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History

The club was formed as Newton Heath L&YR F.C. in 1878 as the works team of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath. The club’s shirts were green and gold halves. They played on a small, dilapidated field on North Road for fifteen years, before moving to Bank Street in the nearby town of Clayton in 1893. The club had entered The Football League the previous year and began to sever its links with the rail depot, becoming an independent company, appointing a club secretary and dropping the “L&YR” from their name to become simply Newton Heath F.C. Not long afterwards, in 1902, the club neared bankruptcy, with debts of over £2,500. At one point, their Bank Street ground was even closed by the bailiffs.

1945 saw the appointment of Matt Busby to the manager’s post at Old Trafford. He took an uncommon approach to his job, insisting that he be allowed to pick his own team, choose which players to sign and direct the team’s training sessions himself. He had already missed out on the manager’s job at his former club, Liverpool, because the club saw those tasks as jobs for the directors, but United decided to take a chance on Busby’s innovative ideas. Busby’s first signing was not a player, but a new assistant manager by the name of Jimmy Murphy. The risk the club had taken in appointing Busby paid immediate dividends, with the club finishing second in the league in 1947, 1948 and 1949 and winning the FA Cup in 1948, thanks in part to the locally born trio of Stan Pearson, Jack Rowley and Charlie Mitten (Rowley and Pearson both scored in the 1948 Cup Final), as well as the centre-half from the North-East, Allenby Chilton.

Charlie Mitten had fled to Colombia in search of a better salary, but the remainder of United’s old heads managed to win the First Division title back in 1952. Busby knew, however, that football teams required more than just experience in the side, and so he adopted a policy of bringing in players from the youth team whenever possible. At first, the young players such as Roger Byrne, Bill Foulkes, Mark Jones and Dennis Viollet, took time to bed themselves into the side, sliding to a low of eighth place in 1953, but the team won the league again in 1956 with an average age of only 22, scoring 103 goals in the process. The youth policy set in motion by Busby has now become a hallmark of the most successful periods in the club’s history (the mid-1950s, mid-to-late-1960s and 1990s). Busby’s original “crop” of youth players was referred to as the Busby Babes, the jewel in the crown of which was a wing-half named Duncan Edwards. The boy from Dudley in the West Midlands made his United début at the age of just 16 back in 1953. It was said that Edwards could play at any position on the field, and many who saw him play said that he was the greatest player ever. The following season, 1956–57, they won the league again and reached the FA Cup final, losing to Aston Villa. They also became the first English team to compete in the European Cup, at the behest of the FA, who had denied Chelsea the same opportunity the previous season, and reached the semi-final, only to be knocked out by Real Madrid. En route to the semi-final, United also recorded a win that still stands as their biggest win in all competitions, beating Belgian champions Anderlecht 10–0 at Maine Road.

Tragedy struck the following season, when the plane carrying the team home from a European Cup match crashed on take-off at a refuelling stop in Munich, Germany. The Munich air disaster of 6 February 1958 claimed the lives of eight players – Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam “Billy” Whelan – and another fifteen passengers, including United staff members Walter Crickmer, Bert Whalley and Tom Curry. There had already been two attempted take-offs before the fatal third, which was caused by a build-up of slush at the end of the runway slowing the plane down to a speed insufficient for take-off. The plane skidded off the end of the runway, through a fence and into an unoccupied house. United goalkeeper Harry Gregg managed to maintain consciousness after the crash, and through fear of the plane exploding at any second, he grabbed both Bobby Charlton – who had made his United début less than 18 months earlier – and Dennis Viollet by their waistbands and dragged them to safety. Seven United players died at the scene, while Duncan Edwards died a fortnight later in hospital. Right-winger Johnny Berry also survived the accident, but injuries sustained in the accident brought his football career to a premature end. Matt Busby was not given much hope of survival by the Munich doctors, and was even given the Last Rites at one point, but recovered miraculously and was finally let out of hospital after having spent over two months there.

