Anna Connell was born in 1855. Her father, Arthur Connell, was curate of Christ Church, Harrogate. In 1865 Connell became the rector of St Mark's Church in West Gorton in Manchester. There was a great deal of unemployment in the area and in January 1879 Connell set up a soup kitchen and a relief fund for the local poor. In its first week over 1,500 gallons of soup, 1,000 loaves of bread and 10 tons of coal had been distributed by Connell and his helpers.
Anna Connell also became involved in community work. She was deeply concerned about the religious and racial conflicts in the city. After heavy drinking sessions, there were regular fights between the different groups in Manchester. According to Peter Lupson, the author of Thank God for Football (2006): "At that time, West Gorton was an area of tremendous deprivation. There was overcrowding, squalor, poor sanitation and poverty, and the ways in which the men of the community sought refuge from this was drink and gang warfare, which was called 'scuttling' in that era. We are talking about 500 people at a time involved in fighting. The local press reported 250-a-side – we are talking about warfare. Anna was grieved by seeing these men live such wasted lives and wanted to do something for them that could reverse the direction they were going in."
Anna Connell believed that the creation of male clubs would help improve the community spirit. With the help of William Beastow and Thomas Goodbehere from Brooks' Union Ironworks, she established a series of clubs. This included the creation of the St. Marks Church Cricket Team. The first recorded game took place against the Baptist Church from Macclesfield on 13th November, 1880. The youngest player was 15 year old Walter Chew. The eldest was Archibald MacDonald, a 20 year old iron moulder.
The team was a great success. The Archdeacon of Manchester told one meeting of Anna Connell's Men's Meetings: "It must be a great source of encouragement to see how the movement had been taken up, and the highest credit was due to Miss Connell for the way in which it had been carried out. No man could have done it - it required a woman's tact and skill to make it so successful."
That winter Anna Connell established the St. Marks Church football team. In 1884 the team was renamed the Gorton Association Football Club. The team included three players, Walter Chew, William Beastow and Edward Kitchen, who had been members of the original cricket team. Beastow also supplied a new kit of black shirts with a white cross.
In August 1887 the club moved to a new ground at Hyde Road. They also changed their name to Ardwick. Two years later the club built a grandstand capable of holding 1,000 spectators. The joined the Alliance League and in 1891 Ardwick won the Manchester Cup. The following season they won the cup again by beating Football League side Bolton Wanderers, 4-1 in the final.
The management committee of the Football League decided in April 1892 to form a Second Division of 12 clubs as well as expanding the First Division to 16 teams. Ardwick became a member of the Second Division and in the 1892-93 season finished in 5th place.
Joshua Parlby became the Ardwick manager in 1893. The following year Newton Heath joined the Second Division. Both clubs were based in Manchester but neither carried the name of England's second largest city. Parlby argued that the club should change its name from Ardwick to Manchester City. As Gary James points out in Manchester City: The Complete Record (2006): "The selection of the name was directly aimed at creating a side to represent all of Manchester and so, for perhaps the first time in the history of the region, there was an organisation to represent all Mancunians no matter what their social status, background, or place of birth." The management committee agreed and the club became known as Manchester City.
In 1894 Joshua Parlby signed Billy Meredith from Northwich Victoria. Aged only nineteen, this extremely talented outside right soon became a firm favourite with the fans and was dubbed the "Welsh Wizard" by his admirers. The following year he won his first international cap for Wales. However, he continued to work underground as a miner during the week until 1896, when Manchester City finally insisted that he give up his colliery job. That season he was top scorer with 12 goals.
Arthur Connell suffered from chronic bronchitis and in July 1897 he was forced to resign as rector of St Mark's Church. His wife had died two years previously and Anna took the decision to nurse her sick father. They moved to Southport, where it was hoped that the sea air would improve Arthur's health. He died in February 1899.
Anna went to live with her married sister in Walsall. Later the family moved to Darlaston where her brother-in-law became rector.
Anna Connell died after suffering a heart-attack on 21st October, 1924.
