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Manchester United: The story so far

Immerse yourself in the greatest football story ever told with our decade-by-decade guide to Uniteds rich history...

Manchester United Football Club was first formed in 1878, albeit under a different name - Newton Heath LYR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway).

Little suspecting the impact they were about to have on the national, even global game, the workers in the railway yard at Newton Heath indulged their passion for association football with games against other departments of the LYR and other railway companies.

Indeed, when the Football League was formed in 1888, Newton Heath did not consider themselves good enough to become founder members alongside the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Preston North End. Instead, they waited until 1892 to make their entrance, joining the league at Division One level but were sadly relegated to Division Two after just two seasons in the top flight.

Financial problems plagued the club and, by the start of the 20th Century, it seemed they were destined for extinction. The team was saved, however, by local brewery ownerJohn Henry Davies.Legend has it that helearned of the clubs plight when he found a dog belonging to captainHarry Stafford.

Davies decided to invest in Newton Heath, in return for some interest in running it. This led to a change of name and, after several alternatives including Manchester Central and Manchester Celtic were rejected, Manchester United was born in April/May of 1902.

The next influential figure to arrive at United wasErnest Mangnall, who was appointed secretary in September 1903 but is widely acknowledged as being the clubs first manager. His side, including new signings like goalkeeperHarry Mogerand forwardCharlie Sagar, finished third in the Second Division in 1903/04 and again in 1904/05.

The following season, 1905/06, was to prove one of the greatest in the early life of Manchester United. The half-back line ofDick Duckworth,Alex Belland captainCharlie Robertswere instrumental in the side which reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup but, more importantly, finished as runners-up in the Second Division. Some 12 years after being relegated, United reclaimed their place in the top flight. To celebrate, MangnallsignedBilly Meredithfrom rivals Manchester City. Nicknamed the Welsh Wizard, Meredith had been implicated in a bribery scandal at City, and was due to be auctioned along with 17 other players. Mangnall shrewdly made his move early, and acquired Merediths signature before the bidding began.

The wingers arrival proved to be inspirational - Meredith set up countless goals forSandy Turnbullin 1907/08 when United won the Football League title for the first time. As champions, United played in the first-ever Charity Shield in 1908. They duly won the trophy, beating Southern League champions QPR 4-0 thanks largely to a hat-trick from Sandys namesake,Jimmy Turnbull. The third trophy to be added to the clubs honours board was the FA Cup, at the end of a tremendous run in 1909. United beat Bristol City 1-0 in the final,thanks toSandy Turnbulls winner.

The words Old Trafford entered footballing folklore for the first time during the 1909/10 season. The land on which the stadium was built was bought by the Manchester Brewery Company (through John Henry Davies) and leased to the club.

Davies himself paid for the building work, which commenced in 1908 under the supervision of architect Archibald Leitch. By 1910, the club had moved lock, stock and barrel from their old home of Bank Street. Uniteds opening fixture at Old Trafford was played on 19 February 1910.The new hosts lost 4-3 to their first visitors Liverpool, but the stadium was successful in accommodating an 80,000 capacity crowd. Two days previously, the old wooden stand at Bank Streethad beenblown down by strong winds - further evidence, perhaps, that United were suited to and needed their new home.

Indeed, United were crowned League champions for the second timeat the end of their first full season at Old Trafford - 1910/1911. The Reds clinched the title at home on the final day of the season, beating Sunderland 5-1 withHarold Halsegrabbing two of the goals.Halse also scored six goals as United beat Swindon Town 8-4 to clinch the Charity Shield.

Despite such feats, United could not maintain the winning run and, in 1911/12, the defending champions finished in a disappointing 13th place. Secretary-managerErnest Mangnallbore the brunt of the criticism, and resigned to join Uniteds neighbours and rivals Manchester City. The search for Mangnalls successor finished at the door ofJJ Bentley, the president of the Football League. Under his guidance, the Reds claimed fourth place in the League at the end of the 1912/13 season.

