnings as an attempt by the church to give young men an outlet, chime well with the clubs current attempts at building facilities to inspire Manchester’s youth and harness their sporting talent.