When Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero finished off the move that captured the Premier League title in the most dramatic of circumstances last Sunday, it’s doubtful that many in attendance spared a thought for the club's founder, Anna Connell, who was born on Christmas Eve 1851 in Clones Co.Monaghan. For it was she who sowed the seeds for what is now one of the world's richest clubs.
The daughter of Arthur Connell, a clergyman, the family moved from Clones to Lurgan and then Tullylish in Co. Down before Arthur received a better offer from a parish in Yorkshire. From there Arthur Connell and his young family moved to St Mark’s Church in Gorton, Manchester. Anna was just 13 years old and what an impact she was to have on the parish. Throughout the 1870s and early 80’s street warfare had become common place and poverty and alcoholism were rife in the Gorton area. But Anna Connell had an idea to try and combat the problems.
Her sister had already set up a mothers’ club in the parish and with the blessing of her father, Anna opted to set up a club for the men folk. She knocked on the doors of over 1,000 houses in the area to invite the men to her weekly meetings, but sadly on the first night only three turned up. However luckily for Manchester City FC she didn’t give up and gradually the attendances grew to over 100 thanks to the help of stalwart church goers William Beastow and Thomas Goodbehere, who were also senior officials at the Union Iron Works, the leading employers in the area, and thus helped spread the word about Anna’s meetings to the large workforce.
Slowly but surely the club expanded into the world of sport, first cricket in the summer months and to keep the cricketers in trim in the winter, association football. Connell herself was not directly involved in the sporting activities, she left this in the capable hands of William Bearstow to organise, and in 1880 St Marks Football Club was born with a proud Arthur Connell its first president. In 1881 they played a game against a another local team, namely Newton Heath, later to become Manchester United, St. Marks were defeated 3-0 in what was to become one of the most famous rivalries in world football.
Further name changes followed, Gorton AFC, before the club moved to the Ardwick district of Manchester so Ardwick AFC was the name of choice, the new ground, Hyde Road would be the home of the club until 1923, when the club would move to Maine Road, but once more, under a different name, Manchester City FC.
On 16 April 1894 Manchester City FC Ltd became a registered company and shortly afterwards it was accepted into the second division of the Football League. The future of football in England and Manchester had changed – Five FA Cup wins, Two League Cup wins, a European Cup Winners Cup, and after last Sunday, they can now boost three league championships. And all because of one woman from Clones who set up Working Men’s Meetings at St Marks Church.
Anna never married and stayed in the parish of St Marks in Gorton until 1897 when ill-health forced Arthur to retire to the seaside town of Southport; Arthur Connell died in 1899 and his body was transported for a funeral service before a packed St Marks church. Anna moved to Walsall to live the rest of her days with her sister Georgina, she died on 21st October 1924 at the age of 72. She lived in Walsall for a total of 26 years but it’s in Manchester that she will always be associated with and as Manchester City fans continue to toast the clubs recent league victory, they should also spare a thought for the clergyman’s daughter from Clones who made it all possible.
If you enjoyed this story, we strongly recommend Thank God For Football by Peter Lupson
David Moen is a sports journalist with the Letterkenny Post in Donegal. A Monaghan United, Liverpool and part time Finn Harps fan, David was instrumental in organising the commemoration for Liverpool's first manager, Monaghan man, John McKenna, in the village of Glaslough in August 2011.You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org