Typical, isn't it? You get all excited about a grand new project, and then you realise that the first bloke on the list made precisely two appearances for the club, and scored precisely zero goals. The most interesting thing about Alf Ainsworth's United career is that "Alf" isn't short for "Alfred" but "Alphonso", and he's the only man of that name to have turned out for the club. Probably.
Anyway, Alph — an inside forward — came through United's youth system and made his two appearances in 1933/34, aged just 19. United were in Division Two, were broke, and were, frankly, rubbish; they'd finish the season in 20th place, their lowest league position of all time and just one point away from relegation to the third tier. Not that Alph should take any of the blame, mind. He ended his United career with a perfect record of two wins from two, seeing off both Bury and Fulham at Old Trafford. Perhaps he should have played more.
United may have avoided relegation that season, but Ainsworth dropped down the league anyway, moving to New Brighton AFC in Division Three North. That's not Brighton down in Sussex but New Brighton, a town across the Mersey from Liverpool that, luckily for our purposes here, has had its history recorded in more detail than poor old Alph.
Built up from virtually nothing in the 1830s by a Liverpool businessman named James Atherton, New Brighton was intended to be a northern rival to the town from which it took its name, and in the decades either side of the turn of the 19th century, it more or less succeeded. Holidaymaking northerners would come for the beautiful beaches, and when they got bored of the sand they could while away their time on the pier, in the ballroom, or watching gondoliers criss-cross the waters of the floral gardens. From 1900 onwards, they could also admire and ascend the New Brighton Tower, 567 feet of latticed steel that was, at the time, the tallest building in the country.
Nobody seemed too bothered about the football, however. New Brighton Tower FC were formed in 1896 to occupy the cavernous, multipurpose Tower Athletic Ground, which could hold 80,000 fans of football, athletics or motorcycling. The plan was that strong early investment would propel the team up the league ladder and, in the process, attract visitors to the town in the otherwise fallow winter months. But while the first part went okay — they never really struggled following their election to Division Two, and briefly flirted with promotion to the top flight — the crowds failed to materialise, and the club folded after just four years of operation.
The New Brighton dream also dwindled away. The Tower was pulled down in 1919 after being neglected during World War One, and the holiday crowds diminished sharply after World War Two. The ballroom burned down in 1969, and the pier was eventually dismantled in 1977. Magnum photographer Martin Parr spent some time there in the mid-1980s, and his collection The Last Resort documents the sights and continuing life of the town.
As for the football, well, there were a couple more abortive attempts to get something going. New Brighton AFC formed in 1921, hired Alf Ainsworth in 1935, moved him on 150-odd games and a world war later to Congleton Town, got relegated from the Football League in 1951, and disbanded in 1983. Another club of the same name were formed in 1993, but closed in 2012. Sometimes, things just don't stick.
One final point of moderate interest. From March to May of 1934, United abandoned their traditional red home strip for a peculiar cherry-and-white hooped number. As such, it's entirely possible that Ainsworth is one of the few — perhaps the only? — United players to have appeared at Old Trafford, for United, yet never worn a red shirt in the process. History made, of a sort.
Alphonso "Alf" Ainsworth (31 July 1913 - 25 April 1975)
2 appearances (1933/34), 0 goals, 0 honours