There were rumours of the club folding and withdrawing from all competitions, but with Jimmy Murphy taking over as manager while Busby recovered from his injuries, the club continued playing with a makeshift side. Despite the accident, they reached the FA Cup final again, where they lost to Bolton Wanderers. At the end of the season, UEFA offered the FA the opportunity to submit both United and the eventual champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers, for the 1958–59 European Cup as a tribute to the victims, but the FA declined. United managed to push Wolves right to the wire the following season, finishing in a creditable second place; not bad for a team that had lost nine first-team players to the Munich air disaster.

Busby rebuilt the team throughout the early 1960s, signing players such as Denis Law and Pat Crerand, all the while nurturing his new generation of youngsters. Perhaps the most famous of this new batch was a young man from Belfast named George Best. Best had a natural athleticism rarely seen, but his most valuable asset was his close control of a football. His quick feet allowed him to pass through almost any gap in the opposition defence, no matter how small. The team won the FA Cup in 1963, albeit finishing in 19th place in the First Division. The FA Cup triumph seemed to reinvigorate the players, who helped the club to second place in 1964, and then went one better by winning the league in 1965 and 1967. United won the European Cup in 1968, beating Eusébio’s Benfica 4–1 in the final, becoming the first English club to win the competition. This United team was notable for containing 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 and former United player, Wilf McGuinness.

United struggled to replace Busby, and the team struggled under Wilf McGuinness in the 1969–70 season, finishing a disappointing eighth, and following a poor start to the 1970–71 season, McGuinness was demoted back to the position of reserve team coach. Busby was coaxed back to the club, albeit only for six months. Results got better with Busby’s guidance, but he finally left the club for the last time in the summer of 1971. In the meantime, United had lost a number of high-profile players such as Nobby Stiles and Pat Crerand.

Despite approaching Celtic’s European Cup-winning manager, Jock Stein, for the manager’s job – Stein had agreed a verbal contract to join United, but pulled out at the last minute – Frank O’Farrell was appointed as Busby’s successor. However, like McGuinness, O’Farrell only lasted less than 18 months, the only difference between the two being that O’Farrell reacted to the team’s poor form by bringing in some fresh talent, most specifically Martin Buchan from Aberdeen for £125,000. Tommy Docherty became manager at the end of 1972. Docherty, or “the Doc”, saved United from relegation that season but they were relegated in 1974, by which time the golden trio of Best, Law and Charlton had left the club. Denis Law had moved to Manchester City in the summer of 1973, and ended up scoring the goal that many people say relegated United, and politely refused to celebrate the goal with his team mates. Players like Lou Macari, Stewart Houston and Brian Greenhoff were brought in to replace Best, Law and Charlton, but none could live up to the stature of the three that came before.

The team won promotion at the first attempt, with a young Steve Coppell making his début towards the end of that season, having joined from Tranmere Rovers, and reached the FA Cup final in 1976, but were beaten by Southampton. They reached the final again in 1977, beating Liverpool 2–1. In spite of this success and his popularity with the supporters, Docherty was sacked soon after the final when he was found to have had an affair with the physiotherapist’s wife.

Dave Sexton replaced Docherty as manager in the summer of 1977, and made the team play in a more defensive formation. This style was unpopular with supporters, who were used to the attacking football preferred by Docherty and Busby. Major signings under Sexton included Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Gary Bailey and Ray Wilkins, but Sexton’s defensive United failed to break out of mid-table obscurity, only once finishing in the top two, and only reached the FA Cup final once, losing to Arsenal. Because of this lack of trophies, Sexton was sacked in 1981, even though he won his last seven games in charge.

