The Early Years: 1878 - 1939
The story of Manchester United begins in 1878 when employees of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company's Carriage and Wagon Works requested permission and sponsorship from their employers to start a football team. Permission was given, and Newton Heath LYR (which stood for "Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway") was born, playing at a pitch on North Road.
Initially they played against other teams of railway workers, within their own company and against teams from other companies, but in 1885, they entered in the Manchester Cup competition and reached the final. The next year, they won the competition.
The Football Alliance
Although Newton Heath were not good enough to join the Football League, they were quickly outpacing their local competition. Newton Heath spent the first ten months of 1888 unbeaten at their home ground. However, the idea of inter-town football had caught on, and in 1889, a group of twelve clubs, Newton Heath among then, formed the Football Alliance. They finished eighth.
The next year, Newton Heath began to sever their railway ties, dropping "LYR" from their official name. However, strong connections remained intact; although they no longer were sponsored by the company, most of their players were still LYR employees.
1892 proved to be a successful season for the "Heathens", as they finished second to Nottingham Forest, after losing only three times all season. That same year, the Football League enlarged and, with the merger of the Alliance, divided into two divisions. Newton Heath and Nottingham Forest were invited to join the First Division. They finished last and needed a win against Small Heath in the test match against the Second Division champions to preserve their First Division status.
In 1893, the team moved to a new ground in Bank Street, Clayton, next to a chemical plant. It was said that when Newton Heath were losing, the plant would belch out acrid fumes in a bid to affect the visiting team. The 1893-94 campaign, however, was no better, and they once again were in the relegation playoff against Liverpool. This time Newton Heath were defeated 2-0 and gained the dubious honour of being the first team to be relegated to the Second Division.
Warner (GK), Clements (FB), Brown (FB), Perrins, Stewart, and Errantz (backs), Farman and Couper (halfbacks), Donaldson (right wing), Carson (centre), Mathieson (left wing)
The financial situation only worsened, dragging down their on-field play. They managed only a 10th place in the 1901 season and with ticket sales flagging and debts mounting, the club decided to hold a four-day bazaar to raise money. One of the attractions was a St. Bernard dog, which escaped on one of the nights after the bazaar had closed.
It was the escape and recapturing of the dog which led to the meeting between team captain Harry Stafford and John J Davies who would lead a group of businessmen. Together, they came up with £2,000 to save the club from bankruptcy. On April 28th 1902, Newton Heath was replaced by Manchester United Football Club, and John Henry Davies became the club president.
In 1903 the club took another important step by hiring their first real team manager, J Ernest Mangnall a charismatic publicist who knew how to work the media. Under his leadership, the team finished third in the Second Division. The following season, Manchester United set a record when they went 18 games undefeated between September 1904 and February 1905.
Mangnall created United's first successful side with a series of signings, eventually winning promotion in 1906 and reaching the quarterfinals of the F.A Cup.Among these signings was Billy Meredith the legendary winger who was probably the greatest player of that era.
Ernest Mangnall managed to sign star defender Herbert Burgess and Alec "Sandy" Turnbull also Jimmy bannister after a scandal hit Manchester City and forced them to sell off most of their team. It paid off, and Manchester United won their first League Championship in 1908.
The next year, FA Cup success would follow as they beat Bristol City in the final 1-0. Sandy Turnbull scored the only goal and Billy Meredith was named man of the match.
Sandy Turnbull (left) Billy Meredith (right)
For years since the formation of the Professional Footballers Union, tensions had mounted as players were unable to get their employers to recognise them as unionists. Things finally came to a head before the 1909-10 season when the League decided to ban, without pay, any player who was a union member.
The move inflamed the players, Manchester United's especially. They refused to give up union membership. Most clubs turned to amateurs to replace their professional players, but United were unable to sign enough. It was during this period that the famous "Outcasts FC" photograph was taken. Finally, the day before the season was due to begin, the League gave in, removing the suspensions and recognising the union.
1909 was also a milestone for United for another reason. John Henry Davies once again lent financial support by lending £60,000, a huge sum at the time, to finalise the team's move to Old Trafford. They played their first game there on 19 February 1910 as Liverpool spoiled the celebrations with a 4-3 win in a close game.
