Moss Side and Maine Road: City’s impact on a Manchester suburb

We look at how City has played its role in one of Manchester’s most diverse neighbourhoods.

This piece was originally published in October 2022.

A football club should be at the heart of its community. 

That’s the ethos that our game was built on in the 19th century. Many of the biggest clubs in the country today started out representing churches, work places and pubs. 

For City, that local community for much of the 20th century was the inner-city suburb of Moss Side.  

After forming through St Mark’s Church in Gorton and creating a permanent home at Hyde Road for almost four decades, we moved to Maine Road in Moss Side in 1923. 

Originally with a standing capacity of around 80,000, the ground was famous across the world of football and its stands dominated the suburban skyline for the 80 years we remained in the area. 

Moss Side has long had a diverse population with immigrants from all over the world moving in to start their life in Manchester, even before City moved to the area.  

This extended to the Windrush generation, when people from Commonwealth nations arrived in the UK to help rebuild the country after World War II. 

In the 2011 census, the latest for which this data is available, almost 40% of Moss Side’s population considered themselves Black or mixed-race, around ten times the average across all of England & Wales at the time. 

The Manchester Caribbean Carnival began in the area in the 1970s, when locals of St Kitts & Nevis and Trinidadian origin came together for processions through the streets. That annual party continues to this day with dance troupes, floats and music seeing the otherwise residential area come to life. 

As the 20th century wore on and the world changed beyond recognition, that vibrant mix of cultures in Moss Side existed alongside a regular influx of City fans coming to the area to see Eric Brook, Bert Trautmann, Colin Bell, Georgi Kinkladze, Shaun Goater and countless other fan favourites at Maine Road. 

However, life wasn’t easy for many of the predominantly working class residents of the area during a rise in poverty across the whole of the north west of England. That’s where the benefit of community spirit and support really shines through. 

Alex Williams MBE, the first Black goalkeeper in professional English football, was born in Moss Side to Jamaican parents in 1961. 

“It was a really difficult time for a lot of people in Moss Side,” he said.  

“My parents both came into the country with very little education because there was no formal education in Jamaica at that time. 

“My dad had no education so he did a lot of manual labour but he didn’t earn a lot of money. My mum had a bit more of an education and was working two or three jobs. It was a real struggle for them to make ends meet.  

“She ended up having five children. My mum tells me she used to go cleaning in the morning and would drop my baby sister at one of her friends before they went to school.  

“The West Indian community were always quite close and if they didn’t know you personally, it was always a case of them knowing one other person who knew you. One of the big hubs at the time was the Moss Side Community Centre where everyone would go.  

“As I got older there were certain places, where young African-Caribbeans would go at night-time. That’s when City were really at their prime with Malcolm Allison and Joe Mercer, a lot of people were big City fans.” 

Dave Cornwall, a lifelong fan who grew up in the area, says his first memories of matchdays in Moss Side involved ‘car minding’ where local children would offer to stand by supporters’ cars while they were at the match in return for some pocket change. 

He would use the money gained from that to attend matches and buy programmes, but it was the first team’s engagement with the local people, businesses and schools that stood out for him. 

He said: “City players and coaching staff used to come into my school for PE lessons. 

“Sometimes I’d be sat in English and see the likes of Asa Hartford just on his afternoon run around the community.  

“I used to spend a lot of time hanging around Platt Lane, hoping to get an autograph off anyone I recognised. 

“All the players were really accessible and that was a good thing about Plant Lane. I would go and watch the odd training session and meet the players in the car park outside and they really had time for you.” 

The Platt Lane training facility in Moss Side is pictured below...

Professor Erinma Bell MBE, now a prominent campaigner and peace activist in Moss Side, has less recollection of City being part of her childhood but has seen a change in that regard through her life. 

“Growing up as a girl, I knew where the ground was,” she said.  

“My dad took me once but otherwise, I didn’t have much involvement with the club while I was at school. 

“It was always appeared that it was other people coming into Moss Side and going to the games. That’s why I am really keen to ensure we can get free tickets for young people to go now. 

“There is also City in the Community, which is great. They engage much more than I experienced when I was young.” 

For Williams, who had moved to nearby Levenshulme in his childhood before progressing through school football and being picked up by City, it was a big step to move into the first team in 1980. 

In terms of Black players to pull on a City shirt, the goalkeeper was not the first. Stan Horne represented the Blues between 1965 and 1968, becoming the first Black player to win Division One, and is now permanently recognised at the City Football Academy with a classroom named in his honour.

However, he was the first Black goalkeeper across the country. Williams felt that was a point of pride for the people of Moss Side and City fans in general. 

“I think it made a lot of people think this is an inclusive football club. For City, being in Moss Side, that was really important,” he said. 

Williams was interested in giving back to the community as soon as he could. 

“Even when I first started playing we had something called the Junior Blues, that was open to any young person. Once a month at City’s social club the players would meet the kids,” said Williams. 

“Every year we did a pantomime, I remember being dressed as the back end of a horse. It was great because the people of Moss Side could get really close to the players.  

“We would meet for training as at Maine Road, get changed then walk to Platt Lane to train. You’d walk past all the shops and everyone would say hello to you. I think the people of Moss Side loved how close they could get to the club.” 