He was replaced by the flamboyant Ron Atkinson, whose extrovert attitude was reflected in the clubs he managed. He immediately broke the British record transfer fee to sign Bryan Robson from his old club, West Brom. Robson developed into what many consider to have been United’s best midfield player since Duncan Edwards. Atkinson’s team featured new signings such as Jesper Olsen, Paul McGrath and Gordon Strachan playing alongside former youth team players Norman Whiteside and Mark Hughes. United won the FA Cup twice in three years, in 1983 and 1985, and were overwhelming favourites to win the league in the 1985–86 season after winning their first ten league games, opening a ten-point gap over their rivals as early as October. The team’s form collapsed, however, and United finished the season in fourth place. The poor form continued into the following season, and with United on the edge of the First Division’s relegation zone by the beginning of November 1986, Atkinson was sacked.

Alex Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen to replace Atkinson on the very day that Atkinson was sacked, bringing with him his assistant manager, Archie Knox. Although his first match in charge, against Oxford United on 8 November 1986, resulted in a 2–0 defeat, Ferguson guided the club to an 11th place finish in the league. A second place finish in 1987–88, with Brian McClair becoming the first United player since George Best to score twenty league goals in a season, may have given fans a tiny glimpse of the future, but they soon returned to mediocrity with another 11th-place finish in 1989.

Many of Ferguson’s signings did not reach the expectations of the fans, and the manager was reportedly on the verge of being sacked at the beginning of 1990, with many believing that defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Third Round would seal his fate. A 56th-minute goal from Mark Robins won the match for United and started them on a cup run that would take them all the way to the final at Wembley, where they beat Crystal Palace 1–0 in a replay after a 3–3 draw in the original match. The following year, United reached the final of the League Cup, but lost 1–0 to former manager Ron Atkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday team. However, the season was capped by the club’s first Cup Winners’ Cup title, beating Barcelona 2–1 in the final in Rotterdam. The Cup Winners’ Cup triumph allowed the team to play in the 1991 UEFA Super Cup, in which they beat European Cup holders Red Star Belgrade 1–0 at Old Trafford. The match should have been played over two legs, but, due to political unrest in Yugoslavia at the time, UEFA decided that only the Old Trafford leg would be played. A second consecutive League Cup final appearance followed in 1992, with United this time beating Nottingham Forest 1–0 at Wembley.

Meanwhile, events were taking place off the pitch around the turn of the decade, as chairman Martin Edwards attempted to offload the club to property tycoon Michael Knighton in 1989. The £20 million deal was all but confirmed, with Knighton even taking to the Old Trafford pitch in full Manchester United kit and performing a few keepie uppies before belting the ball into the goal at the Stretford End. Knighton was given access to the club’s financial records, but, before the deal could be finalised, his financial backers pulled out and the deal was cancelled. However, since Knighton now had insider knowledge of the club, he was given a place on the club’s board in exchange for his silence about the matter. In 1991, requiring some extra financial support in the wake of the Taylor Report, the club floated on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of £47 million,[17] bringing its finances into the public eye. Martin Edwards retained his position as chairman, but the club was now publicly owned.

The summer of 1991 also saw the arrival of Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, whose 17 league clean sheets gave United the best defensive record in the First Division in 1991–92, helping them to a second-place finish behind Leeds United, within whose ranks was a certain French maverick named Eric Cantona. Alex Ferguson recognised United’s need for a striker as a foil for Mark Hughes and Brian McClair, and had tried – and failed – a number of times to sign Sheffield Wednesday striker David Hirst, but when Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson rang Martin Edwards in November 1992 to enquire about the availability of Denis Irwin, the conversation quickly turned to Cantona. To Edwards’ and Ferguson’s surprise, the two clubs were able to agree upon a fee of £1.2 million for the enigmatic Frenchman. Cantona’s arrival provided the crucial spark for United, helping the team to their first league title since 1967. After the signing of Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest in July 1993, United won a second consecutive title for the first time since 1957 the following year, before winning the FA Cup to complete the first “Double” in the club’s history. That same year, however, the club went into mourning following the death of former manager and club director Matt Busby, who died on 20 January 1994.

