Club News

City DNA #20: The rise and fall of Hyde Road

From waste ground to a stadium hosting major games, a visit from King George V and then reduced to ashes, the story of City’s home of 36 years is tinged with triumph and sadness.

It was still early days in the life of Manchester City Football Club and back in 1887, the Club was operating under the name Gorton FC and would continue to do so for another seven years,

But the burgeoning Manchester club needed a new home having outgrown a number of previous venues in East Manchester and when a likely patch of land was sourced close to the Hyde Road Hotel, enquiries were made to the relevant landowners.

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The area of land belonged to a railway company and after negotiations between the estate agent and club officials (believed to be player Walter Chew and future manager Lawrence Furniss), a seven-month lease was agreed for the princely sum of £10.

The nearby Galloway Engineering Works provided materials to create a basic venue for the club who, as a result of their new location, became Ardwick FC as a result.

The ground, as such, had very few amenities and the players had to use the Hyde Road Hotel (which also doubled as an administrative hub) to change before and after matches, but nonetheless, Ardwick FC had a home.

The first 1000-seater stand was erected in 1888 and paid for by Chesters Brewery in return for what was technically a sponsorship package that allowed the brewer to sell alcohol inside the ground.

Though Ardwick joined the Football League in 1892, financial issues and other problems, by 1894, Manchester City FC were formed from the ashes of Ardwick FC with Hyde Road the home of the newly-named Manchester club.

Over the next few years, Hyde Road’s facilities were gradually upgraded, with changing rooms built in 1896 a new stand in 1898 and further enhancements meant that by 1904, it had a 40,000 capacity and was deemed worthy of hosting the 1904 FA Cup semi-final between Newcastle and The Wednesday.

By 1910, three uncovered sides of Hyde Road were roofed for the first time allowing 35,000 City fans to escape the Mancunian drizzle when it fell. But for all the improvements, the access and surrounds of Hyde Road were poor and, in poor weather, treacherous.

Huge crowds were also causing safety concerns that were difficult to oversee with the 1913 FA Cup tie with Sunderland attracting more than 41,000 fans, though estimates at the time put that figure as being several thousand higher and eventually the crowd encroachment forced the game to be abandoned.

Further safety improvements were made between 1912 and 1914, though the First World War saw Hyde Road become a home for 300 horses as football took a back seat.

Though City had almost outgrown Hyde Road, in 1920 King George V’s visit made the Blues’ home the first football venue outside of London visited by a reigning monarch, but in November that year, the ageing ground’s fate was all-but sealed.

Fire engulfed the Main Stand and reduced it to a charred, skeletal frame, destroying numerous Club records, accounts and claiming the life of Nell, the faithful Club hound.

A letter to shareholders read: “Owing to the disastrous fire which occurred on the Club’s ground on the 10 November last, when most of the principal books and papers relating to the Club were destroyed.”

The fire in question was a catastrophic blaze that completely gutted Hyde Road’s Main Stand. The date on the ledger letter from manager Ernest Mangnall, however, is at odds with other archive reports which suggest it was the day after Guy Fawkes Night – 6 November.

Records dating back more than 20 years were irreplaceable, but given the intensity of the blaze, it is perhaps a minor miracle only Nell’s life was lost.

The cause was believed to be a stray cigarette butt, rather than a spark from a bonfire or a firework.

Though the Blues remained at Hyde Road for another couple of years, the blaze helped speed up the process of leaving the ground for good with Maine Road completed and operational in time for the 1923/24 campaign.

Hyde Road was demolished soon after City left for Moss Side and 36 years of residence soon amounted to no more than a pile of mud and rubble.