Every September, crowds of nervous freshers – many feasting their eyes on Fallowfield for the first time – can be seen lugging boxes of pots and pans into Owens Park, nodding nervously at their potential new flatmates in the corridors.
This ageing student accommodation block has been a staple of Manchester University since the sixties.
During that time, it’s housed thousands of students. But it’s also been the site of one of the city’s notorious competitions: The Tower Challenge.
Within days, or maybe even, hours, of moving into Owens Park, many students decide to enrol in the infamous contest, which involves scampering from floor to floor as fast you can whilst gulping down a shot of alcohol on each level (16 in total).
The outcome is never pretty. But Fallowfield is used to that. This patch of land was hosting chaotic competitions long before the students moved in.
Over 100 years ago, Fallowfield had its very own stadium – and in 1893 it was chosen as the venue for the FA Cup Final.
On paper, hosting such an occasion is a proud feat for the Manchester suburb. But in reality, FA Cup football at Fallowfield Stadium was much like the Tower Challenge – wrong-headed, dangerous and pretty disastrous all round.
Fallowfield Stadium was constructed in 1892 – built with terraces, a pavilion and a single stand, with a running track around the outskirts.
According to historian Simon Inglis – the author of the excellent ‘Played In Manchester’ – it could fit about 15,000 fans “at most.”
Opened by Manchester Athletic Club, Fallowfield Stadium quickly settled into its role as a major sports venue – and within a year the FA had selected the ground as the site for football’s biggest game: The FA Cup final.
Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers arrived in Manchester to compete for the prestigious trophy on 25 March 1893. And so did tens of thousands of others.
The official attendance that day – 45,000 – put the crowd at three times the stadium’s capacity. Although other reports suggest there might have been as many as 60,000 in the ground on the day.
The overcrowding, unsurprisingly, created problems right from the off – with the sheer volume of spectators leading to a kick-off delay.
Given the largely flat structure at Fallowfield, many struggled to get a good view of the game, stirring a restlessness that saw the crowd spill over onto the playing surface.
The teams had to restrict football to the middle of the pitch for fear of tumbling over spectators’ feet, and when the final whistle went to signal a 1-0 victory for Wolves, Everton angrily declared the environment was not fit for a competitive match.
They had a strong argument, but their demand for a rematch fell on deaf ears.
Despite the trouble that day, Wolves have fonder memories of Fallowfield Stadium.
Over at their own ground, Molineux, the Midlands club have a corporate hospitality suite named the ‘Fallowfield Lounge’ – paying testament to the location in which they lifted the FA Cup for the first time.
Fallowfield Stadium continued to host high-level competitive sport after Wolves’ big win, too.
An England vs Scotland rugby game took place at the ground in 1897, along with two Northern Union Challenge Cup rugby league finals in 1899 and 1900.
In fact, the British football body decided to give the ground another big fixture in 1899 – the FA Cup Semi-Final between Sheffield United and Liverpool.
The pair came into the tie deadlocked, having drawn 2-2 in their first game and 4-4 in the replay.
A second replay was scheduled at Fallowfield Stadium, and following two enthralling encounters, demand to see the Semi was high.
But no lessons had been learned.
The crowd on this occasion was so big a crush ensued, leading to the game being abandoned with Liverpool up 1-0 at the time.
The second replay was instead moved to Derby County’s Baseball Ground, where Sheff Utd won 1-0 – and then went on to thump Derby themselves 4-1 in the final at Crystal Palace two weeks later.
It is unconfirmed as to whether there were any major injuries in the failed Semi-Final in Manchester, but the debacle put an end to elite football in Fallowfield regardless.
Instead, the stadium found its niche as a spot for athletics and cycling – used regularly by The Manchester Wheelers.
Student footballers also toughed it out on the turf, but as the surroundings began to deteriorate, the university gobbled up the ground.
Pro cycling ended in 1974, and after a few more years of amateur use, Fallowfield Stadium was demolished in 1994.
In its place, a brand new set of student halls was built: Richmond Park.
Today, the area is ripe for a fresh burst of development.
The rumours are that close neighbour Owens Park – and its Tower Challenge – will also be gone forever in due course (although plans for renovation have been plagued by postponements).
Still, with Fallowfield’s fascinatingly bizarre history as a contest venue, you can’t help but wonder what sort of topsy-turvy tournament might come next…
Learn more about the history of Manchester stadia by reading Simon Inglis’ Played In Manchester – It’s available online here.
