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United saviour remembered
A week-long exhibition will open on Monday aimed at underlining the significance of James Gibson in the Manchester United history books.
Gibson is one of the most crucial figures in Red Devils' history. Had it not been for the businessman's financial input during the 1930s, United could easily have gone bust. Gibson was also responsible for recruiting Matt Busby as manager in the aftermath of World War II, appointing the Scot whilst he was still in the army. Yet, compared to Busby and other legendary United figures, little is known about Gibson and his great-nephew, Alan Embling, felt it was time Gibson's contribution should be fully acknowledged.
"It does feel a bit like he has been airbrushed out of history," said Embling.
"But without James Gibson, Manchester United might not even exist.
"When (secretary) Walter Crickmer went to see him in Hale Barns in 1931, the club was about to go bust. The banks had closed on them and without the £2,000 cheque he wrote to pay the players' wages, I am not sure how it could have survived."
A military uniform manufacturer initially before widening his range, Gibson ended up as chairman, ploughing £40,000 into United and helping to stabilise the club during the pre-war depression. Then, as the Second World War came to an end and football got ready to resume its own battles, Gibson made an equally significant decision on United's behalf, one that set the template which Sir Alex Ferguson has continued so successfully.
"Matt Busby was completely untried, and whilst Liverpool were also interested, it was still a leap of faith by my uncle to appoint someone from that background," said Embling.
"He gave him more authority than any other manager had at the time.
"Yet it proved to be one of the most astute moves anyone at Manchester United has ever made."
Within three years, Busby had collected his first silverware, the start of an era that spawned the famous Babes and ended with that momentous 1968 European Cup win. Unfortunately, Gibson had suffered a stroke before the 4-2 FA Cup final win over Blackpool in 1948 and was not well enough to attend Wembley. Instead, Busby and his squad took the trophy to Gibson when they got back to the north-west, which is where Embling saw it too.
"My memory of that is quite vivid," he said.
"It was wrapped up in a cover next to my (great) uncle in his bedroom.
"When his wife unrolled it I could hardly believe I was actually seeing the FA Cup. It was a fabulous moment."
Gibson remained United chairman until his death in 1951, although his input was curtailed by his illness. :: The story of James W Gibson will be told in an exhibition at Hale Library, Leigh Road, Hale, January 14-21.
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