Ernest Mangnall's leadership brought United to their first successful era. They would be the first winners of the Charity Shield in 1908, win the F.A Cup in 1909 and the League again in 1911. The Charity Shield victory in 1911 would be the end of this era and J Ernest Mangnall would leave the next year for Manchester City.
United would stumble without their charismatic manager, narrowly escaping relegation in 1914, before the Football League was suspended at the outbreak of World War 1during which Sandy Turnbull was killed in France.
Post World War I
The League resumed in 1919, but United only managed 12th place. The worst was yet to come and in 1921/22, they won only eight of 42 games and were relegated. Billy Meredith had also left in 1921, following Ernest Mangnall.
United finally returned to the top flight in 1925, finishing second to Leicester City. But in 1927, one of the great builders of Manchester United died. John Henry Davies, who had saved the club from extinction and brought them to Old Trafford, died and was replaced by G H Lawton as club president.
A new manager, Herbert Bamlet was appointed but his reign was not a successful one as United slowly slipped in the standings, finally finishing bottom of the league in 1931 and being relegated after starting the season losing twelve times in a row. The finances were once again in a mess, and Herbert Bamlett lost his job. The players had gone to collect their wages on Christmas week and told there was no money available. Another financial bailout was needed.
Enter James W Gibson who was approached by a Manchester sportswriter, Stacey Lintott. He met with the board and offered to help on condition that he became chairman and could choose his directors. They had little choice but to agree, and Gibson invested £30,000 into the club. A new manager was found, Scott Duncan, one of the new breed of managers who were retired players, now common, but an innovation in those days.
In 1934, United were at the lowest point in their history. On the final day of the season they were placed second-last in the table with their final match away against Millwall who were one point ahead. With destiny in their own hands, they beat Millwall 2-0 and stayed in the Second Division by one point.
The next season saw an improvement. United finished 5th, and they announced their return to the top flight with a shout as they won the Second Division title in 1936 after being unbeaten in the last 19 games of the season.
Their joy was short-lived, however, as they were relegated back to the Second Division the next season. Scott Duncan resigned. United picked themselves up, however, finishing runners-up in 1938 and returning to the First Division. They would stay there for 36 years; after placing 14th the next season, World War II broke out.
The Second World War saw Old Trafford destroyed by German bombs on March 11,1941. In 1945,Matt Busby former captain of Manchester City, was appointed manager. He was ahead of his time, and is thought to have been the first manager to go out on the field with his players during training. A series of astute signings added on to the nucleus of the squad, and he began the youth system that would later pay big-time dividends.
League football resumed for the 1946-47 season and United finished second. They would repeat this twice, and though disappointed by this failure, they did deliver the FA Cup in 1948. It was the first of many trophies to come.
League success finally came in 1952, with United, led by Johnny Carey demolishing second-placed Arsenal 6-1 on the final day of the season and finishing four points ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham.
The Busby Babes
The next season saw the introduction of the Busby Babes as the Championship team began to lose steam. David Pegg, Jackie Blanchflower, Dennis Violet, Duncan Edwards, and Bill Foulkes all made their first appearances in the 1952-53 season. They finished 8th in 1954 and fifth in 1955 before finally breaking out and destroying the competition in 1955-56, clinching the title by an 11-point margin. The team's average age was 22. Only two players in the 1956 team, Roger Byrne and Johnny Berry, were also around for the first Championship four years earlier.
One of the stars of the team was Duncan Edwards, who set the record as the youngest player ever to be capped for England when he played against Scotland at the age of 17 and 8 months. The record stood for almost 50 years before being broken in 1998 by Michael Owen. His legendary status, no doubt added to by his tragic death, is best measured by the fact that he placed 6th in a 1999 poll of Manchester United fans, asking them to name the top 50 United players of all time.
The Championship was defended successfully in 1957, though the dream of the League and FA Cup Double was crushed along with goalkeeper Ray Wood's cheekbone after Aston Villa's Peter McParland smashed into him six minutes into the final at Wembley. United lost 2-1.
