Though when one mentions the word ‘United’ in a sporting context everyone assumes one is talking about the Football team from Manchester, the Reds happen to be just one of fifteen other English professional Football clubs that go by that name. The very first sports club to use United as a suffix were Sheffield United in their days as a Cricket club back in the 1850s - the Blades didn’t take up Football until the late 1880s, when their footballing tenants Sheffield Wednesday left their Bramall Lane home and Sheffield United Football Club were formed to produce winter revenue and keep their Cricket players fit during the Winter months. The word ‘United’ was adopted in the literal sense, as several Sheffield based Cricket sides amalgamated together to form one club.
Neither West Ham nor Manchester United adopted their suffix in the literal sense, the former were previously the works side for the Thames Ironworks while the latter were formed by Railway workers and originally called Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club. Of the two sides, it was West Ham that adopted the name ‘United’ first in 1900. Newton Heath FC followed suit two years later when they became Manchester United. The first meeting between the two sides occurred at the Boleyn Ground in late February 1911, when the two sides were drawn together in the third round of the FA Cup. At the time, Manchester United were in the midst of their first ever period of success under the management of Ernest Mangnall (one of only three Man United managers to have ever won the league title – the other two being Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson).
The Reds had won a league title and an FA Cup over the previous three seasons, had moved into their new Old Trafford stadium just a year prior and were presently three points clear at the top of the old First Division. West Ham United in contrast had been unbeaten at the Boleyn Ground for the previous sixteen games, but competing within the Southern League – which though today is now the seventh tier of the English football pyramid, was then of a standard roughly on a par with the Football League, as prominent Southern professional sides capable of attracting reasonable crowds – such as Southampton, Millwall, Crystal Palace and Brighton preferred to participate on a regional rather than national level for financial reasons in relation to travel (the Football league at this time was predominantly made up of sides from the North and Midlands with only Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Orient, Fulham and Bristol City from the South of England).
Footage of the tie would be captured by Movietone News. A crowd of 27,000 crammed into a Boleyn Ground that could then only hold around 25,000, with many fans clambering up telegraph poles, on top of advertising hoardings, as well as the stand itself to view proceedings. West Ham took the lead with a goal from Danny Shea, though Man United equalised with a goal from Sandy Turnbull ahead of half time. In the second half, a nasty clash of heads occurred between two Man. United players - defender Charlie Roberts and inside forward Harold Halse – after both went for the same ball. In an era long before the introduction of substitutes, both players continued while feeling the after effects for most of the remainder of the game. With just two minutes left to play, Tommy Caldwell put West Ham ahead to give the EastEnders a 2-1 win.
Man United bounced back to capture the Football League title by the end of the 1910/11 season, it would however be their last trophy win for the next thirty seven years and their last League title for forty one years, before the Red half of Manchester experienced a rebirth under the stewardship of Matt Busby in the immediate post-war years. West Ham in contrast progressed to the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup that year before losing to Blackburn Rovers and finished fifth in the Southern League. It would be another eleven years before the two sides met again. West Ham were admitted into the Football League when football resumed after the First World War for the 1919/20 season. Man. United suffered a decline after manager Ernest Mangnall left Old Trafford and defected to Man City in 1912. By the end of the 1921/22 season, the Reds had finished rock bottom and were relegated to the Second tier.
The first league meeting between the two sides therefore took place in the old Second Division on Christmas Day of 1922. Man United stood in eighth place in the second tier, just one point ahead of West Ham in ninth. The Hammers were gift wrapped two points after leaving Old Trafford with a 2-1 win. The reverse fixture took place twenty four hours later, back at the Boleyn Ground. Two goals for Arthur Lochhead gave Man United a 2-0 away win. By the end of the 1922/23 season, both sides were vying for a promotion place, while West Ham also managed to progress through to their first FA Cup Final, to be played for the first time at the new Empire Stadium at Wembley with a mammoth crowd officially quoted at 126,047, but which some estimates put at somewhere nearer 300,000.
