The Manchester Welsh

This article, of which there will be two, will look at the impact Welsh players and coach have had with the two Manchester clubs, City and United. These clubs have a rich history and players from the principality have had a part to play in creating this history and achieved great success. In the second article, I will create a combined Manchester Welsh XI and please feel free to comment if you feel there are improvements or alterations that can be made. I hope this article will improve the standing and notoriety of some of the lesser known but no less deserving players that have played for either club as from doing my research for this, I discovered a few players that I had not heard of before who had made an impact for these clubs but maybe do not get the recognition that some of their other countrymen do.

Manchester United was formed in 1878 and were then known as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club but it was not until 1886 that a Welshman first made an appearance for the club. That honour went to John Powell, a full back from Wrexham who made his debut in an FA Cup match against Fleetwood Rangers on the 30th of October and will be forever known as the first Welshman to play for the club. Since then 43 more players from Wales have gone to make appearances for the club each with a varying degree of success.

The first Welsh player to make a significant impact on the club was Billy Meredith, the mercurial winger who came to the club from their bitter rivals Man City. His transfer to United was controversial not for the fact that he came from a city rival but because he was serving a ban from the Football Association for attempting to bribe a fellow player in a league match towards the end of the 1904-05 season. Which allowed Manchester United to sign him on a free transfer as Meredith was willing to forego a benefit match that was agreed if the transfer was allowed to go through. He did not make his debut for the club until January 1st, 1907 against Aston Villa in which he provided an assist for the only goal of the game. With Meredith in the side, the club won its first league title in 1907/08 with a nine-point advantage over the team in second place and chipped in with 10 goals. He also helped United win the first ever Charity Shield Match in 1908 in defeating Queens Park Rangers. More success was to come in 1909 when he helped United overcome Bristol City in the FA Cup final, yet his contribution to this match was not only his play on the pitch but he was also responsible for the design of the shirts that United wore in that match. His next trophy came in 1910/11 when he helped United win its second league title by playing in 35 matches and contributing with 5 goals. Success eluded him in the rest of his time at the club as he failed to win another major trophy with United when he left in 1921 aged 46. He is still the oldest player to have played a match for the club and made over 300 appearances for the club and scored 36 goals and will be forever linked with the clubs first successful era. His death in 1958 came 2 months after the Munich Air Disaster and went relatively unnoticed and was buried in an unmarked grave until Professional Footballers’ Association, the Welsh FA, Manchester City and Manchester United all agreed to cover the cost of upkeep on a new headstone. He was the club’s first superstar and his name is always mentioned among Manchester United’s and Wales’ greatest ever players.

The next Welshman to find success at the club is Samuel Bennion, a half back who made over 300 appearances between 1921 and 1932. Although little is known about him due to playing in an era where the club was not very successful and bounced between the First and Second Division. With him tasting relegation in his first full season at the club in 1921/22 and again in 1930/31. He came to the club from Chrichtons Athletic in Saltney and left United when he was 36 after arriving at the club as a 24-year-old. He is currently 43rd on United’s all-time league appearances table and has made more appearances than club legends like David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer.

Although it was difficult to collect enough information to write about this player, I thought it would be fair to mention him given the contribution he made to the club in a less than an illustrious period.

Another Welshman who contributed in this less than a glamourous period of United’s history in Henry Thomas, who was at the club between 1922 and 1930. He went through the same triumphs and tribulations that Samuel Bennion did and accumulated 135 appearances and scored 13 goals. He came to the club from Porth FC and made 1 appearance for his country.

Thomas Bamford – a legend in Wrexham’s history, made his own contribution for Manchester United when signed for them in 1934 and went on to have a record of scoring a goal in every other game in his 4 years at the club. He helped United gain promotion back to the First Division in the 1935/36 season. He left in 1938 with a record of 57 goals in 109 games. Bamford is more famous for being Wrexham’s all-time leading goal scorer and would have added to this record if United did not come calling. He did not receive a cap for Wales in his time at United, gaining all 5 of his caps whilst a Wrexham player.

The club’s darkest hour, the Munich Air Disaster on February 6th, 1958 featured 2 Welshmen with contrasting fortunes that day. Kenny Morgans who was the youngest player involved in the crash at only 18 years old, having made his 10th appearance for the club the previous day against Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup. Although he survived the crash with only minor injuries, his career suffered and he only went on to make 13 more appearances for United and moved back to his home town of Swansea in 1961 and never went to make an appearance for his country.