1956 was also a milestone year, as United defied the League authorities to take part in the European Championship (now the UEFA Champions League). The League had previously successfully pressured Chelsea not to take part out of fear that they would not be able to cope with the schedule, and sent a letter forbidding United to take part. However, The Football Association supported Matt Busby and United became England's first representatives in Europe.
United's first European match was away to Belgian champions Anderlecht, and they pulled off a respectable 2-0 win. However, fans at the return leg in Maine Road - European matches could not be hosted at Old Trafford until the semi-finals of that season as floodlights had not been installed - saw an absolute destruction derby. Anderlecht never knew what hit them as United scored ten goals without reply.
United beat Borussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao in much closer circumstances, having to come back against Bilbao from two goals behind in the second leg, before falling to Real Madrid in the semifinal.
The line up just before the air crash
Munich Air Disaster
Main article: Munich Air Disaster
The Busby Babes seemed destined to dominate the soccer world for time to come and had captured the imagination of the fans; already they had proved themselves both at home and in Europe. The 1957/58 season opened with talk of a treble - The League, the FA Cup, and the European Cup. But fate had decided it was not to be. On 6 February 1958 the BEA Elizabethan plane carrying them home from Belgrade crashed on takeoff in Munich and the dream was over.
United arrived in Yugoslavia to meet Red Star Belgrade in the second leg of the quarter finals. The first leg in Manchester had ended in a 2-1 win for United. United scored three goals quickly, but by the end Red Star managed to claw back to level it 3-3 after 90 minutes. The Reds went through to the semi-final 5-4 on aggregate.
The plane, a chartered aircraft, left Belgrade and stopped at Munich to refuel. Take off had to be aborted twice because of boost surging, a common problem in the Elizabethan. The problem was caused by too rich a fuel mixture, which causes the engines to over-accelerate. The problem was exacerbated by the altitude of the Munich airport.
The pilots were able to control the surging on the third takeoff attempt, but as they reached the V1 "decision speed" (after which it is unsafe to abort takeoff), the airspeed suddenly dropped. The aircraft left the runway, crashed through a fence and into a house. The left wing and the tail were ripped off and the starboard side of the fuselage hit a fuel tank and exploded.
Officially, the cause of the accident was build-up of snow on the runway which had caused to aircraft to lose speed and crash.
United fans will never forget
Mark Jones, David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, and Tommy Taylor were killed instantly. Club secretary Walter Crickmar, and coaches Tom Curry and Bert Whalley were also killed. Duncan Edwards, Matt Busby, and Johnny Berry were critically injured, and Duncan Edwards would die three weeks later. Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower survived but never played again. Four other passengers and two of the crew were also killed, as were eight sportswriters travelling with the team, including former England goalkeeper Frank Swift. It was the most tragic day English football had ever seen, rivaled in world football only by the Superga air disaster in 1949 which killed the entire Torino team (and later by a 1993 crash that killed the entire Zambian National Team).
The Flowers of Manchester Tribute Song
When the song ends wait for menu, select one of the other film's or reports on the Busby Babes.
Matt Busby eventually recovered after hovering near death and the mammoth task of rebuilding began. One of the survivors of Munich, Bobby Charlton, would play a critical role.
United struggled in the League after Munich, winning only one of their last 14 matches and finishing in 9th place. However, they pulled together for the FA Cup matches and made it to the final, but lost to Bolton. The next season, with some injured players, including Dennis Violet, returning to the line-up and survivors like Bobby Charlton stepping up, United managed to finish in 2nd place without needing to dip into the transfer market. A period of rebuilding followed the next year with several significant signings, including Denis Law, Pat Crerand, and Noel Cantwell. Despite a poor 19th place in the 1962-63 season, United managed to beat Leicester 3-1 at Wembley to win the FA Cup.
1963 saw the debut of George Best, completing the trio of Charlton, Law and Best that would power Manchester United to the triumphant heights of the 1960s. United finished second that season, then won the League in 1964-65 by goal average over Leeds. The rebuilding was complete, Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only Munich survivors in that team.