The 1913/14 term was a period of transition, while the following campaign was notable for a change of management - in December 1914, the roles of secretary and team manager were separated for the first time. Bentley became full-time secretary andJohn Robsonwas appointed to look after and select the team. Robsons team was a shadow of the one which had performed so well in the previous decade, as onlyGeorge Stacey,Billy Meredith,Sandy TurnbullandGeorge Wallremained from the 1909 FA Cup-winning side. Not surprisingly, the club struggled, only escaping relegation by a single point.

Before United could form a plan for recovery, the outbreak of the First World War put football firmly to the back of peoples minds. The Football League was suspended, and clubs resorted to playing in regional competitions. United played in the Lancashire Prinicipal and Subsidiary Tournaments for four seasons, but this was a less than successful diversion, the misery compounded by the fact that twoof the clubsplayers were found guilty of match fixing. Enoch West was banned for life, as was Sandy Turnbull, who joined the Footballers Battalion to help Britains war effort. Tragically, Turnbull was killed during battle in France in May 1917, and another link to the clubs earliest glory years lost

Manchester United returned to League football on 30 August 1919, following a four-year gap caused by the First World War. The team for that first match back against Derby County included many new faces - in fact only two of the men on duty had played in Uniteds previous league game at the end of the 1914/15 season.

Billy Meredithwas still at Old Trafford, but reaching the end of his illustrious Old Trafford career. He made only 19 appearances in 1919/20 when United finished 12th in the First Division. The new hero of the terraces,Joe Spence, finished the season as the teams top scorer with 14 League goals. He was joint-top scorer again in 1920/21, but this time with half the tally as United again under-achieved to finish in 13th place.

ManagerJohn Robsonthen left the club, to be replaced byJohn Chapman, who reverted to the dual role of secretary/manager last held byJJ Bentley. Meanwhile, former managerErnest Mangnallcontinued to make the local headlines with City, as they moved into a new stadium at Maine Road.

Mangnall also re-signed Meredith for City and despite his advancing years, it was perhaps no coincidence that United were relegated in their first season without him, winning only eight of their 42 matches in 1921/22.Chapmans team managed to climb out of the Second Division at the third attempt, when the on-field leadership ofFrank Barsonhelped ensure promotion at the end of 1924/25. United finished second to Leicester City, after losing only eight games.

Uniteds top-flight status was cemented with a ninth-place finish in 1925/26. Chapmans team also went on a great run in the FA Cup, but this came to a halt in the semi-finals when Manchester City beat them 3-0 at Bramall Lane in Sheffield. Citys luck then ran out, as they lost both the final (to Bolton) and their place in the First Division.

Not that United supporters could afford to chuckle at Citys misfortune. Two months into the 1926/27 season, they had troubles of their own when the FA suspended managerChapmanwith immediate effect, the reasons for which never became public. Wing-halfClarence Hilditchtook over as player-managerwhile the club looked for a more permanent replacement, but Lal was reluctant topick himself, and the team suffered.

Chapmans permanent successor,Herbert Bamlett, arrived later that season. He was already known to United fansas the referee whocalled off the clubs FA Cup quarter-final tie at Burnley in 1909, when their team was trailing 1-0 in the midst of a blizzard. Bamlett, though, was too cold to blow the final whistle, soCharlie Robertshad to do the job and United went on to win the Cup that season!

Sadly, Bamlett had nofurther impact on Uniteds success as their manager. Theteam slowly slipped down the First Division, finishing 15th in 1926/27 and 18th in 1927/28, only to recover slightly to end in 12th in 1928/29. Spence continued to score goals by the bucketload but not even he could stop Uniteds steady decline...

The decline that had started in the 1920s continued at the outset of the 1930s as United finished 17th in 1929/30, to fill the fans with dread.

Their fears were realised in the next season, when United made the worst start in their history by losing their first 12 league matches in a row. The dozen defeats included back-to-back thrashings at Old Trafford, 6-0 by Huddersfield Town and then 7-4 by Newcastle United. The Reds eventually lost 27 out of 42 league matches in 1930/31, conceding 115 goals. Relegation led to managerHerbert Bamlettbowing out, and secretaryWalter Crickmertaking charge of team affairs. The patience of the supporters was being severely tested, and many of them did not hang around - only 3,507 turned up for the opening match of the following season. As the season went on, the situation deteriorated. By December, there was no money to pay the players wages. Bankruptcy was a real threat.