Featured Image – Wikimedia Commons
Andy Cole makes the case for Ivan Toney as a January transfer target for Manchester United
Manchester United legend Andy Cole has suggested that Manchester United should consider making sidelined striker Ivan Toney their next transfer target in the January window as they look to strengthen their side.
The Brentford striker is currently serving an eight-month ban following a total of 232 breaches of FA rules for gambling offences and hasn’t played since May but is, nevertheless, still considered one of the best centre-forwards in the Premier League and earned his first England call-up back in March.
Following an Athletic report which claimed an unnamed football agent has now confirmed Toney is “destined” to leave the West London club once he returns to the fold, the former Man United player and prolific number nine has said he believes Toney would be a good addition.
In an interview with Betfred, the 51-year-old said of Toney, “I like him. If Manchester United did move to sign Ivan, then he’s only going to make them a little bit better than they find themselves at this exact moment.”
“He’s been a key player for Brentford and he’s scored plenty of goals for them in the Premier League”, says Cole; “if the opportunity came up, then why shouldn’t Manchester United consider signing him?”
While he did go on to say that the prospect depends on what the club’s recruitment plan is going forward, he insisted that given Toney’s experience at the top level now and that he’s commonly considered in his ‘prime’ years now, he could add more goal threat.
Cole even went on to suggest that Toney could form a partnership up top for United, adding, “he could even help Rasmus Højlund come through.” Højlund scored his first goal on his Champions League debut for the club in their 4-3 defeat to Bayern Munich.
Although he acknowledged that it might be a step up for the forward, it goes without saying that Erik ten Hag‘s team are in a difficult period right so far this season, not to mention with absences and injuries piling up, and he also compared the potential challenge to his own move up the football pyramid.
“When I moved from Bristol City to Newcastle, did people believe I could make the step up? I don’t think they did, but I was able to. When I moved from Newcastle to Man United, did people believe I could make the step up? I don’t think so but I proved that I could, so it’s all about giving players the opportunity…”
“You’re never going to know whether they’re capable or not until they’re given the opportunity to show that they can do it.” Cole also argued that regardless of his well-publicised off-field issues with betting, like with United’s other ongoing dramas at present, they “shouldn’t have an impact on the players”.
Citing Brighton’s Evan Ferguson as another “really good player” that many clubs will be interested in come January and next summer, he said that the likelihood of him signing him is less favourable, noting that “if [he’s] scoring hat-tricks in the Premier League, then he’s already worth around £100 million now by that comparison.”
When speaking in his tell-all podcast interview back in August, Toney did reveal that he’s been a Liverpool fan all his life but that he “like[s] watching Arsenal and how they play and kind of how passionate the fans are”.
The Gunners have already been linked with a possible £50 million sweep for his signature but we’ve seen plenty of targets snapped up by rival clubs already this season. Would you take Ivan Toney at Old Trafford, United fans?
Featured Image — Ivan Toney/Andy Cole (via Instagram)
Sale Sharks Academy raise over £17,000 for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital after completing Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon
Sale Sharks’ Academy team have managed to raise over £17,000 for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital after completing the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon earlier this year.
The inaugural Leeds Marathon, named after former rugby league icon and motor neurone disease campaigner Rob Burrow, took place back in May with more than 12,000 people taking part and over £4 million raised in charitable donations for various worthy causes. Immense.
While MND was obviously a key focus of the event after Burrow was diagnosed with the condition in December 2019, those joining in could choose to fundraise for any organisation and, in the instance of the Sale Sharks, they chose something close to home and their hearts.
Running the 26.2 miles in aid of the RMCH, the largest children’s hospital in the UK, Sharks Academy manager Fergus Mulchrone and six members of his backroom staff raised a whopping total of £17,048.
With help from Peninsula, who committed to matching the amount raised by Mulchrone and his coaches, the team saw their total of £7,303 raised through their JustGiving page alone, along with further donations amassed in the build-up and after the event, doubled by the organisation.
Teaming up with the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Peninsula agreed to double the total donations figure provided the Sharks hit their target; that’s exactly what they did and then some.
Following their impressive feat, the hospital tweeted: “Congratulations to Sale Sharks who ran the Leeds Marathon AND hit their £5,000 fundraising target. They’re the first to raise the £5K eligible for match-funding by Peninsula in our ‘Making a Difference…Together’ scheme.”
The initiative, which is set to run throughout the entirety of 2023, saw the HR, health and safety firm set aside £100,000 to encourage businesses to do their bit and help raise money for the hospital.