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The History of Manchester United - Part III
by Andrew Embling

PART 3 - United's Second Saviour

United's second saviour arrived just before Christmas 1931. James W Gibson, a local businessman, had met club secretary Walter Crickmer on December 21st, on a recommendation by club scout Louis Rocca. With the club in desperate trouble financially there was no time to lose. The meeting at Mr Gibson's home in Hale Barns was a short one, but a prosperous one for Mr Crinkmer. He left not only with a generous gift of 2000 - enough to pay the players' wages and keep the wolves at bay - but also more importantly a pledge to act as guarantor for the club's liabilities until early January 1932.

Mr Gibson's hope was to be able to raise funds to help the stricken club to regain its feet. He proposed a new issue of 'Patron's Tickets' hoping to raise funds. The response was disappointing, but James Gibson took heart from what he had received, and decided to pledge more of his own funds to change the fortune of the club.

In December 1932 Mr Gibson, now elected Chairman and President of United, appointed Scott Duncan as Manager. On the pitch the team continued to struggle and relegation in 1933/34 to the Third Division was a distinct possibility. The overdraft at the bank stood at more than 17,000. Mr Gibson continued to stand as guarantor for the debt. The team somehow managed to beat Millwall in the final game of the season to remain in the Second Division, the Londoners slipping to relegation after United's victory. That season, as United doggedly escaped relegation by the closest of margins, their neighbours Manchester City were enjoying FA Cup success. City held the upper hand in Manchester, of that there was no doubt. James Gibson was determined that this would not be the case for much longer. The following season United finished fifth in the league, and there were signs that the club was on the mend. In 1935/36 season United improved still further, and having gone on a 19 match unbeaten run at the end of the season, the team won promotion back to Division One. 

Relegation and promotion again followed over the next two seasons as the team yo- yo'd between divisions. Stan Pearson was signed in 1937, having been spotted by Mr Gibson whilst he was at his house in Bournemouth. Pearson started well, showing promise, as did Jack Rowley, who had also been signed. By that time, however, Scott Duncan had left the club. Financially, the club was still heavily in debt, and the mortgage on the ground was now 25,000. There were not enough funds for transfers, and new players were desperately needed. It was then that Mr Gibson, along with Walter Crinkmer decided that a way of nurturing young talent was needed. The Manchester United Junior Athletic Club was formed, the basis of youth development, which would serve the club so well in years to come. The following June a tenancy was agreed for a pitch for the newly formed team at the Old Broughton Rangers Rugby Ground (later referred to as The Cliff). The Youth Team flourished, winning the Chorlton Amateur League in 1939, scoring an incredible 223 goals in the process. United's first team finished in their highest league position for ten years. The club, still without a manager and run by Messrs Gibson and Crinkmer, were continuing their revival. Then the Second World War intervened.

Having taken the club over eight years before, knowing they were in debt to at least 26,000, James Gibson had taken a huge risk, but it had paid off. Crowds had risen, due mainly to the fact that James Gibson had arranged since 1933/34 to have trains stop on match days at the station at Old Trafford. Steps had been built from the station, and fans no longer had to walk miles to matches. Now with the War came the need to rebuild the club once more.

In March 1941 the Luftwaffe put paid to all the efforts of James Gibson and those at the Club. Old Trafford was bombed. Ten years of their lives had been destroyed in the instant the bombs exploded. Manchester City quickly offered to help their neighbours, proposing Maine Road be used as a temporary home for United until Old Trafford could be rebuilt. But who would re build the club, who could re build the club? It was left to James Gibson again to try and bring forth the phoenix from the ashes

On the pitch United won the 1942 Football League North Cup, and were runners-up in the North Cup of 1945. The war years had been spent by the Chairman trying to persuade the Government to grant the club finance to redevelop and rebuild the ground at Old Trafford. A licence was finally granted in November 1944 for the demolition of the grandstand to allow progress to begin. It was two years later, after considerable effort, that Mr Gibson - through the local MP of Stoke-on-Trent, Ellis Smith - managed to act as a catalyst for a debate in the House of Commons for clubs affected by the war to be helped by way of financial support. Ten clubs, including United, were in need of rebuilding work from war damage. Eventually, in March 1948, almost seven years to the day after Old Trafford had been bombed, United were granted 17,478 to rebuild the ground. It was a great relief to the Chairman, who could now spend his time rebuilding the team

1948 proved to be a landmark year for United. Not only did they have permission to begin work enabling them to move back home, but also they were to win their first major honour under James Gibson. At the end of the War, Mr Gibson had taken on Matt Busby as manager. The team had improved, with players like Johnny Carey and Jack Rowley returning to the fold after the war, and a number of younger players from MUJAC like Charlie Mitten joining the squad. For the first two years after the resumption of the league, United finished runners-up. In 1948 United made it to Wembley to face Blackpool in the FA Cup Final. United won 4 - 2, to take the trophy back to Manchester for the first time since 1909. Sadly, James Gibson had suffered a stroke just prior to the Final and could not travel to Wembley to see the famous victory. The team bus drove straight to the Chairman's house on its return to Manchester, and the players presented the trophy to the man who's commitment to the club had kept the football team afloat and had carried them through for nearly two decades. Alan Embling, the great-nephew of James Gibson, remembers that he visited his uncle during the following month. As a young boy he remembers being taken up the stairs by his aunt, Lillian Gibson, to a spare bedroom. The wardrobe door was opened, and an object wrapped in cloth removed to show him. It was the FA Cup. 1948 was also the year Alan Gibson, the son of the Chairman, was elected to the board - the beginning of a lifetime of serving the club.

The following season, on 24 August 2020, United returned home to Old Trafford. For the next two seasons United finished as runners-up in the league again. In September 1951 James Gibson suffered another stroke and passed away. At the end of that season United fulfilled the promise given to them by their late Chairman and won the league. James Gibson may have died, but his dream was still alive


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