The clubs saviour came in the shape ofJames Gibson, a manufacturer of army uniforms. He invested 30,000, paid the players and got things back on track. He appointed a new manager,Scott Duncan, who was given money to spend. However, he did not make the most of it. A dreadful run under Duncan in 1933/34 took United to the brink of being relegated into the Third Division for the first time in the clubs history. Survival was only secured on the last day of the season, when a 2-0 win, with goals fromTom ManleyandJack Cape, sent opponents Millwall down instead. In that same week, Manchester City won the FA Cup, with a man namedMatt Busbyin their side.

United finished the 1934/35 season in fifth place and, then in the following term, claimed their first silverware of the decade. Unbeaten during the last 19 games of the campaign, the Reds secured the Second Division championship with a 3-2 win over Bury at Gigg Lane. The end-of-season form in the Second Division suggested United would do well on returning to the top flight but, by Christmas, the side had only won four matches, including one on 25 December itself! Only 10 wins in the whole season led to relegation, with Citys fortunes again proving in stark contrast as they were crowned League champions. The relegated United team includedWalter Winterbottom, who would later be knighted after managing England for 16 years.

The yo-yoing continued as United were promoted again the next season, 1937/38, as runners-up to Aston Villa. Manager Duncan could only claim some of the credit, as he left the club in November 1937 to take charge of Ipswich Town. Walter Crickmer again stepped into the breach as Uniteds caretaker manager. The highlight of Duncan and Crickmers season was the discovery ofJohnny Carey, who would later be recognised as one of the greatest full-backs in football history. Playing 32 games and scoring six goals in a more advanced role, the Irishman helped United to stay up this time, finishing 14th, while City took their turn to be relegated. There was no time to gloat, however - the outbreak of war put the Football League on hold again, for several years.

The outbreak of the Second World War forced football to the very back of peoples minds between 1939 and 1946. But even in the absence of League football, Old Trafford was still the focus of attention.

On 11 March 1941, the stadium was bombed during a German air raid. The attack destroyed the main stand, dressing rooms and offices. It was a devastating blow but, within a few years, there would be optimism again around the famous old ground.

It came with a man named Matt Busby, who would prove to be a hugely important figure in the history of Manchester United. A former Manchester City and Liverpool player, Busby served in the Ninth Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment, where his leadership qualities shone through. These qualities did not go unnoticed by United.

Busby joined the Reds in 1945, initially on a five-year contract. Little did he know he would still be managing the club 25 years later! The young boss did not waste any time making his mark, altering the positions of several key players. He also founded the Famous Five forwards when he brought togetherJimmy Delaney,Stan Pearson,Jack Rowley,Charlie MittenandJohnny Morris.

Perhaps the most important signing Busby made, however, was on the coaching staff. Matt had metJimmy Murphyduring the war, and identified him as his perfect right-hand man. The pair formed a partnership that would see United become a power in world football.

Busby and Murphys first step on the road to glory was to build a team that was capable of challenging for domestic honours. They succeeded almost at the first attempt, as United finished second to Liverpool in the first Football League campaign after the war, 1946/47. It was the clubs highest placing for 36 years, and there was extra cause for optimism when the Reserves won their (Central) League Championship in the same season.

Busbys mix of young local lads and established players lifted their first trophy the following year, when beating the Blackpool side of Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Harry Johnston in the 1948 FA Cup final. It was 39 years to the day that United had previously won the Cup, in 1909.

The FA Cup was also the clubs first major honour since winning the League Championship in 1911, and recapturing the title would now become the number one target for Busbys men. During the first five seasons of his post-war reign, United finished second on four occasions, and fourth on the other (1949/50).

The thrill of the chase for honours brought the fans flooding back more than one million of them passed through the turnstiles in the 1947/48 season, dragging the club out of debt. Surely these fans wouldnt have to wait long to be rewarded with the prize they all craved

The 1950s dawned with the break-up of Matt Busbys first successful United side - the 1948 FA Cup-winning team.

