Falling in Love
My love affair with Manchester United Football Club began one sunny May evening at Wembley Stadium in England. It was my first ever football match and my father had somehow managed to get tickets for the 1968 European Cup final between Manchester United and Benfica. I didn't know anything about football but I liked the colour red and I liked the look of the Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby. He looked liked the father of all his players. So when Charlton glanced a header into the back of the net and Best dribbled the length of the field to score a fantastic goal, I fell in love with Busby's Babes as they were called and never stopped loving them since. In the end Manchester won the final 4-1.
Winning the Champions League and the Treble
The Years 1878 to 1968
The club didn't start out as Manchester United. The club when formed in 1978 was called Newton Heath and it did not consider itself good enough to enter the football league with the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Preston North End. They struggled both financially and results wise for several years. Then in 1899 they were saved from extinction by a local brewer named Harry Stafford. This investment led to a change of name to Manchester United. In 1906 United were promoted to the 1st division and in 1908 Manchester United won the league title for the first time. In 1910 Manchester moved to their current stadium Old Trafford and in 1911 won the league title for the second time. For the next decade Manchester were at best a mediocre side but they managed to stay in the 1st Division. In the following decade 1920-1929 Manchester dropped into the 2nd Division for 3 years before they climbed out and only managed some good cup runs. Manchester United continued to decline. The following decade was no better and they went down to the 2nd Division twice and bounced up twice. Their rivals across the city Manchester City were taking all the silverware and a young man named Matt Busby was playing for them.
The war meant no football until 1945 but with the arrival of football came the arrival of the man that was to change Manchester United from a run of the mill football club to the legendary club it is today. When Busby joined the club in 1945 little did he realise that he would still be managing the club 25 years later.
Busby brought in Jimmy Murphy as his assistant and changed the position of several players. Busby built a mix of seasoned professionals and young men from the reserves. The fans didn't have long to wait for honours as United finished second in the league four years in a row and won the FA Cup in 1948 against Blackpool and Stanley Matthews. The fans wouldn't have to wait long for the prize they craved for.
Busby rebuilt the team that had won the FA Cup in 1948 and drafted in a squad of young players from the youth team which the media dubbed the Busby Babes. The players were:
- Jackie Blanchflower
- Roger Byrne
- Eddie Coleman
- Mark Jones
- David Pegg
- Bobby Charlton
- Harry Gregg
- Tommy Taylor
- Dennis Viollet
- Liam Whelan
And perhaps the one man who would have become one of the greatest centre backs the world would ever see - Duncan Edwards - the youngest player at 16 years of age to play in the Football League.
United won the league championship 3 times between 1952 and 1957 and reached the FA Cup final in 1957 only to lose it to a MacParland charge on the goalkeeper. In 1958 United defied the Football Association and entered the European Cup. They had reached the quarter final against Red Star Belgrade, were on top of the 1st Division and in the middle of a good cup run when disaster hit the club, the whole of Manchester and the football world. Returning from the Red Star Belgrade match which they had won 5-4 on aggregate, their plane crashed on take-off at Munich. Twenty two people died including seven of the United players first team players. The world of football went into mourning but while Busby recovered from his severe injuries in hospital his assistant Jimmy Murphy patched up the team and they reached the FA Cup Final for the second year in a row. They lost to Bolton Wanderers in a similar fashion to the previous year when Nat Lofthouse bundled Harry Gregg into the net for the winning goal.
The start of the 60's saw a now recovered Busby build another great team. Once again it was based on youth and experience and this team had the likes of Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, Bryan Kidd and George Best. United went from strength to strength winning the league title twice the FA Cup twice and the crowning glory of lifting the holy grail of the European Cup for the great Sir Matt Busby on the 15th May 1968. With goals from Charlton (2) Herd and Best United thrashed Benfica 4-1 at Wembley.
Sir Matt Busby retired on the back of his triumph and now United entered the 70's with the unenviable task of replacing him.
1970 - 1985 - The Lean Years
During the seventies Manchester United changed managers several times Wilf McGuinness, Frank O'Farrell, Tommy Doherty and Dave Sexton. United were in the doldrums and in 1974 United were relegated to the 2nd Division. They bounced back immediately but they could not break Liverpool's continued domination of domestic honours. Although United managed to reach two successive FA Cup finals in 1976 (losing to Southampton 2-1) and in 1977 (beating Liverpool 2-1), and in 1979 (losing to Arsenal 3-2), they could do nothing in the league.