It became known as the ‘White Horse’ final, due to the efforts of P.C. George Scorey and his horse Billie in preventing serious injury and loss of life resulting from overcrowding. West Ham meanwhile crashed to a 0-2 defeat to Bolton. The West Ham board were considering challenging the result on account of a breach of Rule 5 of the FA code. As Hammers manager Syd King stated: ‘Rule 5, deals with the conditions under which the ball shall be thrown from the touchline, but on Saturday the crowd were on the touchline practically all the time’. The club however eventually conceded that: ‘the directors of the West Ham club are satisfied that they were beaten by the better team on the day’.
That same day, Man United completed their league fixtures with a 2-2 draw away to Barnsley which meant that they could finish no higher than fourth place and were consigned to another season outside of the top flight. Meanwhile, forty eight hours on from their defeat at Wembley, West Ham travelled to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday (then merely called The Wednesday). The Hammers managed a 2-0 win to put them top of the old Second Division on goal average but level points with Leicester City and Notts County, with one more fixture left to play. West Ham’s final game of the season would be against Notts County back at the Boleyn Ground the following Saturday in front of 26,000 fans, in what would effective be a play off for the Second Division championship.
The Hammers however crashed to a 0-1 defeat, meaning that Notts County took the Second tier title. Crucially for West Ham however, fellow promotion challengers Leicester City lost 0-2 away to Bury. The Hammers were promoted to the top flight for the first time on goal average by 0.18 of a goal over Leicester (no doubt aided by the 6-0 hammering which the East End side dished out to Leicester the previous February). The Hammers did not meet Man United again until the Reds were promoted back to the top tier after finishing runners up in the old Second Division in 1924/25. The first top flight meeting between the two sides would be the opening fixture of the 1925/26 season and took place at the end of August 1925. The Hammers took both points with a 1-0 win.
By the time of their next meeting on 2nd January 1926, Man United pushed up to fourth place and were three points off of leaders Arsenal. West Ham in contrast were languishing in sixteenth place. Man United ran out 2-1 winners at Old Trafford. When the 1925/26 season ended just three days before the 1926 General Strike, Man United finished their first season back in ninth place, while West Ham that season finished two points off of the relegation zone in eighteenth position. By the time of Man United’s next visit to the Boleyn Ground at the end of October 1926, West Ham sat in eighteenth position with just three wins from eleven games. Man United started that month with three straight victories, but after eleven games sat in thirteenth place.
The Hammers gave Man United 4-0 thumping, which meant that the Hammers overhauled the Reds in the table on goal average by climbing to fourteenth while Man United languished in sixteenth. By the time of their next meeting the following March, West Ham climbed as high as fifth in the table on the back of three straight wins which included a 7-0 thrashing of Arsenal at the Boleyn Ground. Man United in contrast sat in fifteenth place. West Ham managed a fourth victory on the bounce with a 3-0 away win at Old Trafford in front of just 18,347 spectators at Old Trafford, a result which pushed the Hammers up to fourth in the table. The Hammers finished the season in sixth place in the old First Division, which at that time would be their highest finish to a season. Both West Ham and Man United however would end the 1920s languishing in the bottom half of the top tier.
West Ham would manage a seventh place finish 1929/30, though this season would be an anomaly as the Hammers were a side in decline, as were Man United during this period. When the two sides met at the Boleyn Ground in early October 1930, Man United were anchored to the foot of the old First Division after losing all of their first nine games – a disastrous run which included a 2-6 thrashing away at Chelsea, a 0-6 defeat at home to Huddersfield, a 4-7 defeat at home to Newcastle, a 0-2 home defeat to Grimsby Town and a 1-4 away defeat to neighbours Man City. West Ham feared little better however, winning just three of their first nine games and sitting in fifteenth place.