Dressing room dissent led toJohnny Morrisdeparting for Derby andCharlie Mittenexporting his wing wizardry to Colombia. Fans worried by the duos departure were soon placated. The great Scots plan was to promote the youngsters hed been recruiting and developing in the late 1940s.Jackie BlanchflowerandRoger Byrnewere the first to emerge and be labelled Babes by the newspapers; in their debut season in 1951/52, United won the elusive League championship for the first time since 1911.

In 1955/56 and 1956/57, Byrne lifted the Division One trophy as skipper of a fabled young side that included several more products of Busbys youth academy.Eddie Colman,Mark JonesandDavid Peggwere all first-team regulars, having cut their teeth in the FA Youth Cup, which United won five years in a row from its inception in 1953.

Not all the young talent was home-grown, however. The United manager was equally happy to plunge into the transfer market, as shownby the big money signings of proven internationalsTommy Taylorand goalkeeperHarry Gregg.

Another young man who excelled for club and country wasDuncan Edwards. So powerful, talented and mature was the Dudley teenager that Busby could not hold him back from Uniteds first team. In April 1953, he became the First Divisions youngest-ever player at the age of 16 years and 185 days.

One match that epitomised the new Busby Babes era was against Arsenal at Highbury on 1 February 1958. In front of a crowd of 63,578 the Reds beat the Gunners in a nine-goal thriller with goals from Edwards, Taylor (2),Bobby CharltonandDennis Viollet.

Sadly, what was perhaps their greatest game on English soil was destined to be the last for that particular Manchester United team. From Highbury, the Babes headed off into Europe to play the second leg of a tie against Red Star Belgrade. Again they won 5-4, this time on aggregate but, on the way home, the celebrations were cut short by tragedy.

After refuelling in Munich on 6 February 1958, the United aeroplane crashed, killing 22 people, including seven players Byrne, Colman, Jones, Pegg, Taylor,Geoff BentandLiam Whelan. Duncan Edwards died of his injuries 15 days later in a German hospital. The club, the city of Manchester and the English game entered a long period of mourning. It seemed inconceivable that United couldrecover from such an appalling loss.

But as Busby defied the medics to recover from his crash wounds, the team bounced back and, patched up byJimmy Murphy, they reached the FA Cup final in May against all odds. The Reds lost at Wembley to Bolton Wanderers, 12 months after controversially losing the final to Aston Villa.

Despite the appalling devastation inflicted on Uniteds richly talented first-team squad, Busby and Murphy pulled together a makeshift pool of players and, remarkably, they finished second in the league in 1958/59. After the horrors of Munich, the rebuilding process had begun.

After building one of the greatest teams seen in England, Matt Busby had to start all over again at the start of the 1960s. The Munich Air Disaster had robbed him, and football, of some of the eras greatest players. But once the great manager had recovered from his own injuries, he set about forging another side to take the world by storm.

Dennis Violletwas one of the leading names within this team. In 1959/60, the Munich survivor brokeJack Rowleysclub record by scoring 32 goals league goals in one season, a record that still stands to this day.

By 1962 Viollet had left the club as Busby reshaped his side once more. This next great team still retained a link to the Busby Babes in the shape ofBill FoulkesandBobby Charlton, the latter coming through the ranks to break goalscoring records for both club and country.Nobby Stilesalso rose through the ranks, whileDenis Lawcame via a record 115,000 transfer from Torino.

Uniteds form was erratic at the start of the decade, while new names settled in, but then everything came together with a run to Wembley for the 1963 FA Cup Final. Busbys new-look team beat Leicester 3-1, with two goals fromDavid Herdand one by Law.

The next season saw United build on the foundations of FA Cup success to challenge for the title finishing second, only four points behind the champions Liverpool. The 1962/63 season was also notable for the signing and debut ofGeorge Best, the young man from Belfast who would become footballs first superstar. His incredible skill, pace and control left opponents in knots, making him a hit with the fans, while his film-star lookshelped elevate his fame to celebrity status.

In 1964/65, the famous Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton took United to new heights. They won the League championship, pipping Leeds on goal difference, and reached the semi-finals of the European Fairs Cup and the FA Cup. Law plundered goals galore and was named the European Footballer of the Year.

