John Henry Davies owned a large brewery in Manchester.
Newton Heath, the local football club, had serious financial problems. In 1901 the club staged a four-day grand bazaar in St James Hall, Oxford Street, Manchester. The club needed to raise £1,000 in order to avoid bankruptcy. Even though Manchester City even made a donation, by the end of the third day it seemed that the venture would prove unsuccessful.
Harry Stafford, Newton Heath's captain, had the idea of using his St. Bernard dog, Major, to raise money. He wandered amiably between the stalls with a collection box strapped to his back. It was hoped that the dog would attract donations. On the fourth day of the grand bazaar Major escaped from St. James Hall. He eventually found his way to the home of John Henry Davies. He liked the animal and decided to buy the dog for his daughter. When he traced the dog's owner, Stafford told Davies about the financial position of Newton Heath. The two men became friends and decided to make a takeover bid for the club.
By 1902 Newton Heath was £2,670 in debt and faced a winding-up order. At a shareholders' meeting in the New Islington Hall, Harry Stafford announced that he and four local businessmen, including John Henry Davies, were willing to takeover the club's debts. The Football League approved the plan and Newton Heath now became Manchester United. It was also decided that the club would now play in red shirts and white shorts.
Stafford, along with Davies, became a director of Manchester United and James West was appointed as manager. Davies arranged for John J. Bentley to be appointed as president of the club. However, at the end of the 1902-03 season West and Stafford were suspended by the Football Association for making illegal payments to players. In his defence, Stafford claimed: "Everything I have done has been in the interests of the club."
Ernest Mangnall became the new manager. He was recruited from Burnley and as the authors of The Essential History of Manchester United pointed out: "Mangnall... preached a gospel of physical fitness and team spirit while maintaining that players should be given a ball only once a week".
Mangnall made several new signings. Probably the most significant was Charlie Roberts, who cost a record transfer fee of £600. At the time Mangnall was criticised for paying such a large sum for such an inexperienced player. However, it proved to be an inspired decision and it was not long before Roberts established himself as the keystone of the Manchester United defence. for £600 from Grimsby Town, and soon became club captain. Other important signings included Charlie Sagar, Dick Duckworth, George Wall, John Peddie, John Picken, Thomas Blackstock and Alec Bell.
In the 1905-06 season Manchester United won promotion to the First Division when they finished second to Bristol City. The club scored 90 goals in 38 games and top scorers were John Picken (20), John Peddie (18) and Charlie Sagar (16). Manchester United's defence was also impressive and only let in 28 goals that season. Charlie Roberts played at centre-half and he was flanked by two outstanding wing-halves, Dick Duckworth and Alec Bell.
Manchester United started off the 1907-08 season with three straight wins. They were then beaten 2-1 by Middlesbrough. However, this was followed by another ten wins and United quickly built up a good advantage over the rest of the First Division. Although Liverpool beat them 7-4 on 25th March, 1908, Manchester United went on to win the title by nine points. Top scorers were Sandy Turnbull (25), George Wall (19), Jimmy Turnbull (10) and Billy Meredith (10).
Mangnall had created an impressive team that was solid in defence and exciting in attack. The former Southampton player, Harry Moger, was a reliable goalkeeper who played in 38 league games that season. Dick Holden (26) or George Stacey (18) competed for the right-back position whereas Herbert Burgess (27) was the left-back. It has been argued that the half-back line of Dick Duckworth (35), Charlie Roberts (32) and Alec Bell (35) was the heart-beat of the side. Billy Meredith (37) and George Wall (36) were probably the best wingers playing in the Football League at the time and provided plenty of service for the inside trio of Sandy Turnbull (30), Jimmy Turnbull (26) and Jimmy Bannister (36).
The following season Manchester United enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup. They beat Brighton & Hove Albion (1-0), Everton (1-0), Blackburn Rovers (6-1), Burnley (3-2) and Newcastle United (1-0) to reach the final. Newcastle, who went onto win the league that season, was obviously disappointed by being prevented from winning the double. However, the whole of the Newcastle team waited for 15 minutes in torrential rain aboard an open coach so they could applaud their conquerors after the game.
Jimmy Turnbull (5), Harold Halse (4) and Sandy Turnbull (3) got the goals during the successful cup run that got them to the final at Crystal Palace against Bristol City. As both clubs usually wore red, Bristol played in blue whereas Manchester United played in white shirts with a deep red "V". The game was disappointing and Sandy Turnbull scored the only goal in the 22nd minute.
Manchester United was clearly one of the best clubs in the England, yet its ground was one of the worst in the First Division. John Henry Davies decided to loan the club £60,000 in order that they could build a new stadium with an 80,000 capacity. When it was completed the stadium had the largest grandstand in the Football League. It also had a gymnasium, massage room, plunge baths, bars, lifts and tearooms.
The first game at Old Trafford took place on 19th February, 1910. A crowd of 45,000 saw Liverpool beat Manchester United 4-3. This attendance record was beaten a few weeks later when 50,000 saw United beat Bristol City 2-1. The following season, 65,000 watched a FA Cup tie against Aston Villa.
In June 1910 Ernest Mangnal purchased Enoch West from Nottingham Forest. He replaced Jimmy Turnbull in the attack and had a great season scoring 19 goals in 35 games. West formed a great partnership with Sandy Turnbull and together they scored more than half of the team's goals. On the last Saturday of the season Aston Villa led Manchester United by one point. United had to play third-place Sunderland at Old Trafford whereas Aston Villa had to go to Liverpool.
Manchester United won their game 5-1. Charlie Roberts told the Manchester Saturday Post what happened next: "At the end of the game our supporters rushed across the ground in front of the stand to wait for the final news from Liverpool. Suddenly a tremendous cheer rent the air and was renewed again and again and we knew we were the champions once again." Aston Villa had been beaten 3-1 and Manchester United had won their second championship in four years.
John Henry Davies died in 1926.