At the same time, Moss Side was developing a negative reputation in the national media. A rise in poverty saw people forced out of the area, loosening the ties that had made Moss Side such a positive celebration of a mix of cultures in the 1950s and 1960s. 

City in the Community would not form in its current guise until 1986 but the Club were already active in the area. 

Cornwall also remembers how matchdays at Maine Road were a chance for the people of Moss Side to prove to visiting fans that their preconceptions of the area were wrong. 

He said: “Football brought people into the area and back then, Moss Side started to get a really bad reputation so I think it had a massive impact for the people and businesses in Moss Side.  

“They would go home and say they had had a good time at City. They saw the area wasn't as bad as they were led to believe. 

“I'm not saying that the area didn't have problems but it just made me sad because they also didn't recognize the positive elements of the area as well like the people, the carnivals, the mix of cultures and of course, City!” 

“I think it made a lot of people think this is an inclusive football club. For City, being in Moss Side, that was really important”
Alex Williams on reaching City's first team in 1980

Williams’ early love of community work continued throughout his life as a professional. 

When injury saw him lose his first team place and eventually force him to retire in 1987 after a season with Port Vale, there was only one area of the game he was interested in moving towards for his second career. 

Initially, he worked on Port Vale’s programme offering in the West Midlands but it wasn’t long before he was tempted home. By then, City in the Community was up and running and already making a difference. 

He started back at Maine Road in 1990 as a member of staff, but fortunate timing and an incredible commitment to his hometown soon earned him a promotion. 

There he developed City in the Community’s programme beyond what it had been before, eventually seeing him honoured as an MBE in 2002 for his services to young people. 

Reflecting on his days in the charity’s top role, Williams said: “We were working with other clubs across Greater Manchester to set up initiatives across the entire region. For us, that was soccer schools at Platt Lane or us visiting them at their school, including the very diverse schools that were right on our doorstep in Moss Side.  

“During my time as Head of the Foundation, people saw a Black face at the head of it and it immediately knocked down barriers. We had an array of people from all races working in the foundation and attending our events, which has continued throughout and I see it today in my current role.” 

City moved out of Maine Road in 2003, with the newly built City of Manchester Stadium to the east of the city centre helping move the Club into the 21st century. 

While that move has undoubtedly helped us take up our current place in the upper echelons of world football, it was inevitable that it would lead to changes in Moss Side. 

But we were committed to keeping its roots in the area, knowing that these changes and the loss of matchday income would impact the area. 

For that reason, City in the Community knew maintaining a highly active presence in Moss Side was essential. 

Now, we offer five different activations with the young people of Moss Side and surrounding areas such as Hulme, Rusholme and Longsight.  

Some sessions, such as Soccer Schools, offer a safe environment and a free lunch but focus on the sheer joy of the beautiful game. 

Other programmes have a wider objective. One of which is Kicks, which is designed to give young people access to a range of diversionary opportunities, with the primary objective of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. 12–18 year olds receive access to football, dance, basketball, music and gym sessions on eight sites across Manchester. 

Also active in Moss Side, delivered through City in the Community, are the Premier League Primary Stars and Premier League Inspires courses which teach vital life skills to children and young adults via the attraction of one of the best leagues in the world. 

“We use football and music to engage the youngsters and provide an activity for them,” said Williams who is now an ambassador with City in the Community – attending many of the events organised to engage people of all demographics across Manchester. 

“We work to bring different groups together and stop the area feeling so territorial. That’s a huge piece of work that has been ongoing ever since we left Maine Road and it’s always important to break down those barriers and create that community spirit.”

Away from City in the Community, the Club has continued our commitment to use local businesses as much as possible while Moss Side residents are employed in some of the many permanent and casual roles that help the Club function off the pitch.

As well as reaching out to the residents, opening the doors of our current homes at the Etihad Stadium and the City Football Academy is key.

That includes others who are working hard to give the people of Moss Side greater opportunities in life.

Professor Bell MBE, the campaigner we met earlier, is widely recognised for her work in providing those in Moss Side with prospects that many elsewhere may take for granted.

Along with her husband, she is the co-founder of CARISMA (Community Alliance for Renewal, Inner South Manchester Area).

She recognises the impact that experiencing the world-class facilities that exist at City can have, and includes the Club in her plans for inspiring future generations. 

“At CARISMA, we try to take young people into different spaces in Manchester and the Etihad Stadium is one of them,” she said. 

“We have an award ceremony called the OSBAs (Outstanding Social Behaviour Awards) which we’ve held it at the Etihad Stadium in 2011 and are planning to again.

“That’s about bringing young people in to an area to sit down, have a three-course meal and be in a space they wouldn’t normally go to because of cost or opportunity. Showing young people that they belong somewhere like the Etihad Stadium is so empowering for them.”

At Manchester City, we believe a football club should be at the heart of its community, and it must go out and positively affect those on its doorstep.

During our 80 years at Maine Road, we were twice the champions of England and three-time FA Cup winners. Moss Side may no longer be Manchester City’s home, but for many of our fans, it is where our club’s spirit lies.

So for City, our presence must continue to be felt by the residents of the proudly diverse Manchester suburb. After all, for football to be the people’s game, it must have something for everyone.

For more information on City in the Community’s work, head to