James W. Gibson

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A plaque on Sir Matt Busby Way commemorating Gibson's work as chairman of Manchester United from 1931 to 1951.

James William Gibson (21 October 1877 – 11 September 1951) was a British businessman who was the owner of the English football club Manchester United from December 1931 until his death in September 1951.


Early life[edit]

The son of a successful uniform manufacturer, Gibson was born in Salford but brought up in central Manchester with his younger brother, John, and their sister, Florence, who died at a very early age. Tragedy befell the family again when Gibson was 14, as both his parents contracted fatal illnesses and the children went to live with their paternal grandparents. Unfortunately, the grandparents died soon after, and the children were taken in by their uncle, their mother's only brother, William Fell. Fell was himself a successful businessman, like the boys' father, and had become a famous corn merchant on the outskirts of the city. Gibson began working with Fell in the corn business, immersing himself in all aspects of the company, but excelling in sales.

Into the clothing industry[edit]

Just after the start of the 20th century, after 15 years working for his uncle, Gibson decided to set up his own company. The textiles industry in and around Manchester was booming at the time, so Gibson followed his father into the uniform business, and since his father's name was still fairly well known in the city, he quickly built up a portfolio of contacts. The business grew steadily for several years, before the outbreak of the First World War earned Gibson his first major contract; the company began manufacturing uniforms for the British Armed Forces on a daily basis. This deal forged Gibson's reputation and by the end of the war he had become a well-respected entrepreneur.

However, the end of the war also meant that the company was now selling less uniforms and needed a new source of revenue. Not content with anything small-scale, Gibson approached the city corporations with an offer to provide uniforms for the tram drivers and conductors, selling the idea that they would be proud to wear such a uniform. The idea proved a success, and Gibson was able to diversify into other fields outside clothing. Nevertheless, he continued to concentrate on the uniform business and, in 1924, he entered into a partnership with Messrs F. Jones and R. H. H. Briggs, forming Briggs, Jones and Gibson. They relocated the business to larger premises on Lostock Street, near Oldham Road in Collyhurst, and the combined talents of the three men meant further expansion, both in Manchester and in other cities. However, in 1926, Jones died, putting the business under pressure. For reasons thought to be related to his age, Briggs also decided to sell his share in the business, and Gibson took sole control of the company. Unfortunately, this coincided with the onset of the Great Depression, which meant a massive downturn in trade. Fortunately for Gibson, his interests in other fields meant that the business was able to survive the Depression.

Manchester United[edit]

A Salfordian by birth, Gibson was living in Old Trafford in 1911 and was aware of his 'local' football team, who had just moved into their new stadium in the district, although whether he was an active supporter at this time is not known.

Unlike the wealthy Gibson, Manchester United F.C. was being affected greatly by the Great Depression around the start of the 1930s. Their previous owner, John Henry Davies had died in 1927 after 25 years at the club. They had won the FA Cup and two league titles during the first 10 years of his chairmanship and by the time of Davies's death they were developing a reputation as a "yo yo" club who regularly moved between the First and Second Divisions and their future was under threat by large debts.

By December 1931 United were on the brink of bankruptcy, with the banks refusing to give any further credit to the club. On 19 December Gibson met with Club secretary Walter Crickmer to discuss helping the club. Gibson gave a gift there and then of £2,000. That money was enough to pay the backlog of players' wages, buy each member of staff a turkey for Christmas and keep the club afloat into the New Year.

Gibson attended the matches over Christmas and in January 1932 formally took control of the club, replacing the existing Board with new Directors and becoming Chairman and President.

In 1933/34 Gibson held discussions with the Midland Railway company and persuaded them to build steps from the platform at the local station to Old Trafford and for trains to make unscheduled stops on match days to help the supporters attend the games. Attendances improved as a result, even though United still struggled on the pitch.

With money still tight and the Chairman acting as guarantor to the huge debt, Gibson came up with a master-plan to harness the young talent of the local area. Along with Walter Crickmer he formulated the youth team system, the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club in the 1936/37 season. This brainchild was almost instantly successful and Gibson also secured a lease on the Old Broughton Rangers rugby ground, known as The Cliff, for the MUJACs to play their games.

In March 1941 Old Trafford was bombed in a German air raid and the ground was destroyed. As the Second World War was in full swing a license had to be granted before the damaged grandstand could be pulled down and the ground rebuilt. Gibson arranged for United to play their home games at Manchester City's Maine Road ground whilst Old Trafford was out of commission. He also worked with the local MP for Stoke, Ellis Smith, to bring about a debate in Parliament regarding the granting of a license to rebuild the ground. This brought about a meeting in December 1947 with the Minister of Works and in 1948 United were granted funds to rebuild Old Trafford. The debate also helped secure funds for a number of other clubs who had also sustained damage during the War.

In 1945 Gibson also recruited Matt Busby as United's new manager. Busby was largely untried in management, but Gibson appointed him to the post and the club secured their first FA Cup for 40 years in 1948 by beating Blackpool 4-2 at Wembley. Gibson was unable to travel to the match as he had suffered a stroke a few months before and was not well enough to travel.

Gibson suffered another stroke and died on 11 September 1951. At the end of that season United secured their first League title under Busby.

Gibson's son, Alan, continued the family interest at the club, having been appointed to the Board in 1948 and he himself gave almost half a century of service to United, until his death in 1995.

In 2001 Trafford Council unveiled a red plaque on the railway bridge just outside the ground at Old Trafford to commemorate James Gibson. Gibson is widely known as the man who saved United.


  • Harrington, Peter (1994). The Gibson Guarantee - The Saving of Manchester United: 1931-1951. Questions Answered. ISBN 0-9515972-4-8. 
  • Davies, Paul (19 January 2012). "The man who saved United". ManUtd.com (Manchester United). Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  • Marshall, Ian (2010). Old Trafford The Official Story. Simon & Schuster UK. ISBN 978-1-84983-101-7. 
  • Embling, Andrew (19 December 2011). "80 years on". joinmust.org (Manchester United Supporters Trust). Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  • Masters, James (11 January 2013). "James Gibson:The Man Who Saved United...Twice". edition.cnn.com (CNN). Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
Business positions
Preceded by
George Lawton
Manchester United F.C. chairman
Succeeded by
Harold Hardman