Why Does The Manchester United Badge Have A Ship On It? (Explained)

Man Utd badge

Have you ever wondered ‘why does the Manchester United badge have a ship on it?’

Have you ever looked at the Manchester City badge and thought the same thing?

If you have it is totally understandable, as Manchester is far from a maritime city, in fact it is over 30 miles (50kms) from the coast.

So let’s take a quick history lesson and explain the reason ships are prominent on both clubs’ crests.

Why Does The Manchester United Badge Have A Ship On It?

The ship on the Manchester United badge is a recognition of the club’s industrial heritage and, in particular, the Manchester Ship Canal that opened in 1894 and was at the centre of the city’s trade for many decades. It cost the equivalent of over £1.5billion to build and employed thousands of the city’s population, including many Manchester United and Manchester City supporters.

Two men wearing retro football inspired t shirts with text in between them

It Signifies Manchester’s Trading Heritage and the Ship Canal

Aside from playing in the same city, there probably isn’t a huge amount to unite Manchester City and Manchester United fans.

But they do have one thing in common.

Both Manchester clubs have ships on their badges.

The reason for this harks right back to the late 19th Century, and more specifically 1894 and the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal.

This event was hugely important in the city’s history and is reflected by both clubs carrying a boat on their respective badges.

When Was the Manchester Ship Canal Built? A Potted History.

In the mid-1850s, Manchester with one of the biggest industrial cities in the world, mainly because it was at the centre of the cotton industry.

But the issue was Manchester didn’t have a port and all goods that arrived went to Liverpool’s docks. 

Both the docks and the railway companies began charging higher fees for receiving and transporting the goods, and this was eating into the profits of the cotton barons in Manchester.

The idea of building a waterway that would enable traders in Manchester to bypass Liverpool altogether was actually first mooted in 1882 and work began on it in 1887.

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The project would be big by today’s standards, but at the backend of the 19th century the scale of work was unheard of.

Almost 54 million cubic yards (42,000,000 m³) of material were excavated with 17,000 people in total working to build the canal.

Some 228 miles (367km) of temporary rail track, 173 trains, 6,300 trucks and wagons, 124 cranes and 192 other steam engines were used in the build process.

After over six years of work the canal was completely filled with water in November 1893 and opened to its first traffic on 1 January 1894.

The project cost £15million, which is over £1.5billion in today’s money.

When Did a Ship First Appear on the Manchester United Badge?

Manchester United logo

United was founded in 1878 as Newton Heath.

It was in 1902 that Newton Heath changed its name to Manchester United. 

As a result, there was a need to redesign the club’s badge.

With the Manchester Ship Canal less than a decade old, it was in this new badge (above) which served as Manchester United’s club crest from 1902 to 1960, that a ship first appeared.

It was in some ways adapted from the city’s official coat of arms. 

Three yellow stripes on a red background represented the main rivers in Manchester, the Irwell, Irk and Medlock.

Running beneath the crest was the latin phrase ‘Concilio et Labore’, which means ‘wisdom and effort’ and was also the city’s motto.

There was a huge pride and affinity between the city and the new canal.

A large proportion of the city were dock workers, many hundreds and thousands of City and United fans included.

This strong link has been remembered and is reflected to this day, with both clubs still carrying a ship on their club crests.

Is the Manchester Ship Canal Still Open Today?

Unfortunately, the Manchester Ship Canal’s ship has sailed (pun intended), or so it seems.

The canal and its ports are still open, but as ships have got larger and road transport become more important it does not play the role it once did in the life of the city.

Upon completion, the canal was a massive success, and soon Manchester was Britain’s third busiest port.

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The amount of goods handled by the canal increased pretty much year on year right up until the late 1950s, peaking in 1958 at 18.2million tonnes.

The problem was that the Manchester Ship Canal only catered for vessels up to 161.5m (530ft) long and with a beam of 19.35m (63.5ft).

In the 1950s this wasn’t an issue, but over the decades that followed cargo and container ships were being built increasingly larger and the canal was not able to accommodate them.

By 1975 the ports at the Manchester Ship Canal, handled just under 15 million tonnes of goods, and this had dropped to under 10 million by 1985.

In 1984 the docks at Salford were closed.

The good news is that in recent years the canal has experienced something of a renaissance.

It is now privately owned and has undergone some serious modernisation. 

The rebranded Salford Quays is now home to offices, hotels, housing, cinemas, pubs, bars and restaurants.

It also still operates as a port, with its owners announcing a £50billion plan to develop both the port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal to combat increasing road congestion.

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Final Thoughts

If you have ever wondered why both Manchester clubs have ships on their badges, well now you know!

It is to pay tribute to the city’s important industrial heritage and the Manchester Ship Canal, which changed the face of the city from the late 19th century.

The canal became the focal part of the city for many decades, and in particular during the early days of both Manchester United and Manchester City.

A massive proportion of the city would have helped build the canal, and then worked on the docks themselves when it opened.

It might seem strange that two clubs from a city over 30miles (50kms) from the sea have ships on their badges, but hopefully you now understand why.

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