History of Manchester United F.C.
Early years (1878–1945)
Manchester United was formed in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR Football Club by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR) depot at Newton Heath. The team initially played games against other departments and railway companies, but on 20 November 1880, they competed in their first recorded match; wearing the colours of the railway company – green and gold – they were defeated 6–0 by Bolton Wanderers’ reserve team. By 1888, the club had become a founding member of The Combination, a regional football league. Following the league’s dissolution after only one season, Newton Heath joined the newly formed Football Alliance, which ran for three seasons before being merged with the Football League. This resulted in the club starting the 1892–93 season in the First Division, by which time it had become independent of the railway company and dropped the “LYR” from its name. After two seasons, the club was relegated to the Second Division.
In January 1902, with debts of £2,670 – equivalent to £270,000 in 2018 – the club was served with a winding-up order. Captain Harry Stafford found four local businessmen, including John Henry Davies (who became club president), each willing to invest £500 in return for a direct interest in running the club and who subsequently changed the name; on 24 April 1902, Manchester United was officially born. Under Ernest Mangnall, who assumed managerial duties in 1903, the team finished as Second Division runners-up in 1906 and secured promotion to the First Division, which they won in 1908 – the club’s first league title. The following season began with victory in the first ever Charity Shield and ended with the club’s first FA Cup title. Manchester United won the First Division for the second time in 1911, but at the end of the following season, Mangnall left the club to join Manchester City.
In 1922, three years after the resumption of football following the First World War, the club was relegated to the Second Division, where it remained until regaining promotion in 1925. Relegated again in 1931, Manchester United became a yo-yo club, achieving its all-time lowest position of 20th place in the Second Division in 1934. Following the death of principal benefactor John Henry Davies in October 1927, the club’s finances deteriorated to the extent that Manchester United would likely have gone bankrupt had it not been for James W. Gibson, who, in December 1931, invested £2,000 and assumed control of the club. In the 1938–39 season, the last year of football before the Second World War, the club finished 14th in the First Division.
Busby years (1945–1969)
In October 1945, the impending resumption of football led to the managerial appointment of Matt Busby, who demanded an unprecedented level of control over team selection, player transfers and training sessions. Busby led the team to second-place league finishes in 1947, 1948 and 1949, and to FA Cup victory in 1948. In 1952, the club won the First Division, its first league title for 41 years. With an average age of 22, the back-to-back title winning side of 1956 were labelled “the Busby Babes” by the media, a testament to Busby’s faith in his youth players. In 1957, Manchester United became the first English team to compete in the European Cup, despite objections from The Football League, who had denied Chelsea the same opportunity the previous season. En route to the semi-final, which they lost to Real Madrid, the team recorded a 10–0 victory over Belgian champions Anderlecht, which remains the club’s biggest victory on record.
The following season, on the way home from a European Cup quarter-final victory against Red Star Belgrade, the aircraft carrying the Manchester United players, officials and journalists crashed while attempting to take off after refuelling in Munich, Germany. The Munich air disaster of 6 February 1958 claimed 23 lives, including those of eight players – Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan – and injured several more.
Manchester United (1963)
Reserve team manager Jimmy Murphy took over as manager while Busby recovered from his injuries and the club’s makeshift side reached the FA Cup final, which they lost to Bolton Wanderers. In recognition of the team’s tragedy, UEFA invited the club to compete in the 1958–59 European Cup alongside eventual League champions Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite approval from the FA, the Football League determined that the club should not enter the competition, since it had not qualified. Busby rebuilt the team through the 1960s by signing players such as Denis Law and Pat Crerand, who combined with the next generation of youth players – including George Best – to win the FA Cup in 1963. The following season, they finished second in the league, then won the title in 1965 and 1967. In 1968, Manchester United became the first English (and second British) club to win the European Cup, beating Benfica 4–1 in the final with a team that contained three European Footballers of the Year: Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best. Matt Busby resigned as manager in 1969 and was replaced by the reserve team coach, former Manchester United player Wilf McGuinness.
