The First Season We Met - Manchester United
Manchester United were formed in 1878, originally with the name, Newton Heath LYR Football Club, by the carriage and wagon department of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway at Newton Heath. Playing in the company colours, green and gold they played in various departmental games and minor leagues until they joined the football league at the start of the 1892-93 season in Division 1.
In January 1902, beset with mounting debts they were served with a winding up order, but Harry Stafford, the team captain found four local businessmen who each put up £500 to form a new club and Manchester United were officially born on 24th April 1902.
Three years later they were in Division 2 which is where one of Chelsea's oldest rivalries began. The 1905-06 campaign saw the start of Chelsea's life in the football league and a promising start under manager, John Tait Robertson had the team challenging for promotion throughout. Bristol City and Manchester United were the clear favourites as far as the bookmakers were concerned, as indeed it proved to be, but the new club from the Fulham Road were never far away come the finish.
The very first encounter between the two teams took place on 25th December 1905, the Christmas Day fixture pulling a 35,000 gate to Bank Street, the home of United at the time. On the day of the game United occupied 2nd place in the table behind Bristol City. Chelsea were in 3rd, but a gap of five points separated them both which meant Chelsea could ill afford to lose. It was a highly competitive game given the poor weather conditions and with 78 minutes on the clock the home side were awarded a penalty. Thankfully for Chelsea, Robert Bonthron's spot kick went wide of the post and they headed home with a point from a 0-0 draw.
When the construction of Stamford Bridge had been completed it was stated in one publication that 'Chelsea would stagger humanity' although probably not referring to the team. It had been designed to hold in excess of sixty thousand people, but that seemed a pipedream as the average had been 10,000 up until the visit of Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on 13th April 1906.
The three teams at the top still occupied the same three places, but this time the gap between Chelsea and United had been reduced to one point, although United had played a game less. A win for Chelsea would therefore put them in 2nd place with four games to play and it would have exerted some pressure on United. With the stakes high, such was the interest in the game that over 67,000 spectators flocked to the new stadium, the first time, but certainly not the last that such a number would attend a game at Stamford Bridge.
Again, the crowd were treated to a fine game between two competitive teams. After a goal less first half it looked as though the pendulum had swung the way of the visitors when James Peddie scored for United in the 67th minute. However, the home side were made of stern stuff, the debut boy, Peter Proudfoot having a particularly excellent outing. Raising themselves for another effort to rescue the situation, they got their reward in the 80th minute when Tommy McDermott forced the ball home to level the score. Chances came for either side to snatch a dramatic late winner, but none were taken and as at Bank Street on Christmas Day honours were even.
United went on to gain promotion to Division 1 as runners-up to Bristol City whereas Chelsea missed out in 3rd place, but all would be different a year later.
By Paul Waterhouse, Bygone Chelsea 1905-99