The title-winning team seemed to be the finished article, but they finished a disappointing fourth the following season, and exited both the FA and European Cups in the semi-finals. The seasons highlight had been the 5-1 away thrashing of Benfica in the European Cup quarter-finals, when Best had been in blistering form and earned the tag the El Beatle.

In 1966/67, United were crowned League champions again and another season of European Cup football was guaranteed. This time, United would go all the way, beating Benfica in the final at Wembley. Jaime Graca equalised Charltons headed goal to take the game into extra-time, but further goals fromBest,Brian Kidd on his 19th birthday and Charlton gave United their first European Cup. Just 10 years after Sir Matt had seen his dream team destroyed, he had delivered the ultimate prize. He was knighted soon afterwards.

The following season saw the European champions finish 11th in the league and fail to win a trophy.The Reds also lost the World Club Championship 2-1 on aggregate to Estudiantes in a match marred by on-field violence. Despite the anti-climatic end to the decade,United had achieved incredible things in the 1960sand few could begrudge Sir Mattsretirement in 1969, after all hed achieved.

With memories of the European Cup triumph beginning to fade, Manchester Uniteds attentions turned to their managerial vacancy. Sir Matt Busby had led the club to the promised land but had now retired, leaving big boots to fill.

Their decision was to appoint from within, by promoting one of Busbys coaches and former players,Wilf McGuinness, to the senior position. A combination of ageing stars and the lack of overall control in team affairs meant that McGuinness struggled to impose his authority. Putting popular figures likeDenis LawandShay Brennanon the transfer list didnt help matters, neither didGeorge Bests distracting off-field behaviour.

Wilf wasnt allowed to struggle for too long. On Boxing Day 1970, he was relieved of his duties and Sir Matt was put back in temporary charge.Frank OFarrellwas the next man to take over in June 1971 but, despite a promising start, Uniteds 5-0 defeat by Crystal Palace on 16 December 1972 was the Irishmans last match in charge.

Although OFarrells tenure was short, he still left his mark by signingMartin Buchanfor a record fee of 125,000. The former Aberdeen captain was to become a key player for OFarrells successor,Tommy Docherty, who was appointed around Christmas in 1972.

The Docs first challenge was to keep the team in the top flight, while gradually replacing the legends of the 1960s.Bobby Charltonhad announced he would retire at the end of the 1972/73 season, Best was frequently veering off the rails once again and Law had passed his peak. Law, in fact, was given a free transfer in July 1973, a move which later came back to haunt Docherty. The striker joined Manchester City and scored at Old Trafford in April 1974, on a day when Uniteds relegation to the Second Division was confirmed.

To Dochertys credit, the Reds bounced back very quickly. They won the Second Division championship in style in 1974/75, with top scorerStuart Pancho Pearsoncontirbuting 17 league goals.Lou Macariscored the goal that clinched promotion, at Southampton on 5 April 1975.

United then reached successive FA Cup finals, losing to Southampton in 1976, but beating Liverpool 2-1 a year later. The Docs men rose perfectly to the task of destroying Liverpools Treble hopes the Merseyside club won the League Championship and the European Cup on either side of Uniteds triumph. The joy of that win didnt last very long for the Doc, however. Just 44 days later, he was sackedfollowing off-field revelations.

QPR managerDave Sextonstepped into the breach, and although he finished no higher than 10th in the table in his first two seasons 1977/78 and 1978/79, he again guided the side to Wembley in 1979. Unfortunately the Reds lost there, 3-2 to Arsenal in one of the most memorable finishes to an FA Cup final.Gordon McQueenandSammy McIlroyscored in the last five minutes to bring United back from 2-0 down, only for Alan Sunderland to grab Arsenals winner on the brink of extra-time.

Those frenetic last few moments at Wembley summed up the 1970s for United, a decade of high drama when great highs and lows were never far apart.

United made a poor start to the 1980s but Dave Sexton and his team recovered to win eight of their last ten league games in the 1979/80 campaign, finishing just two points behind Liverpool in the title race.