The other Welshman involved at the club at this time was the assistant manager Jimmy Murphy who was not present at the crash. Having managed Wales to World Cup qualification with a win over Israel in Cardiff. His role whilst the manager, Sir Matt Busby, lay in a hospital bed in Munich, cannot be understated. He cobbled together a makeshift team to ensure United fulfilled their league commitments and guided them to an unlikely FA Cup final defeat against Bolton Wanderers, he was the inspirational leader during this dark time. I believe that without Jimmy Murphy at the club, United would not be as successful as they were in the 50’s and 60’s. His contribution to the club cannot be overemphasized as he was a coach and assistant manager from 1946 until 1971 and was a part of the scouting department until the late 1980’s. He played a big part in developing the talent at the club that was to become known as the Busby Babes and helped mould the careers of club legends such as Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and George Best. Such is the esteem in which he is held for the role he played in developing youth and talent at the club that when he died in 1989 the club renamed its Young Player of the Year award after him. In his time as a coach and assistant manager at the club, United won six FA Youth Cups, five First Division Team, two FA Cup and a European Cup. His preference to refrain from the limelight meant that he rejected offers to manage Arsenal, Brazil and Juventus and remained loyal to Man United.

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Mark Hughes – a hero of mine when growing up and would score the goals when the club needed them the most, such as in the FA Cup Semi Final in 1994 which kept the Double alive that season. He was discovered by Man United’s North Wales scout Hugh Roberts who spotted Hughes playing for local schoolboy teams Rhos Aelwyd under-16’s and Wrexham schoolboys. He made his debut in 1983 in the League Cup against Oxford United and his first spell at the club went on to make 121 appearances and 47 goals and won an FA Cup winners medal in 1985 before being sold to Barcelona in 1986 for £2 million. After a disappointing spell at the club and a loan move to Bayern Munich, Hughes returned to the club in 1988 with Alex Ferguson at the helm and would remain there until 1995 adding a further 352 appearances and 116 goals to his previous tally, which leaves him fifteenth and ninth on the club’s all-time lists respectively. He was the club’s first player to win the PFA Player of the Year Award when he won in 1988/89 and became the first player to ever win it twice when was awarded it again for his performances in the 1990/91 season. It was in this season that Hughes managed to gain some redemption against his old club Barcelona when he scored the 2 goals that defeated them in the European Cup Winners Cup. He would go on to win 11 honours with the club when he left for Chelsea in 1995 and would win the majority of his 72 caps for Wales whilst at the club.

Clayton Blackmore – was a team mate of Hughes for the majority of his career but did not receive the same fame and notoriety. He arrived at the club as a 14-year-old schoolboy from Neath in 1978 and was part of the team that reached the FA Youth Cup final in 1982. He would go on to make 245 appearances for the club, contributing in every area of the field and was one of the rare players that would wear every shirt number from 2 to 11. He would end up making more appearances for the club than legends such as Eric Cantona, Paul McGrath and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He would go on to win 5 honours with the club before leaving for Middlesbrough in 1994. Although his light did not shine as bright as his team mates he made his contribution and did whatever it is that was asked of him even if it meant playing in an unfamiliar position.

Ryan Giggs – what can be said about Giggs that has not already been said. His contribution to the recent success of the club cannot be said enough. From when he made his debut in 1991 to the day he laced up his football boots for the final time in 2014, he managed to become not only United’s most decorated player but the most decorated player in English football history, winning 35 honors and numerous individual honors including 2 PFA Young Player of the Year Award 1991/92 and 1992/93 and the PFA Player of the Year in 2008/09. He was the first of Fergie’s fledgelings to come through to the first team having being poached from Man City’s academy as a 14-year-old. From then on, his record of 963 total appearances for the club, looks unlikely to being broken in the foreseeable future and is over 200 more than the previous record holder Bobby Charlton. Giggs’ contribution to the club is massive for it was his wonder goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup Semi Final that kept the Treble dream alive and it was he along with Rio Ferdinand who lifted the Champions League Trophy in 2008. Giggs’ name will forever be remembered at Manchester United as a legend who remained loyal to the club throughout his career and was a significant part of the club’s most successful period.

In the next article, I will look at the history of Welsh players who have played for Man United’s city rivals and the impact they have made along with the combined XI from both clubs.

I would like to thank the website for some of the vital information used in this article.

Neil Jones


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