Burnley v Manchester United (Unknown director, 1902)

This is a truly historic film artefact, badly damaged though it is: the very earliest footage of Manchester United, shot months after they changed their name from Newton Heath. The frenetic action shows United (in dark tops) apparently on the back foot against near-neighbours Burnley, although the home team ultimately lost 2-0. The result helps explain why the film was never advertised in Burnley. [1]

Watch Burnley v Manchester United from 6th December 1902

This is really interesting for me. I have been a Manchester United fan for as long as I remember, though I grew up in neighbouring Burnley where this film was recorded. I class Burnley as my second team, which generally means I want them to win in all but two weekends of the season.

The ground still stands in the same spot to this day at Turf Moor on Harry Potts Way, though it has obviously undergone a lot of developments. In this video you can see the single-tiered Brunshaw Road end (now the Bob Lord stand), to which a second tier was added a few years later. The ground looks fairly sparse, and a bit of research reveals that the attendance that day was around 4000.

There’s clearly a huge difference between the way the game is played today and how it was 113 years ago. Immediately the attire is completely different, with most wearing their shorts way higher up than their bellies. The pace of the game is much slower, probably due to the thicker clothing, longer grass, heavier ball and general lack of fitness of the players (note Bulldog cigarettes advertised above one of the stands). On the plus side, there are no free-kicks given for soft fouls, no diving, nobody shouting at the referees and no shirt advertising.

So what does it show? Is the game better or worse today? Well, it is certainly different. This is a fantastic early artefact of the game. There is earlier footage available – the earliest of which is thought to be Blackburn Rovers v West Bromwich Albion from 1898. It’s also only 1 minute and 35 seconds long, so you might as well watch it.

[1] From the BFI Player page for the video.

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