Man United’s misery continued after suffering an East end thumping as West Ham ran out 5-1 winners. The Old Trafford side’s poor run of results would stretch to losing all of their first twelve games – which still to this day holds the record as the poorest ever start to an English league season. It would be the start of November before Man United got their first points on the board with a 2-0 home win over Birmingham in front of just 11,479 fans. By the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford on Valentine’s Day of 1931, Man United were still anchored to the bottom of the table and nine points adrift of safety under a two points for a win system, having played one game more than their rivals. West Ham however had managed to rise up to fourth place by Christmas Day, before a downturn in form for the Hammers which led to six defeats in eight games.
By now, Man United’s attendances had shrunk to just 9,745 on account not just because of United’s poor form but the effects of the Great Depression which raged through the industrial North in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash. Despite the miniscule crowd, Man United managed a 1-0 win. For the Hammers, the downturn continued. From the remaining thirteen games, there would be just two wins, two draws and nine defeats. The Hammers ended the season in eighteenth place. For Man United however there would be a failure to win their next seven games. A 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Good Friday sealed Man United’s relegation with five matches still left to play. Their final game of the season would be a 4-4 draw with Middlesbrough witnessed by a crowd of just 3,969.
For Man United, the downturn continued and by December of 1931 were facing bankruptcy, but were saved a week before Christmas by Old Trafford based businessman James Gibson who wiped out the club’s debts. The Reds however only had to wait another eighteen months before meeting West Ham again, as the Hammers poor form carried on into the 1931/32 season. A disastrous run of nine defeats out of ten saw West Ham relegated after a 2-3 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. By November, the Hammers were anchored to the bottom of the second tier having won just two of their first thirteen games.
Two days after a 0-3 defeat away to Bradford Park Avenue, Syd King – the club’s manager since their foundation over three decades prior – had been suspended after turning up to a board meeting ‘drunk and insubordinate’. The Hammers had turned things around on the pitch and were unbeaten for the following four games – which a 5-2 win over Grimsby and a 7-3 thrashing of Charlton at Upton Park, ahead of Man United’s visit to the Boleyn Ground in early December. The Hammers form continued with a 3-1 win over sixth placed Man United and by the end of that calendar year had climbed up to seventeenth.
By 3rd January 1933, after another board meeting doubts were raised as to manager Syd King’s honesty and a belief that the West Ham boss had been siphoning off money from the club. The Hammers’ board proceeded to sack King. After his dismissal King fell into a spiral of alcoholism and depression which led to his suicide a month later. By the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford in late April 1933, the Hammers stood two points off of the relegation zone without a win away from home all season. The Hammers managed to pull off their first away victory with a 2-1 win, which had been their third victory in a row.
The following week, the Hammers managed a 1-0 home win which secured their position in the second tier by just one point. West Ham would however spend the next quarter of a century outside of the top flight, though fixtures against Man United would continue during this period on account of the Reds spending most of the 1930s in the second tier, in the shadow of their neighbours Man City who at the same time were developing a reasonable side. Man United’s lowest ever finish in the Football League came in 1933/34, during which they suffered the humiliation of a 7-3 defeat to Grimsby Town on Boxing Day. When West Ham visited Old Trafford on Easter Monday 1934, Man United stood second from bottom of the table, where West Ham stood mid-table.
A goal from future West Ham manager Ted Fenton inflicted a 0-1 defeat on Man United. The return fixture came three days later on Easter Monday at the Boleyn Ground. West Ham bagged both points again with a 2-1 win; however a win for Man United over Blackpool in between on Easter Saturday meant that they overhauled West Ham’s East London rivals Millwall on goal average. One win and three draws later, Man United went into the final game of the season one point adrift of safety with Millwall one point above them. Man United’s final game would be away to Millwall at the Den. United needed a win to prevent a drop to the old Third Division North, while Millwall needed just a draw to survive.
Millwall started the game on top, pinning back United for long periods. Against the run of play, United went a goal up. Early in the second half, United added a second. A 2-0 win kept United up in twentieth place and sent Millwall to the old Third Division South for the first time in their history. Man United turned their situation around after this season. By the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford at the end of October 1934, both sides stood on equal points with Man United ahead of West Ham in fourth place on goal average. A 3-1 win for the Reds pushed United up to second in the table. Both Man United and West Ham however remained in contention for a promotion place, until February.