The Redsproduced another blistering finish at the end of the following season, 1980/81, when they won their last seven league games in a row. This time, however, only an eighth-placed finish in the table was secured a position which the clubs board could not tolerate. Sexton was sacked on 30 April 1981, after four seasons in the hot-seat.

Sextons replacementRon Atkinsonbrought in Mick Brown as assistant manager and Eric Harrison as youth coach. But it was his on-field acquisitions that really excited the fans. He broke the British transfer record to recruitBryan Robsonfrom his old club West Bromwich Albion for 1.5million and spent around a third of that to add another ex-Albion man,Remi Moses, to the United squad.

In midfield, the new arrivals wonderfully complemented the finesse ofRay Wilkins, the ball-playing England star. But still there was something missing. United needed a forward who could match the strike-rate of Ian Rush at Liverpool, with the Merseysiders winning the title again in 1982, 1983 and 1984. Atkinsons men were never far behind, finishing third or fourth in every season of his reign. That elusive league title remained agonisingly out of reach, however.

The domestic cups offered United their best chances of silverware, and in 1983, Wembley was reached in both competitions. Liverpool triumphed 2-1 after extra-time to win the League Cup, while little-fancied Brighton and Hove Albion were beaten in two attempts in the FA Cup final. A 2-2 draw was followed up by a thumping 4-0 replay win for United through goals from Robson (2),Arnold MuhrenandNorman Whiteside.

Whitesides habit of rising to the big occasion was never more gratefully received than in 1985, when he curled in the only goal of the FA Cup final to beat Everton 1-0. United had earlier been reduced to 10 men by the dismissal ofKevin Moran, who formed a great defensive partnership withPaul McGrath.

It was Atkinsons second FA Cup success in three seasons but, 18 months later, he was sacked for his inability to break Merseysides monopoly of the League title. Not even 10 straight wins at the start of 1985/86 term could lead him to the Holy Grail.

In November 1986, United at last appointed a proven winner. At Aberdeen,Alex Fergusonhad claimed every prize that Scotland had to offer, not to mention the added bonus of the European Cup Winners Cup when his team defied the odds to beat Real Madrid in the final.

Ferguson clearly had the talent for the job, but he also needed time to turn United round. The club remained patient as the Reds finished eleventh in 1986/87 and again in 1988/89. After all, the season in between, 1987/88, had offered encouraging signs as United finished second to Liverpool by winning eight and drawing two of their last 10 games.

The promise of that season, and some of the signings made, would soon be fulfilled.

The dawn of the 1990s saw Alex Ferguson collect his first silverware as Manchester United manager, and Liverpool winning their last League title with an ageing team. The tide was turning

Fergusons first FA Cup, achieved after a replay against Crystal Palace, at the time seemed to be a stand-alone success, one that possibly saved his job after another poor season in the League. But nine years later, it seemed thatLee Martins winning goal against Palace lit the fuse for an explosion of unprecedented success.

First and foremost, winning the FA Cup in 1990 allowed United to make a return to European competition after an absence of five years following the Heysel disaster. Far from being rusty, the Reds went all the way to the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam where the opponents were Barcelona, the former club of United strikerMark Hughes. Two goals by Hughes sealed the match 2-1 in Uniteds favour in May 1991, 23 years after the clubs previous triumph in Europe.

The other long wait, for that elusive League championship, very nearly ended in 1992. The Reds had already won the managers third trophy in March, the League Cup, and were in a two-horse race with Leeds. Liverpool were out of the running, but still had a say in the destiny of the title, beating United 2-0 at Anfield to end their arch rivals challenge.

The 1991/92 title would be remembered in Manchester as the title that United lost, rather than the one that Leeds actually won. Leeds, after all, were not the greatest of football powers in the 1990s and their star quality was further reduced when they allowed one of their best players to cross the Pennines in December 1992.

In sellingEric Cantonato Old Trafford, the Yorkshire club practically handed over the keys to the League championship. The Frenchman brought the little extra bit of magic and confidence that had been missing from Uniteds previous campaigns and was an instant hit with the Mancunian faithful, scoring nine goals to help the Reds win their first title in 26 years.

In the following season, 1993/94, the team virtually picked itself en route to an historic League and FA Cup Doubl.