Council unveils compass in memory of The Man Who Saved United

 By Andrew Embling

  • Trafford council unveil new compass in memory of James William Gibson
  • Gibson was Manchester United chairman between 1931 and 1951

Trafford Council has unveiled a new compass in memory to James W. Gibson and his family.

The Gibson Compass was opened by both the Mayor of Trafford, Ceremonial Mayor of Salford and other distinguished guests in part of Halecroft Park, close to the site of Alanor, the house Gibson lived in and which itself formed the backdrop to the dramatic saving of Manchester United in December 1931.

The house no longer exists, but it was the scene of the meeting between Gibson and United secretary Walter Crickmer just before Christmas which resulted in Gibson pledging not only support, but the money needed to keep United afloat with the banks refusing any further credit to the debt-riddled club.

Gibson famously went on to not only pledge over £40,000 of his own money (more than £2million in today’s money) and stand guarantor for the debt the club was in, but also established many of the foundations which have seen the club become England’s most decorated side and one of the most well-known institutions in world football.

The chairman, who presided over United for almost 20 years until his death in September 1951, was to open his heart to supporters who he saw as the lifeblood of the club.

He held meetings with the Midland Railway to build infrastructure and arrange for unscheduled train stops on match days to make the journey to Old Trafford easier for supporters and was behind the development of the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club in 1937, along with Crickmer, to harness talented youngsters in the local area.

Gibson also secured an agreement for the youth side to play their games at The Cliff, as well as taking the decision to employ Matt Busby in 1945.

When Old Trafford was bombed in 1941, it was Gibson who once again rebuilt the fabric of the club, working with the local MP for the plight, not just of United but all clubs who had been damaged during the War, to be debated in Parliament and licences for rebuilding granted.

Alanor was also the place where the FA Cup resided after United’s victory in the 1948 final.

With Old Trafford still in the process of being rebuilt, the Cup was stored safely in a wardrobe at Gibson’s house after the side had made their triumphant return to Manchester.

Gibson, who had suffered a stroke and was unable to make the trip to Wembley to watch the final, is famously said to have told manager Busby that ‘you have fulfilled my greatest ambition’ after the Cup success.

The United saviour died in September 1951, months before Busby’s side won the league title for the first time in 40 years.

His son, Alan, was to continue the family legacy at the club having been voted to the Board of Directors in 1948. Alan gave almost half a century of loyal service to United, as Director, vice-Chairman and later on vice-President, until his death in 1995.

The Gibson family were very prominent in the local community, with Alanor also used during the War to help with the laundering, sorting and mending of clothing for those in need of them.

Lillian Gibson did much for the local area, spending her time as a member of St Peter’s Parish Church and as President of the Hale branch of the National Lifeboat Institution amongst other positions.

She also set up a Trust Fund for St Peter’s Church and sold land – part of which now forms Halecroft Park – to be used for the benefit of the local community.

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