Following an eighth-place finish in the 1969–70 season and a poor start to the 1970–71 season, Busby was persuaded to temporarily resume managerial duties, and McGuinness returned to his position as reserve team coach. In June 1971, Frank O’Farrell was appointed as manager, but lasted less than 18 months before being replaced by Tommy Docherty in December 1972. Docherty saved Manchester United from relegation that season, only to see them relegated in 1974; by that time the trio of Best, Law, and Charlton had left the club. The team won promotion at the first attempt and reached the FA Cup final in 1976, but were beaten by Southampton. They reached the final again in 1977, beating Liverpool 2–1. Docherty was dismissed shortly afterwards, following the revelation of his affair with the club physiotherapist’s wife.
Dave Sexton replaced Docherty as manager in the summer of 1977. Despite major signings, including Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Gary Bailey, and Ray Wilkins, the team failed to achieve any significant results; they finished in the top two in 1979–80 and lost to Arsenal in the 1979 FA Cup Final. Sexton was dismissed in 1981, even though the team won the last seven games under his direction. He was replaced by Ron Atkinson, who immediately broke the British record transfer fee to sign Bryan Robson from West Bromwich Albion. Under Atkinson, Manchester United won the FA Cup twice in three years – in 1983 and 1985. In 1985–86, after 13 wins and two draws in its first 15 matches, the club was favourite to win the league, but finished in fourth place. The following season, with the club in danger of relegation by November, Atkinson was dismissed.
Ferguson years (1986–2013)
Alex Ferguson and his assistant Archie Knox arrived from Aberdeen on the day of Atkinson’s dismissal, and guided the club to an 11th-place finish in the league. Despite a second-place finish in 1987–88, the club was back in 11th place the following season. Reportedly on the verge of being dismissed, victory over Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup Final replay (after a 3–3 draw) saved Ferguson’s career. The following season, Manchester United claimed its first Cup Winners’ Cup title and competed in the 1991 UEFA Super Cup, beating European Cup holders Red Star Belgrade 1–0 in the final at Old Trafford. A second consecutive League Cup final appearance followed in 1992, in which the team beat Nottingham Forest 1–0 at Wembley. In 1993, the club won its first league title since 1967, and a year later, for the first time since 1957, it won a second consecutive title – alongside the FA Cup – to complete the first “Double” in the club’s history.
In the 1998–99 season, Manchester United became the first team to win the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League – “The Treble” – in the same season. Losing 1–0 going into injury time in the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored late goals to claim a dramatic victory over Bayern Munich, in what is considered one of the greatest comebacks of all time. The club also won the Intercontinental Cup after beating Palmeiras 1–0 in Tokyo. Ferguson was subsequently knighted for his services to football.
Manchester United won the league again in the 1999–2000 and 2000–01 seasons. The team finished third in 2001–02, before regaining the title in 2002–03. They won the 2003–04 FA Cup, beating Millwall 3–0 in the final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to lift the trophy for a record 11th time. In the 2005–06 season, Manchester United failed to qualify for the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in over a decade, but recovered to secure a second-place league finish and victory over Wigan Athletic in the 2006 Football League Cup Final. The club regained the Premier League in the 2006–07 and 2007–08 seasons, and completed the European double by beating Chelsea 6–5 on penalties in the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Ryan Giggs made a record 759th appearance for the club in this game, overtaking previous record holder Bobby Charlton. In December 2008, the club won the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup and followed this with the 2008–09 Football League Cup, and its third successive Premier League title. That summer, Cristiano Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid for a world record £80 million. In 2010, Manchester United defeated Aston Villa 2–1 at Wembley to retain the League Cup, its first successful defence of a knockout cup competition.
After finishing as runner-up to Chelsea in the 2009–10 season, United achieved a record 19th league title in 2010–11, securing the championship with a 1–1 away draw against Blackburn Rovers on 14 May 2011. This was extended to 20 league titles in 2012–13, securing the championship with a 3–0 home win against Aston Villa on 22 April 2013.
On 8 May 2013, Ferguson announced that he was to retire as manager at the end of the football season, but would remain at the club as a director and club ambassador. The club announced the next day that Everton manager David Moyes would replace him from 1 July, having signed a six-year contract. Ryan Giggs took over as interim player-manager 10 months later, on 22 April 2014, when Moyes was sacked after a poor season in which the club failed to defend their Premier League title and failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1995–96. They also failed to qualify for the Europa League, meaning that it was the first time Manchester United hadn’t qualified for a European competition since 1990. On 19 May 2014, it was confirmed that Louis van Gaal would replace Moyes as Manchester United manager on a three-year deal, with Giggs as his assistant. Malcolm Glazer, the patriarch of the Glazer family that owns the club, died on 28 May 2014.
