News | Monday, 13th July 2015

Identifying Manchester’s footballing pioneers

New research names trio who drove city's success

Joshua Parlby was one of the men instrumental in kick-starting Manchester's love of football

THREE men with different backgrounds and one passion – football.

Not so unusual, it may seem, but in 19th century Manchester the country’s most beloved sport was still only starting to put down roots – and without the efforts of John Nall, Fitzroy Norris and Joshua Parlby the city’s sporting history could have been very different.

These three men have been named in a new piece of research by sport historian Gary James as the pioneers without whom footballing culture may not have become embedded in Mancunian life.

Gary, a member of International Sport and Leisure History at Manchester Metropolitan University's Cheshire campus, has published a collective biography of the trio, dubbed “Manchester’s Footballing Pioneers” in the International Journal of the History of Sport.

It is the first time that the contribution of individuals, rather than clubs, to Manchester’s footballing history has been seriously considered.

Great passion

At a time when rugby was the city’s favoured sport, Nall, Norris and Parlby used their wide experience and cross-society connections to move football from a niche sport to one of the city’s greatest passions.

Gary believes this research contributes to our understanding of both the development of sport and Manchester society: “Without these men Manchester may never have developed into a footballing city. Hulme resident John Nall was the catalyst in the early 1860s, but the sport needed the ideas of both Norris and Parlby to become a significant aspect of Mancunian life.

“There’s yet more research to be performed on these early years, but it’s clear that via these men a football community was established. That community developed and evolved over time, ultimately leading to recognition around the world of Manchester’s footballing pedigree.

“I was supported in this research by colleagues from International Sport and Leisure History at the university and our research into Manchester’s sporting heritage continues.”

The publisher has kindly made the article free to download for a limited period via this link:

Notes to editors

Manchester’s Footballing Pioneers, 1863-1904: A Collective Biography by Gary James is published in The International Journal of the History of Sport. A copy of the paper can be downloaded from

When publishing online, please ensure the above link is included in your article.

For more information, or to speak to Gary James, please contact Kat Dibbits in the Manchester Metropolitan University press office on 0161 247 5278 or email

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