The 80's began with the Reds hiring another manager Ron Atkinson. With some good signings and young players from the renowned Manchester United academy, United started to challenge Liverpool's domination on the domestic front. United finished no lower than 4th in the league behind Liverpool and they reached the FA Cup Final twice, winning both finals. They beat Brighton 4-2 in 1983 and Everton 1-0 in 1985.
Despite the cup triumphs and getting close to Liverpool in the league Ron Atkinson was sacked for not being able to break Liverpools domination.
In November 1986, United appointed a proven winner. At Aberdeen Alex Ferguson had won everything there was to win in Scotland, including a European Cup Winners Cup against favourites Real Madrid. Hope had arrived at the Theatre of Dreams.
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The Fergie Years
It took five years for Fergie to build his first successful team. In 1990 the first piece of silverware was the FA Cup beating Crystal Palace 1-0. They were in Europe in the Cup Winners Cup and they went all the way beating Barcelona 2-1 in the final. In 1992 they almost won the illusive league title and finished second behind Leeds by one solitary point. Then the tide turned and in 1993 United won the their first league title for 26 years. The long wait was over and now Alex Ferguson's men were turning the tide and Merseyside was no longer the Mecca of the domestic game. With some very good signings such as Mark Hugh's, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Ole Gunner Solskjaer.
Fergie also signed the greatest goalkeeper to be seen at Old Trafford, Peter Schmeichel. Most influencial of all however were Fergie's Babes, all brought up from the Manchester Academy. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and of course David Beckham. In the 90's Manchester United won the Premier League (newly named in 1993) a total of six times. The FA Cup four times, the League Cup once, the Charity Shield five times and the double three times.
However the 1999 campaign was the greatest in the clubs history. A goal of the decade by Ryan Giggs in the FA Cup semi-final saw a ten man United into the FA Cup Final. Then the Reds went to Juventus in the semi-final of the Champions League and came from 2-0 down to a 3-2 Roy Keane inspired win. United were in the Champions League final for the first time since 1968 against Bayern Munich. United then won the premiership by beating Tottenham at Old Trafford and six days later did the double again by beating Newcastle 2-0 at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. Now for Bayern and the holy grail.
The Champions League final of 1999 will go down in history as the greatest footballing escape act of all time. United let in an early goal to the Germans and for 75 minutes they tried to get an equaliser. In the 88th minute Fergie did a double substitution and sent on super subs Teddy Sheringham and Solskjaer. In the 1st minute of time added on Sheringham scored. One minute later Solskjaer sent the German's crashing to defeat by a typical Solskjaer poached goal. United were European Champions once again and they became the first European team to win the treble. As Alex Ferguson said 'Football bloody hell.' A few months later United became the first team to win the quadruple when they won the Intercontinental Cup.
Alex Ferguson became Sir Alex Ferguson but did not sit back and gloat. He built another great team with Wayne Rooney and Christian Ronaldo and United won the Premiership title six times between 2000 and 2009. They now hold an unprecedented 20 league titles because they won the title in 2013. They also won the FA Cup in these years as well as three League Cups, four Charity Shields and one more Champions League title against Chelsea in 2008. Unfortunately they reached the final again in 2009 and 2011 only to lose to Barcelona in both finals.
As we speak Sir Alex Ferguson has had 26 years at the helm of Manchester United. In that time the Reds have won:
13 Premier League titles (Total league titles 20)
5 FA Cups (11)
4 League Cups (4)
9 Charity Shield Cups (18)
3 European Champions Leagues (5)
1 European Cup Winners Cup (1)
1 European Super Cup (1)
1 Intercontinental Cup (1)
1 FIFA Club World Cup (1)
Sir Alex Ferguson at 70 years of age was still hungry for more trophies. He wanted at least one more Champions League before he retired and he got one more Premiership title for Manchester United to start leaving a gap for Liverpool to chase, but not another Champions League title. The Reds already have the record number of FA Cup wins and Charity Shield wins. As well as the most doubles, trebles and quadruples.
So Fergie will go on for a few years yet and Manchester United will play in the Theatre of dreams for many years to come. Will I ever fall out of love with the Red Devils? I think not.
This is an affair which will last forever. Football bloody hell!
Come on you Reds!
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