The 1994–95 season was to be the club’s first trophyless season since 1988–89, although they managed to take the title race down to the final week of the season and reached the final of the FA Cup, where they lost to Everton. Andy Cole was signed from Newcastle United for a British record fee of £6 million plus Keith Gillespie. However, the game after Cole’s United debut, Eric Cantona received an eight month suspension for jumping into the crowd and assaulting Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, who had given Cantona racial abuse as he left the field, in United’s game at Selhurst Park. Cantona’s suspension has been cited by some as the reason why United were unable to complete a hat-trick of league titles that season. The season’s relative failure prompted Ferguson into some major restructuring of the team, selling Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes and replacing them with players from the club’s youth team, including David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes. After the club’s 3–1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995–96 season, television pundit Alan Hansen famously declared “you’ll never win anything with kids. The new players, several of whom quickly became regular internationals for England, responded well and, buoyed by Cantona’s return in October 1995, United became the first English club to have won the double twice, a feat that would be nicknamed the “Double Double”.

Captain Steve Bruce left for Birmingham City in July 1996, and Alex Ferguson named Eric Cantona as the new club captain. He led the team to a fourth league title in five years in 1996–97, before retiring from football at the age of 30 at the end of the season. Teddy Sheringham was brought in to replace him, and his iconic number 7 shirt was handed to David Beckham. They started the 1997–98 season well, but they lost five matches after Christmas and finished in second place, one point behind double-winners Arsenal. After a period without a regular challenger for the league title, this marked Arsenal’s arrival as genuine title contenders for the next few years.

The 1998–99 season for Manchester United was the most successful season in English club football history as they became the only English team to win The Treble – winning the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League in the same season. After a very tense Premier League season, Manchester United won the title on the final day beating Tottenham Hotspur 2–1, whilst Arsenal won 1–0 against Aston Villa. Winning the Premier League was the first part of the Treble in place, the one part that manager Alex Ferguson described as the hardest.In the FA Cup Final United faced Newcastle United and won 2–0 with goals from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes. In the final match of that season, the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final they defeated Bayern Munich in what is considered one of the greatest comebacks ever witnessed, going into injury time a goal behind and then scoring twice to win 2–1. Ferguson was subsequently knighted for his services to football. Rounding out that record breaking year, Manchester United also won the Intercontinental Cup after beating Palmeiras 1–0 in Tokyo.

United won the league in 2000 and 2001, but the press saw those seasons as failures as the club failed to regain the European Cup. In 2000, Manchester United became one of 14 founder members of the G-14 group of leading European football clubs. The club also declined to take part in the 1999–2000 FA Cup, instead competing in the inaugural FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil, citing pressure from the FA, UEFA and the England 2006 World Cup bid committee. Ferguson adopted more defensive tactics to make United harder to beat in Europe, but it was not a success and United finished the 2001–02 Premier League season in third place. They regained the league the following season (2002–03) and started the following season well, but their form dropped significantly when Rio Ferdinand received a controversial eight month suspension for missing a drugs test. They did win the 2004 FA Cup, however, knocking out Arsenal (that season’s eventual league champions) on their way to the final in which they beat Millwall.

The 2004–05 season was characterised by a failure to score goals, mainly due to the injury of striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and United finished the season trophyless and in third place in the league. This time, even the FA Cup eluded them as Arsenal beat United on penalties after a goalless draw after 120 minutes. Off the pitch, the main story was the possibility of the club being taken over and on 12 May 2005, American businessman Malcolm Glazer acquired a controlling interest in the club through his investment vehicle Red Football Ltd. in a takeover valuing the club at approximately £800 million (then approx. $1.5 billion). On 16 May, he increased his share to the 75% necessary to de-list the club from the Stock Exchange, making it private again, and announced his intention to do so within 20 days. On 8 June, he appointed his sons to the Manchester United board as non-executive directors.

