You can travel all over the world, meeting people of all nationalities, and often you will find the conversation moving to football. When it does, the team that is most heard of is undoubtedly Manchester United. They are a team like no other in terms of being a global brand, with other clubs taking part in pre-season tours to try and come close to the worldwide popularity of the Red Devils. What some of them, or even you, might not know is that there is another Manchester club. No, not Manchester City… but another Manchester United. They ply their trade around 1,200 miles south of Old Trafford in Gibraltar, and have a rich history of their own to tell. I spoke with the co-founder and chairman of this intriguing club, Clive A. Moberley, to learn more.
This tale began over 50 years ago at a location where many of us like to talk about football most: the pub. “The club was founded by three close friends, George Undery, Louis Ghio and I, over a drink at our local pub called the ‘El Sombrero'”, Clive A. Moberley told Box To Box Football via email. But there’s pub talk, and then there’s action – and these guys acted on their idea in the best possible way, as Moberley explains: “In May 1962, I wrote to Sir Matt Busby who was the manager at the time of Manchester United UK, requesting permission to use the Club’s name and colours”. Yes the same Sir Matt Busby who managed George Best, Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law… And happily for this group of friends, permission was given and preparations began for this rather unique club.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located right at the bottom of Spain. It has a population of over 30,000 and is best known for the Rock of Gibraltar which dominates the 2.6 square mile peninsula – to give you context, that means that you could fit the whole of Gibraltar into London over 230 times! Due to the huge rock there is also the somewhat awkward presence of an airport runway that currently intersects the only public road going into Spain. The Victoria Stadium is the 5,000 seat arena where the national and club teams play their games – it is also fairly close to the runway, so if you thought kicking the ball out of your school playground was a big mistake, imagine kicking it onto an airport runway! It was on this small area of land that the home of a new club came to be in 1962 named Manchester United F.C., one that continues to thrive to this day, and Clive A. Moberley was there to see this journey start. “By the time that training was due to start in September 1962 on our first day at the Old Victoria Stadium, we had at least 30 players”, Moberley remembers, “and this is a sight I still clearly remember to this day”.
The beginnings of this club were humble ones – for the first eight years, they did not have a club house and met in bars and social clubs instead, raising money through raffles to pay for their shirts which at the time cost them 5 shillings each – that’s about 25p in modern money, which nowadays wouldn’t be so bad when a shirt is going for over £40! But Manchester United Gibraltar was a big draw for aspiring footballers in the area, with other clubs such as Prince of Wales, Britannia, Europa and Gibraltar United on the decline. And over the years the club has enjoyed much success: 9 Gibraltar League wins, 7 Senior Cups and 5 Rock Cups, to name but a few. There are youth teams of all ages as well as the senior team, who competes in the Gibraltar Premier Division. And throughout this a close connection has been maintained with the English counterparts after whom they are named, for this is a club built on supporters of Manchester United in all senses. Every year there is a trip arranged to visit Old Trafford to watch a game, with supporters both old and young attending in order to encourage the support of Manchester United UK by the local Gibraltarians. In fact, there is an interesting crossover in Danny Higginbotham, a Manchester United UK academy product who started his career at Old Trafford. Going on to play for Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke City in his career, he would also at one point represent the Gibraltar national team (qualifying through his maternal grandmother) in their first ever match as a UEFA member, a 0–0 draw in a friendly against Slovakia in 2013.
One of the biggest moments for the Manchester United Gibraltar club came in August 2009, when they learned that Sir Alex Ferguson would be visiting Gibraltar to inaugurate the new premises that they had recently acquired. It was a hugely important moment for the club, to have one of the most famous names that Manchester United UK has coming to open the premises that would signal a bright future for Manchester United Gibraltar. As Clive A. Moberley remembers, it was a visit to remember for the club, a dream that had been years in the making. “Sir Alex together with our Patron Sir Peter Caruana inaugurated our premises to the delight of our many members, signing numerous autographs and taking many photos. At 11 am the next day we collected Mile Phelan & Bryan Robson to have a training session with our junior members.” Photos were taken, ribbons were cut, and the enduring popularity of the club from Old Trafford was established face-to-face with a whole new generation of budding footballers in Gibraltar playing for the club in the Victoria Stadium.
So what next for the other Manchester United? Well 2013 proved to be a game changer for all football teams in Gibraltar, as for the first time a qualifying spot each was put on offer for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. This means the very real, and highly unusual, possibility that the two Manchester Uniteds could play each other in future! While 1,000 Twitter followers of Manchester United Gibraltar compared to the 7.51 million that follow Manchester United UK doesn’t seem much, given that the 2013-14 season was David Moyes’ time in charge, it could be argued that the Gibraltar Manu outfit actually had more chance of qualifying than their English counterparts that year… To comply with UEFA rules, Manchester United Gibraltar have now re-named themselves Manchester 62 F.C. in order to reference the year that they were founded, although they continue to be known generally as Manchester United F.C.. Should they qualify in either of the European spots on offer, this would be a huge financial benefit for a club that looks to continue its growth. While their older brother holds the worldwide recognition, this club has a rich history of its own, coming through humble beginnings to excel – and now the future for them and other clubs in Gibraltar looks even brighter.