Manchester United for me is all about the history, something many of you may have already gathered if you have bought and read any of my books. Give me the likes of Colman, Byrne and Edwards, even Meredith, Barson and Roberts to DiMaria, Blind and Rafael anytime. I would rather have a signed photo of Joe Spence (that one will follow at a later date) to ten of Wayne Rooney.
If it wasn’t for the history then United would not be what they are today.
I think almost all collectors are historians, keeping those bygone days alive by accumulating items from yesteryear, taking them back to those halcyon days before the first stood on the Old Trafford terraces or sat in the stands.
But for every notable individual that has pulled on the red, or whatever colour of shirt United were wearing that particular afternoon, there are countless others, non-descript individuals whose appearances barely register on the role of honour and whose face perhaps never graced a Manchester United team group photograph. This is where those pre-war cigarette cards come into the fore, not simply taking you back to 1920’s and before, but giving you the opportunity to recreate your own ‘Manchester United Gallery’. A collection of images showing the players of a bygone era. Names that mean little to most, but they were all United players in their own right.
Blank cards were originally used in the paper cigarette packets as stiffeners, but were soon to carry advertisements, before turning to photographs of actresses and their like in the late Victorian years. Various other themes were used with much success on the cards before sets of footballers first appeared with Cohen Weenan and Ogden amongst the first to do so. Their popularity soon prompted other companies to follow suit, with many of those early cards fetching large amounts today.
But there is one set more than any other that captures my interest and that is the ‘Pinnace’ set of cards issued in 1922 by Godfrey Phillips. Over the course of the next two years, a total of 2,463 cards were issued, featuring most of the players from all the Football League clubs, along with a number of Scottish and amateur players.
The black and white portraits measured 45mmx35mm, with each card individually numbered, but as well as those standard size cards, there were larger 60mmx85mm cards also issued, but in vastly smaller numbers.
But what makes those little cards so interesting is the fact that they can provide an interesting portrait gallery of United players of that period, as along with the 23 ‘United’ players in the ‘set’ there are countless individuals listed under other teams who at some point represented the club.
Amongst the United contingent we have names that feature prominently in the club’s history. The likes of Meredith (the Welsh legend and arguably the first footballing superstar), Silcock, Hilditch (the last player manager of the club before Ryan Giggs), Mew, Spence and Barson, along with the more unfamiliar Bisset, Grimwood, Thomas and Forster.
To find the ‘other’ United players, you need a list of every card issued, along with a good who’s who of the club, detailing the dates of their careers to ensure that they correspond with the 1922-24 period. You can then set to work finding the likes of George Wall (a league and cup winner at Old Trafford) under Hamilton Accies, Albert Pape (who arrived at Old Trafford as an Orient player and was subsequently transferred pre-match and lined up against his team mates of an hour before) listed under Rotherham County, then there is Quinn with Clyde, Hamill with City, McLachlan (an FA Cup winner with Cardiff) another listed as a Clyde player, McBain with Ayr United, Robbie with Bury and Whalley with Charlton Athletic. A few of any to be found.
In a future article I will look at a selection of other pre-war cigarette cards of interest.
Here are just a few images.