United made a poor start to the 2005–06 season, with midfielder Roy Keane leaving the club to join Celtic after publicly criticising several of his team-mates. The club had also failed to qualify for the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in over a decade, after losing to Benfica. Their season was also dealt cruel blows with injuries to key players such as Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. However, they were prevented from being left empty-handed in successive seasons  a disappointment not endured in the last 17 years – by winning the 2006 League Cup, beating newly promoted neighbours Wigan Athletic in the final 4–0. United also ensured a second-place finish and automatic Champions League qualification on the final day of the season by defeating Charlton Athletic 4–0. At the end of the 2005–06 season, one of United’s key strikers, Ruud van Nistelrooy, left the club to join Real Madrid, due to a row with Alex Ferguson.

In July 2006, the club announced a refinancing package. The total amount will be £660 million, on which interest payments will be £62 million a year. This result of this new financing plan will be a 30% reduction of annual payments. On the pitch, the 2006–07 season saw United return to the attacking style of football that was the cornerstone of their years of success in the late 1990s, scoring almost 20 more goals in 32 matches than second placed side Chelsea. In January 2007, United signed Henrik Larsson on a two-month loan from Swedish side Helsingborg, and the striker played an important role in advancing United to the semi-finals of the Champions League, with hopes for a second Treble; however, upon reaching the semi-finals, United lost to Milan 3–5 on aggregate. Four years after their last title, United claimed back the Premier League title on 6 May 2007, after Chelsea drew away with Arsenal, leaving the Blues seven points behind with two games to go, following United’s 1–0 victory in the Manchester derby the previous day, making it their ninth Premier League title in the 15 seasons of its existence. However, an unprecedented fourth Double was not to be as Chelsea beat United 1–0 in extra time in the first FA Cup Final to be held at the new Wembley Stadium; the first to be held in England since the old stadium was demolished seven years earlier.

2007–08 saw United successfully complete the European double despite a poor start to the season, finding themselves in 17th place in the Premier League after three matches. However, on 11 May 2008, United retained the Premier League title with a win over Wigan Athletic. With title rivals Chelsea only able to draw with Bolton Wanderers, United finished the season two points clear. The club also reached the European Cup final for the third time in their history, having knocked out such clubs as Barcelona and Roma en-route to the final. They beat Chelsea 6–5 on penalties in the final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, after a 1–1 draw in normal time on 21 May 2008. With this win, they earned their third European Cup title and kept up their record of never having lost a major European final. Coincidentally, this season marked the 100th year since Manchester United won their first League title, 50 years after the Munich air disaster and 40 years after Manchester United became the first ever English side to win the European Cup. The European Cup final also saw Ryan Giggs make his 759th appearance for the club, overtaking Bobby Charlton as the club’s record appearance maker.

Before the start of the 2008–09 season,The Reds made a club record signing of 30.75 mill for Dimitar Berbatov.

United competed in and won the 2008 FA Community Shield. United beat 2007-08 FA Cup winners Portsmouth 3-1 on penalties, after the match finished 0–0 after 90 minutes. On 21 December 2008, United added more silverware to their trophy cabinet with a win in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup Final, defeating the Ecuadorian side LDU Quito 1–0 in Japan, Wayne Rooney scoring the winning goal. Two months later, they added the 2009 League Cup to their trophy cabinet, after defeating Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 on penalties. On 16 May, United secured their 11th Premier League title – and 18th league title overall – following a 0–0 draw at home to Arsenal, winning three consecutive Premier League titles for a second time. On 27 May 2009, Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final in Rome, falling to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. The Champions League final turned out to be the last match for both Carlos Tévez – whose loan contract came to an end on 30 June – and Cristiano Ronaldo – who was sold to Real Madrid for £80 million, breaking the world transfer record set by Real Madrid’s signing of Kaká from Milan for £56 million. However.

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