Harold Payne Hardman was born in Newton Heath, Manchester on 4th April 1882, the son of solicitor Charles Hardman and his wife Elizabeth. He was to follow in his father’s footsteps and establish a thriving solicitor’s practice in Manchester but it was in the world of football that he was to have the greatest impact, joining that select band of men who have become revered in both Manchester and Merseyside.
When Harold was nine the family moved from the smog smitten streets of Manchester to a suburb of Blackpool and the sea air transformed his previously frail frame into that of an athletic young man desperate to play football whenever the opportunity arose. The 1900-01 season saw him signed by Blackpool F.C. for the return to Division Two. Having just begun his career as an articled clerk in his father’s practice Harold signed as an amateur, a status he would retain throughout his playing days. His first game, against Gainsborough Trinity on 8th September 1900, was Blackpool’s first ever game played at Bloomfield Road.
His performances for the seasiders as a pacey, tricky player who could play wide on either flank, soon drew glances from the area’s big teams and in 1903 he transferred to Everton. He would go on to make 130 appearances for the blues and score 25 goals, playing in the club’s first ever F A Cup triumph in the 1906 final against Newcastle United. In his five-year spell at Goodison the team were also runners up in the First Division and losing F A Cup-finalists in 1907. In 1908 he was a member of the Gold Medal winning Great Britain Olympic football team at the London Olympics.
In 1908 he left Everton for his ‘hometown’ team, Manchester United, but only ever played for them in 4 matches. Unable to establish a first team spot he was happy to take up an offer to join Bradford City in 1909. The Yorkshire team were in the first season in Division One and facing a battle against relegation. Hardman played 20 games for them and played a big part in helping them avoid the drop. At the end of the season it was a win against his former club, Manchester United, that secured their top-flight status for another season. United would probably have been comforted by the fact that this result also ensured the relegation of rivals Manchester City.
Between 1910-1913 he made over fifty appearances for Stoke City and quite unusually, whilst still playing for another club he became a director of Manchester United. For the next half-century Harold Hardman would combine his work as a solicitor with a second ‘career’ in football administration. He became Chairman of United, a post he held until his death in 1965, a period which included the Munich air disaster. He was also an influential figure in the wider football world via positions with the Football League, the Football Association and the Central League.
The 1908 Great Britain Olympic team, winners of the Gold Medal. harold Hardman is extreme right on the front row.
The best source on Harold Hardman is the book Harold Hardman: From Meredith to Best - A Man of Football by Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott. [Amazon 2020] There is a short Wikipedia entry which gives details of his clubs and appearances etc.
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