After three defeats in a row, Man United dropped to sixth place and five points off of a promotion place. Back to back defeats also saw West Ham drop to fourth and two points off of Bolton Wanderers in second place. A 0-0 draw between West Ham and Man United in early March 1935 did both sides no favours, as both fell further off of the pace. By the end of April, Man United were out of contention in fifth place, eight points behind West Ham in second place with a two point cushion over Blackpool in third and just two games left to play. The Hammers however crashed to a 1-3 away defeat to Bolton Wanderers who moved up to one point behind them in third place but with a game in hand.
On Mayday, Bolton defeated run away leaders of the old Division Two - Brentford - to overhaul West Ham with one game left to play. On the final day of the season, West Ham defeated relegated Oldham Athletic 2-0 at the Boleyn Ground and were waiting on fourth place Blackpool to defeat Bolton at home to send the Hammers back up to the top flight. A 1-1 draw up in Lancashire however meant that Bolton went up as runners up instead of the Hammers. In 1935/36, West Ham visited Old Trafford in Mid-November. After a bright start to the season, three defeats on the trot had seen Man United drop to sixth place. West Ham meanwhile languished in fifteenth place after winning just five of their fourteen games so far. A 3-2 win for West Ham at Old Trafford, inflicted a fourth straight loss on Man United.
By the time of Man United’s visit to the Boleyn Ground the following March (captured in the photo above, Man United sporting unfamiliar hoops), West Ham had risen up the table and were only kept off of the top by goal average. Man United stood four points behind in fifth, but with two games in hand. A 2-1 win for United pushed them to within three points of a promotion place and with two games in hand over second placed Charlton. Within a month however, both West Ham and Man United were vying for the top spot. West Ham topped the table with five games left to play; though after accruing just one point out of a possible six the Hammers conceded the top spot to Man United. The Reds secured promotion back to the top flight after a 3-2 away win over Bury with one game left to play.
By the time of the final Saturday of the season, the battle for the remaining promotion place would be between Charlton in second place a point behind Man United and still in the running for the Second tier title, while West Ham were two points behind Charlton in third. Man United were held to a 1-1 draw away to Hull, leaving the door open to Charlton to steal the title. At the Valley however, the South East London side were held to a 1-1 draw with Port Vale, meaning that Man United were confirmed as champions of the old Second Division. West Ham therefore had the opportunity to secure promotion along with Man United, however the Hammers crashed to a 2-4 defeat to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, meaning that they dropped to a fourth place finish.
Man United’s promotion meant that West Ham had to wait two years before facing the Reds again. Man United slipped back into the second tier after finishing second from bottom in 1936/37 after just one season back. A 0-1 defeat away at West Brom sealed their relegation on the final Saturday, a fate made all the worse after Man City won the league title that same season. When West Ham visited Old Trafford in late February 1938, Man United stood in fourth place and four points off of a promotion spot. West Ham would be three points behind them in sixth place. A thumping 4-0 home win for Man United pushed them up to fourth place.
The return fixture back at the Boleyn Ground in late April would be the penultimate game of the League season. Man United would be two points off of a promotion place in third. West Ham meanwhile sunk to eleventh place in the table. A 1-0 win for West Ham secured by a goal from Len Goulden – which unknowingly at the time would be the last fixture the two teams played before the Second World War - meant that Man United slipped to third with one game left to play. The Reds were one point behind Sheffield United who had completed their fixtures. A 2-0 home win over Bury meant that Man United overhauled Sheffield United to seal promotion back to the top tier after one season in the old Second Division.
For Man United, this promotion meant that they would secure their place in the top tier, which they would consolidate well into the post war era. West Ham however in contrast were not able to haul themselves back up to the Old First Division for the next two decades. As will be seen tomorrow in Part 2, by the return of regular fixtures between the two sides by the end of the 1950s, both sides would be enjoying a golden era of sorts, and much of which would be captured by TV cameras for posterity.
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