Manchester United is the greatest football club in the world with a rich history dating back to 1878. Here at the American Red Devils we are students of Manchester United history and wanted to share our findings here for all fans to reference. Below, Manchester United’s history is broken down into different eras, click on one to take a deep dive and learn more about this historic football club.
Update: This page is currently a work in progress, we will be writing sections this offseason and will post updates here. This is a big project and we want to make sure we get it right. GGMU Alex & John.
The Dawn of Club Football: Newton Heath LYR (1878 – 1901)
Newton Heath LYR Football Club was founded in 1878 by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR) depot at Newton Heath. The Football Club adopted the railway company’s colors, and the famous green and gold kits were born.
Initially, the Football Club played friendly matches against other departments within the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and rival companies in Manchester. Their first recorded match was played on November 20th, 1880, where Newton Heath got crushed 0-6 by the Bolton Wanderer reserve team. Despite their humble beginnings, the young club continued as the popularity of football spread in England. In 1882-1883 season the Newton Heath LYR Football Club played 26 friendly matches. By 1888, the club had become a founding member of The Combination, a regional football league.
Manchester United Is Born (1902 – 1915 )
In January 1902, with debts of £2,670 – the club was served with a winding-up order. That was when four local businessmen, including John Henry Davies, invested £500 each to save the club. After purchasing Newton Heath they subsequently changed the name and on 24 April 1902, Manchester United was officially born.
In 1906 Manchester United secured promotion to the First Division of English Football and in 1908 the club lifted their first league. The following season Manchester United kicked-off with a victory in the first-ever Charity Shield and ended the season with the club’s first FA Cup title. Already one of the top clubs in England, Manchester United would win the First Division for the second time in 1911.
Football’s Lost Years, World at War (1916 – 1944)
When World War I was declared in 1914, and between 1915 and 1919 competitive football was suspended in England. Many players signed up to fight in the war and many died – Bradford City, for example, lost nine players in the war.
In 1922, three years after the resumption of football Manchester United was relegated to the Second Division. The Club was promoted in 1925 but was relegated again in 1931 and continued its slide to its all-time lowest position of 20th place in the Second Division in 1934. In December 1931, James W. Gibson invested £2,000 and assumed control of the club. In 1935-1936 Manchester United won the second division under new ownership and was able to achieve promotion but was relegated the next season.
Manchester United finished second in Second Division in 1937-1938 and was once again promoted but would finish 14th the next season which would be the last full year of football before World War II. The 1939-1940 season would be cut short by the war and The Football League would not resume until the 1945-1946 season.
The Busby Babes (1945 – 1969)
In October 1945, the post World Ward II resumption of football led to the appointment of Matt Busby as Manchester United manager. Busby led the team to 3 consecutive second-place league finishes (1947-1949), and to a FA Cup victory in 1948.
In 1952, Manchester United won the First Division League title, it’s first in 41 years. Matt Busby believed in youth and fielded a team with an average age of 22, known as the “The Busby Babes”. Matt and his Babes would go on to win two back-to-back league titles in 1956 and 1957.
The Munich Air Disaster (1958)
On February 6, 1958, 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 refueling in Munich, Germany. The Munich air disaster claimed 23 lives, including eight Manchester United players – Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Billy Whelan – and injured several more. The Munich air disaster is remembered on February 6th every year at Old Trafford and is one of the most defining moments in Manchester United history.
The Rebirth of Manchester United, Sir Matt Busby (1959 – 1969)
Busby miraculously recovered from the Munich air disaster and rebuilt the team through the 1960s. Manchester United signed Denis Law and Pat Crerand, who combined with the next generation of Manchester United youth players – including George Best – to win the FA Cup in 1963 and League Title in 1965 and 1967.
In 1968, 10 years after the Munich air disaster, Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup, beating Benfica 4–1 in the final.
The Dark Ages (1969 – 1986)
Manchester United hired and fired managers and struggled in the First Division after the departure of Sir Matt Busby. Tommy Docherty was appointed as manager in December 1972, but Manchester United was again relegated in 1974. The team fought back and won promotion at the first attempt in 1975. The clubs crowning achievement in the 1970s was a win against Liverpool in the 1977 FA Cup Final.
Dave Sexton replaced Docherty as a manager in the summer of 1977 and the team continued to struggle. Sexton was sacked in 1981 and was replaced by Ron Atkinson, who immediately broke the British record transfer fee to sign Bryan Robson. Manchester United won the FA Cup twice – in 1983 and 1985.
The Impossible Dream, Sir Alex Ferguson 1986 – 2013
In November of 1986, with the club in danger of relegation, Ron Atkinson was dismissed and was replaced by Alex Ferguson. In his first 3 years in charge, the Club finished 11th, 2nd, and 11th in the First Division. He was reportedly on the chopping block heading into the FA Cup Final Replay but a Manchester United victory in against Crystal Palace saved the gaffer’s job and the rest is history.
In the 1998–99 season, the club would make Manchester United history becoming the first team to win the Premier League, FA Cup, and UEFA Champions League – “The Treble”. The club also won the Intercontinental Cup after beating Palmeiras 1–0 in Tokyo. Ferguson was subsequently knighted for his accomplishments in football and became Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex and Manchester United would go on to win 13 League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, and 3 Champions Leagues before he retired in 2013.
Glazers & Woodward Unhinged, No Direction, No Director of Football 2014 – 2020
David Moyes was hand picked by Sir Alex to succeed him in the managerial role at Old Trafford. After one season, Moyesy fell to the sack in 2014 after finishing a dissapointing 7th in the EPL. The summer after Louis Van Gaal, one of the dutch architechs of total football was appointed and backed with summer signings including Memphis, Blind, Schniederlen and Darmian. Unfortuneately for LVG his rein was brief and he was sacked after lifting the FA Cup in 2016.
The musical chairs continued from the board and Jose Mourinho was appointed as manager to start the 2016-2017 campaign. In his first season, the team finished 6th in the EPL but lifted both the League Cup and Europa League trophies. The following season, Jose would deliver Manchester United’s best finish since Sir Alex left the club when Manchester United placed second behind their noisy neighbors. It was when the board did not decide to back Jose in the 2018 summer transfer window where the relationship started to sour. On 18 December 2018, with just seven wins in the first 17 league games, manager José Mourinho was sacked.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as interim manager and his first match was against his former club, Cardiff City, on 22 December 2018. On 28 March 2019, having won 14 of his 19 matches in charge, Solskjær signed a three-year contract to take over as Manchester United manager on a permanent basis. Ole would just miss out on top four finishing 6th, a disappointing finish to how he had started.
In the 2019-2020 season, Ole would lead Manchester United to finish 3rd with a victory over Leicester City on the final day of the competition.
#GlazersOut – check out some of our recent articles on the calamatous Glazer ownership here.
The History of Old Trafford
In 1909 John Henry Davies donated funds for the construction of a new stadium. After searching Manchester for the right place for a stadium, he settled on a patch of land adjacent to the Bridgewater Canal, just off the north end of the Warwick Road in Old Trafford.
Designed by Scottish architect Archibald Leitch, the ground was originally designed with a capacity of 100,000 and featured covered seating in the south stand, while the remaining stands were left as terraces and uncovered.
It was initially named United Football Ground but was renamed Old Trafford Football Ground in early 1936.
Read more about Old Traffords rich history here.