Football: Only one United? Why we are united in our disgust

Simon Turnbull says Newcastle had a United 10 years before Manchester
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The Independent Online
CONTRARY TO what you might hear from the red half of Wembley Stadium next Saturday, and what you might read in black and white the following day, there does happen to be more than one United. There are, in fact, 15 to be found within the membership of the Premiership and the Football League. Two of them meet at Wembley on Saturday. And this historic occasion, the first of 118 FA Cup finals to be contested between Uniteds, affords a suitable opportunity to set the record straight.

To those of us who live in Newcastle, Sheffield, West Ham, Carlisle, Southend, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Leeds, Torquay, Rotherham, Peterborough, Colchester, Cambridge and Oxford, there is nothing more galling than the presumption that Manchester's second oldest football club should have some form of monopoly on the name "United". The construction of this very paragraph was broken by a telephone call from a sports-desk colleague who mentioned that Newcastle might cause an upset and "beat United". It has become too tiresome to respond to with the entreaty: "And which particular United would that be?"

Even to someone brought up on Tyneside as a Sunderland supporter (rather than a Protestant, a Catholic or plain heathen Newcastle United worshipper), it is irksome in the extreme to read of "Newcastle" - or "Leeds" or "West Ham" for that matter - playing against "United." The fact is Newcastle had a United 10 years before Manchester did.

It was at a meeting at Bath Lane Hall on 9 December, 1892, that the committee of Newcastle East End voted to change their club's name. Several alternatives were considered - Newcastle FC, Newcastle City, Newcastle Rangers and City of Newcastle - but it was decided that "Newcastle United" would be an appropriate choice, Newcastle West End having merged with East End six months previously.

It was not until 1902 that Manchester United materialised. They did so in circumstances that could be described as both bizarre and bazaar. The club that entered the Football League as Newton Heath, having been formed by carriage makers at the Newton Heath depot of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, might have been derailed had they not held a bazaar in a final, desperate attempt to raise funds. They might have still folded had Harry Stafford, the team captain, not tied a collection box to his St Bernard and allowed it to wander out into the streets outside. It just happened to be found by a wealthy local businessman, John Davies, who proceeded to become the club's saviour and benefactor. It was he who decreed a change of name to Manchester United. He also changed the club colours, from green and gold to red and white, and funded the building of Old Trafford.

The rest is history, though any football historian worth his anorak will tell you that the Old Trafford residents have no chronological claim to the United title. They are in fact, only the fourth oldest United, preceded by those from Sheffield (1889), Newcastle (1892) and West Ham (1900) and succeeded by those from Carlisle (1903), Southend (1906), Hartlepool (1908), Scunthorpe (1910), Leeds (1919), Torquay (1921), Rotherham (1925), Peterborough (1934), Colchester (1937), Cambridge (1949) and Oxford (1960).

So if any club has the singular right to be referred to as "United" it is the one that came into being 110 years ago when Wednesday FC moved out of Bramall Lane and the Ground Committee, facing a loss of revenue, decided to form their own club. Newcastle United, of course, could strike a blow for the sleighted majority if they were to emerge victorious from the first FA Cup final battle of the Uniteds. Even then, however, chants of "There's only one United" from the black and white half of Wembley would not have an entirely convincing ring to them.

As any veteran member of the Toon Army will tell you, there have always been two Newcastle Uniteds - the one that lost to the Southern Leaguers of Hereford one Saturday afternoon in February 1972 and the one that beat a Manchester United team featuring Best, Law and Charlton at Old Trafford seven days later. That was the last time either of the Newcastle Uniteds beat Manchester United away from St James' Park. It's time that record was put straight, too.