It goes without saying that Manchester United are one of the biggest football clubs in the world- but their fortunes weren’t always so secure, and their future was once hanging in the balance.

Cristiano Ronaldo's return may have seem unlikely for some fans but the team might not even exist in the form it is today, if not for a St Bernard who went missing.

It would spark a catalyst of events that ultimately brought them to the position of Premier League juggernauts known across the globe.

To understand how one dog could save a team from buckling under bankruptcy, we have to cast ourselves back to when the club were still in their infancy and didn't yet hold an internationally recognised name, or status.

At the turn of the 20th century, Newton Heath- the forerunners to Manchester United- were struggling, both financially and competitively.

A Manchester man relaxes with his six dogs- the breed has a surprising connection with the city
A Manchester man relaxes with his six dogs- the breed has a surprising connection with the city

After only two seasons at the top of the league the team's form began to plummet, eventually relegated to the second division, causing several key players to leave for other, more successful clubs.

Despite new signings, Newton Heath repeatedly failed to earn promotion back to the first division, and soon the future looked bleak with bankruptcy on the horizon as debts rose to £2,670.

Harry Stafford, the club’s captain, was used to making collections from fans with his pet dog, a Saint Bernard called Major who would wear a collecting tin around his neck in the same style as mountain rescue dogs might have carried a barrel of brandy.

A St. Bernard dog with the iconic barrel, like Major would have worn (Image: Getty Images)
St. Bernard dog with the iconic barrel, like Major would have worn (Image: Getty Images)

Major had become a beloved mascot of the beleaguered team, but even he could not raise enough money to put them back on an even keel.

So in a last ditch effort to drum up some contributions, the team hosted a fundraising bazaar at St James’ Hall on Oxford Street, with a military band, a brass band, and exhibitions showcasing ‘the craftsmanship of Italy, the Nile, India, the East, the Mediterranean and the Riviera’.

Major also had a starring role, taking up his usual collection method as part of the process.

Unfortunately for the club the bazaar was a failure, as the crowds didn’t show up as hoped.

To top it all off, Major went missing from the venue, to the horror of everybody, especially for a distraught Stafford, who immediately set out looking for his pet.

He’d lost his loyal companion, and it seemed he might soon lose his livelihood.

Luckily for Major, he didn’t have to spend too long lost, as had been found wandering the streets of Manchester by a pub owner, who rented the pub from a rich businessman who had made his fortune in brewing, John Henry Davies.

A dog called Major helped save the club from bankruptcy (Image: Getty Images)
A dog called Major helped save the club from bankruptcy (Image: Getty Images)

They initially put an advert in the local newspaper to sell Major but Davies then changed his mind, and believed the dog would make the perfect birthday gift for his daughter.

At the same time, Harry Stafford had spotted the advert too, and gone to the pub to reclaim his pet.

However, when he found out that the wealthy businessman wanted to buy Major, an idea was formed in his mind.

He met with Davies and explained Newton Heath’s struggles, and as the men talked, they realised that they could strike a deal that would benefit them both.

Stafford agreed to give up his beloved pet, and Davies- also sensing that Newton Heath could have potential- agreed to invest in the club, and help clear their debts.

Davies' money saved the club and as chairman he decided in 1902 to change the club's colours from yellow and green to red and black, and also alter the name from Newton Heath to Manchester United, and overseeing the club's fortunes as they began to change.

Major still made appearances at matches and was still considered the club’s mascot until he retired in 1905, to be replaced by a goat called Billy.

So that’s the bizarre set of circumstances, all triggered from a missing dog, that lead Manchester United to where they are today.