Of all the famous football clubs founded by churches, only one can claim to owe its origin to the initiative of a woman. That unique distinction belongs to Manchester City. It was a remarkable young woman, Anna Connell, a clergyman's daughter, who took the first important step that was to lead to the creation of one of the great football clubs of England. When she started a Working Men's Meeting at St Mark's Church, West Gorton, in 1879 out of concern for the rough, tough types who lived there at the time, she could hardly have guessed that her charitable action was to have lasting repercussions for the world of football.
Photographs of many faces stare down at Peter Lupson as he works in the study of his home near the Wirral. Some are of his family. Others belong to people long dead who have nevertheless loomed large in his life as he has spent the last 11 years writing a book which offers English football an opportunity to examine its soul.
These grainy black-and-white reproductions of Victorian visages are nothing less than a gallery of the game's founding fathers, to whom Lupson's recently published Thank God for Football (Azure, £9.99) pays painstaking tribute.
In researching his work, this 61-year-old languages teacher has established that 12 of the 38 clubs which have played in the Premier League can trace their origin directly back to churches or chapels. He has also traced the lives of those responsible for starting the teams, in the case of six of them, all the way to their graves, which he has located in various stages of disrepair.
Last month, Tottenham Hotspur, having been alerted to the fact that their originator, John Ripsher, lay in a pauper's grave in Dover, became the first of those six clubs to honour their beginnings, setting up a smart new headstone which acknowledges the role played by this former bible class teacher from All Hallows Church.
Other clubs mobilising to spruce up their founders' resting places include Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City and Swindon Town, while Everton have just been alerted to the current whereabouts of Benjamin Swift Chambers, responsible for their creation as St Domingo FC.
Honouring graves is one thing; honouring ideals another. It is Lupson's fond hope, nevertheless, that these acts of piety may yet prompt football's influential figures to reconsider some of the principles which inspired the graves' inhabitants.
The teams in question were instituted in the spirit of "muscular Christianity", a concept that was developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century which emphasised the importance of serving others and striving in a physical sense as part of the Christian's duty.
Fostered in public schools, and popularised in Thomas Hughes' 1857 book Tom Brown's Schooldays, this ideal was instilled in a generation of young clergymen who emerged from universities and took up positions in urban communities where working men were in danger of being lost in a mire of poverty, drunkenness and gang violence. In Tottenham, in Fulham, in Southampton, in Swindon, in Everton, in Bolton, in Manchester it was time to "play up and play the game".
"There were four key ingredients of character which it was believed the games field could develop," Lupson says. "Courage – which they called 'pluck', not ducking the hard challenge – fair play, unselfishness – you played for the team – and self-control. So football was seen very early on as a moral agent."
Thus, when a new rector arrived at St Mark's, in West Gorton, Manchester, in 1879, he encouraged his 27-year-old daughter, Anna Connell, to take on her own hard challenge.
"At that time, West Gorton was an area of tremendous deprivation," Lupson says. "There was overcrowding, squalor, poor sanitation and poverty, and the ways in which the men of the community sought refuge from this was drink and gang warfare, which was called 'scuttling' in that era.
"We are talking about 500 people at a time involved in fighting. The local press reported 250-a-side – we are talking about warfare. Anna was grieved by seeing these men live such wasted lives and wanted to do something for them that could reverse the direction they were going in."
Miss Connell knocked on every door in the parish – by Lupson's estimation, that meant 1000 doors – to spread word of the weekly working men's club she was setting up in the parish hall. The first week, three people turned up. But soon, with the help of two churchwardens who worked at the local ironworks, that number became 100.
Playing sport was a natural adjunct to other activities such as singing, discussion and bible recitations. That meant, in the first instance, cricket. But soon the men wanted to keep fit in the winter for their cricket, and decided to do so through football.
"They called themselves St Mark's West Gorton FC," Lupson says. " Anna's father, Arthur, was the first president, and that club exists today because of Anna Connell knocking on all those doors and not giving up, and it's called Manchester City."