You might not even have known that there was a stadium there did you?!
Well there was, right up until the early 90s, and it’s often said that the ‘stadium’ (I’ll explain why it’s in quotation marks later) was home to the first FA Cup Final, well – sorry but it wasn’t.
I thought I’d get that out there at the start instead of teasing you for around 800 words and then disappointing you. But much like most of these ‘Myths of Manchester’ pieces, it’s not about the myths themselves – it’s about where they come from.
So, I’m going to delve deep into some serious football statistics, bore you with the results of 10 years’ worth of FA Cup results and explain (in excruciating detail) the differences between football in the late 1800s and today.
I’m only messing. None of that will happen – this one will be a good one. I promise.
It was way back in 2003 when I first heard the myth of the stadium in Fallowfield. Back then it looked much as it does today – a large expanse of green fields, a weird overgrown concrete patch and a rather impressive and swanky (at the time) student halls of residence (with en-suite facilities).
I was meeting a mate who lived at Richmond Park and he must have heard it off someone else because as we walked past the fields on the way to Iceland to buy some cans of Oranjeboom beers, he told me that the first ever FA Cup Final was held right there.
It stuck with me all of these years and it was only last week when I was pissing about on Google Maps that I decided to see whether it was true or not. And here’s what I came up with…
There was indeed a stadium round the back of the University of Manchester Fallowfield Campus, a stadium that stood for almost 100 years until it was finally bulldozed and replaced (partially) by the Richmond Park Halls.
It opened all the way back in 1892 and was not just a footy pitch but also an athletics stadium and even velodrome, something that becomes pretty obvious when you see pictures of the bloody thing.
It’s about as far removed from what you think of a stadium to be nowadays – it was pretty much simply a pitch with an elevated, angled mound around it – a mound that started off as a grassy knoll and was subsequently replaced by a more technologically advanced bit of concrete.
Sadly, for all of the people who believe that the stadium was the site of the first FA Cup Final – it wasn’t. In fact, by the time the thing was built, the FA ‘Challenge’ Cup had been running for 22 years.
The final of the cup had always been held at the Kennington Oval in London – which was what they called the famous cricket ground in those days.
At that point the game was in its relative ‘official’ infancy, with the FA only releasing a true ‘Laws of the Game’ ten years prior in 1863. Before then there were hundreds of variations throughout the land, some of them subtle, others massive.
Once the FA published their official rules of the game, they decided that they wanted to create a country-wide competition open to all clubs.
In them days most of these clubs consisted of either school teams or teams from local army regiments, but it wasn’t long until the town and city teams we know today started popping up.
The first ever FA Cup Final was actually held at the Oval in 1872 between the ‘Wanderers’ and the Royal Engineers. It ended 1-0 to the Wanderers in case you’re bothered.
So, why do people think that the first one was held at the Fallowfield stadium?
Well, probably the most valid reason is that this was the first FA Cup Final to take place up North and out of London. It was also by this point that the Cup had garnered the reputation that it still has today – with hundreds of teams from throughout the country taking part.
It may also be that the myth came from the fact that the game itself was rather infamous throughout the city and within the pages of FA Cup history as an absolute bloody disaster.
The game was Wolves versus Everton, with Everton going into the match as the clear favourites. They were so confident that they were going to win that they even played a reserve team for their league match a week before the final – which they won, comfortably, against… Wolves.
The official attendance at the game was 45,000 which is absolutely crazy considering there was no seating and just a silly little knoll in which to watch the game from.
In fact, reports estimate that over 60,000 people turned up to watch the game, with only a very small percentage of these actually being able to see anything other than the back of the bloke’s hat in front.
It was pretty much agreed that this was the largest crowd to ever attend a football match, with the Sporting Chronicle contesting “The sight was such as had never been previously seen at a football match in any part of the world.”
This huge crowd and terrible facilities caused the game to be stopped over and over again, as spectators spilled out onto the pitch. Even as players ran down the wing, they’d be stopped in their tracks by some dopey knobhead falling out onto the pitch, followed by around 15 of his mates having a laugh and sipping beers.
Before long the spectators decided it would be funny to just stick a leg out and try to trip up the wingers, so both teams decided to just wolf the ball up to the front of the pitch every time they got it – meaning it essentially became like a shite game of tennis.
Everton lost the game and were furious – telling the FA that the “environment was not fit for a competitive match” and demanding a replay. They never got it.
The FA seemingly got the message though as they never held the final at Fallowfield Stadium ever again, using it for a Semi-Final a year later and then finally in 1899 when the game had to be abandoned due to a crush in the crowd.
The stadium was used for athletics, the odd rugby match and a few cycling events but not much else until Manchester University bought it in the early 60s. They finally demolished it in 1994.
So no, if you’ve heard this myth then unfortunately it’s not true – it wasn’t the site of the first FA Cup Final. But you’ll be pleased to know that it was the site of the first disastrous FA Cup Final – a farce that only us Mancunians can be proud of.