Although Van Gaal’s first season saw United once again qualify for the Champions League through a fourth-place finish in the Premier League, his second season saw United go out of the same tournament in the group stage. United also fell behind in the title race for the third consecutive season, finishing in 5th place, in spite of several expensive signings during Van Gaal’s tenure. However, that same season, Manchester United won the FA Cup for a 12th time. Despite this victory, Van Gaal was sacked as manager just two days later, with José Mourinho appointed in his place on 27 May, signing a three-year contract. That season, United finished in sixth place while winning the EFL Cup for the fifth time and the Europa League for the first time, as well as the FA Community Shield for a record 21st time. Wayne Rooney scored his 250th goal with United, surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s all-time top scorer, before leaving the club at the end of the season to return to Everton.
A football crest. In the centre is a shield with a ship in full sail above a red field with three diagonal black lines. Either side of the shield are two stylised roses, separating two scrolls. The upper scroll is red and reads “Manchester United” in black type, while the lower scroll is white with “Football Club” also written in black.
The club crest is derived from the Manchester City Council coat of arms, although all that remains of it on the current crest is the ship in full sail. The devil stems from the club’s nickname “The Red Devils”; it was included on club programmes and scarves in the 1960s, and incorporated into the club crest in 1970, although the crest was not included on the chest of the shirt until 1971.
Newton Heath’s uniform in 1879, four years before the club played its first competitive match, has been documented as ‘white with blue cord’. A photograph of the Newton Heath team, taken in 1892, is believed to show the players wearing red-and-white quartered jerseys and navy blue knickerbockers. Between 1894–96, the players wore distinctive green and gold jerseys which were replaced in 1896 by white shirts, which were worn with navy blue shorts.
After the name change in 1902, the club colours were changed to red shirts, white shorts, and black socks, which has become the standard Manchester United home kit. Very few changes were made to the kit until 1922 when the club adopted white shirts bearing a deep red “V” around the neck, similar to the shirt worn in the 1909 FA Cup Final. They remained part of their home kits until 1927. For a period in 1934, the cherry and white hooped change shirt became the home colours, but the following season the red shirt was recalled after the club’s lowest ever league placing of 20th in the Second Division and the hooped shirt dropped back to being the change. The black socks were changed to white from 1959 to 1965, where they were replaced with red socks up until 1971, when the club reverted to black. Black shorts and/or white socks are sometimes worn with the home strip, most often in away games, if there is a clash with the opponent’s kit. Since 1997–98, white socks have been the preferred choice for European games, which are typically played on weeknights, to aid with player visibility. The current home kit is a red Henley shirt, with black-and-white-banded cuffs and the trademark Adidas three stripes in white across the shoulders.
The Manchester United away strip has often been a white shirt, black shorts and white socks, but there have been several exceptions. These include an all-black strip with blue and gold trimmings between 1993 and 1995, the navy blue shirt with silver horizontal pinstripes worn during the 1999–2000 season, and the 2011–12 away kit, which had a royal blue body and sleeves with hoops made of small midnight navy blue and black stripes, with black shorts and blue socks. An all-grey away kit worn during the 1995–96 season was dropped after just five games, most notoriously against Southampton where Alex Ferguson forced the team to change into the third kit during half-time of its final outing. The reason for dropping it being that the players claimed to have trouble finding their teammates against the crowd, United failed to win a competitive game in the kit. In 2001, to celebrate 100 years as “Manchester United”, a reversible white/gold away kit was released, although the actual match day shirts were not reversible.
The club’s third kit is often all-blue, this was most recently the case during the 2014–15 season. Exceptions include a green-and-gold halved shirt worn between 1992 and 1994, a blue-and-white striped shirt worn during the 1994–95 and 1995–96 seasons and once in 1996–97, an all-black kit worn during the Treble-winning 1998–99 season, and a white shirt with black-and-red horizontal pinstripes worn between 2003–04 and 2005–06. From 2006–07 to 2013–14, the third kit was the previous season’s away kit, albeit updated with the new club sponsor in 2006–07 and 2010–11, apart from 2008–09 when an all-blue kit was launch to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967–68 European Cup success.