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Season 2014/15

Gary James blog #3: Under the floodlights

  • 16 July 2014 08:58
  • Posted by @garyjameswriter

Gary James has been writing about the Blues for over 25 years. Here’s the third in our series of blogs by the Manchester football historian.

With City facing Hearts to mark the centenary of Tynecastle's Main Stand on Friday, I thought it would be worth looking back at another friendly between the two clubs, staged to mark a ground development. The match I'm thinking of was part of a series of games played at Maine Road in 1953 to mark the switching on of the club's floodlights for the first time.

Nowadays, hardly a match goes by without the lights coming on for at least the latter stages of a game but back in the early fifties, the concept of playing under lights was alien to many. Some thought the game should never be played under artificial conditions. Others, including allegedly United manager Matt Busby, felt floodlit football would never catch on and therefore saw no reason to invest in it. Busby soon changed his mind! 

In the 1880s and 1890s, City's predecessors Ardwick had played friendly matches under floodlights, including games against Everton and Preston and a charity match against Newton Heath (United) at Belle Vue. However, the use of floodlights for first class football didn't occur until the early 1950s.

Several clubs, including Arsenal and Wolves, tried friendlies under lights with Wolves switching on their lights in September 1953. At the time, neither Football League nor FA Cup matches could be staged under lights so any club investing in floodlighting was taking a major gamble.

City were keen to experiment and in the summer of 1953, four 90ft high floodlight pylons to house their new lights were installed. The lights were first switched on for a friendly with Hearts on 14 October 1953. City had narrowly missed out on being the first side in the north-west to switch on their lights when Bury switched on theirs for a friendly a mere eight days earlier!

To celebrate this great event, City invested in shirts with a shiny finish. According to one player: "They weighed about three tons. We sank to our knees when we put them on."

City were rightly proud of their lights. According to the City-Hearts match programme: "Maine Road officials were so determined City should have nothing but the best, they spared no expense getting the finest possible equipment… so their claim to have the finest floodlighting system in the country is well founded."

The Blues claimed that the cost of running the lights for about two hours was £3 – that equates to about £73 today which still seems a little cheap for a floodlit game to me!

Maine Road's first floodlit match ended 6-3 to City with Sowden (3), Hart (2) and Broadis scoring for City. One of Hearts' goals was bizarre – Trautmann kicked the ball clear, it hit Hearts' Wardhaugh and rebounded into the net!

The following week, Fenerbahce – a name forever linked with City for the first ever European Cup game played by the Blues – were defeated 5-1 under lights and on 28 October, Celtic and City played out a 1-1 draw in the third floodlit game.

As time progressed, floodlights became a vital part of football. However in 1953, Maine Road was one of the first venues to install permanent lights. In 1955, United moved their first European games to Maine Road due to the lights, meaning that City's old ground was the first to stage European Cup football in England.  

The lighting system was improved in 1964 when the original pylons were sold to a team in Leamington and replaced with taller lighting pylons in the corners. In the early 90s, those pylons were removed and lighting was placed on the stand roofs instead.

Floodlit games are often spectacular events and City have had some superb nights under lights over the years. As Hearts remember the great games played in front of their Main Stand on Friday night, it'd be worth sparing a few moments to think of your own first memories of floodlit City games. There are bound to be some great moments to recall.

Gary is a member of the Sports & Leisure History Group at MMU and is a 'must follow' for City fans. @garyjameswriter and 

His recent research into the birth of football in Manchester is free to download:

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