That season was significant in other ways too, as England were hosting the 1966 World Cup and had announced that Old Trafford would be among the stadiums to be upgraded at the government's expense. United won another league title in 1966-67, qualifying them for the European Cup the next season and laying the groundwork for the climatic triumph of that era.
Champions of Europe
The run to the European Cup began easily enough, and the Reds cruised past Malta team Hibernians for a 4-0 win on aggregate. A tough, physical series against Sarajevo was next, followed by Gornik Zabreze from Poland. United won 2-1 on aggregate and then came the semi-final match that was just as, if not more important than the final itself - two matches against the mighty Real Madrid. Real played a defensive game in the first leg at Old Trafford, stifling the offensive magic of the Reds. United managed a 1-0 victory, but it was a very small advantage to take into the Bernabeu.
Denis Law was suffering from a knee injury, so Busby decided instead to call up the veteran defender Bill Foulkes. The game started badly for United as Real Madrid ran circles around them, leading 3-1 at half-time, 3-2 on aggregate. United came back strongly after the break and pounded the Real defence to no avail for half an hour until David Sadler levelled the aggregate score. Then Bill Foulkes played the hero as he buried a pass from George Best into the goal. It was the only goal he ever scored in European competition, though it was probably the most important.
United were through to the final and faced Benfica at Wembley. In many ways it was an emotional day, Matt Busby's journey finally coming full circle after the tragically aborted promise of the Busby Babes. It was also a testament to Busby's skill in judging talent, as only two of the 12 players in the line-up that day had cost transfer fees to acquire.
Bobby Charlton scored, and Jaime Graca equalised. Benfica piled on the pressure in the dying minutes and it took a brilliant reflex save from Alex Stepney to deny Eusebio the winning goal. United managed to hold out until extra time. Then George Best finally broke free of the stifling marking of the Benfica defence and scored. Benfica were reeling and Brian Kidd, celebrating his 19th birthday, put another in the net. Kidd would later be part of another successful United team, this time as Alex Ferguson's assistant manager. Bobby Charlton finished off Benfica with a high shot for a 4-1 victory and United became the first English team to win the European Cup.
Matt Busby would later be Knighted for his accomplishments, as well as being awarded the Freedom of Manchester.
With a lukewarm 11th in the League the next season, Matt Busby retired to become the general manager Wilf McGuiness, the reserve team coach, was promoted to take Busby's place, but he quickly faltered in the footsteps of the great man, which wasn't helped by Busby's presence in the background. After just one and a half seasons, with the team floundering, he was fired and replaced with Frank OFarrel.
At this time George Best was also becoming a problem, continually flouting the rules and getting into various disciplinary troubles. Eventually, one day short of his 26th birthday, he announced his retirement, only to resume playing a few days later.
While Best's erratic behaviour didn't help, United continued to struggle, opening the 1972-73 season with a disastrous nine games without a win. The board began making plans to bring in Tommy Docherty as manager and on 19 December, Frank O'Farrell lost his job. In a way it was the end of an era, with Bobby Charlton's testimonial having been held the previous day and George Best retiring on the same day.
Tommy Docherty, the manager of Scotland's national team, took over and immediately began to rebuild the side with a series of signings, most notably Lou Macari from Celtic FC, United recovered and a series of wins brought them to 16th position. At this point, Bobby Charlton announced his retirement. United finished that season in 18th place.
Denis Law left during the close season to sign for Manchester City, which sparked some protests among fans. George Best also came out of retirement once more to sign with the team for the 1973-74 season. United were once more caught in a relegation battle and entered the penultimate game of the season needing to win two games and for Birmingham to lose in order to stay in the First Division. Birmingham won their game and Denis Law sealed United's fate with the only goal of the game. Manchester United were relegated to the Second Division for the first time since 1938.
Despite relegation, attendances at Old Trafford were as ever, still the best in the country and during their infamous 1974-75 season in the old division two their attendances saw no equal. Manchester United players also responded well, winning the Second Division and returning to the top flight, where they topped the standings in the early stages of the season.
The following in the top division their winning form slipped mid-season and they finished third. A good FA Cup run also ended in disappointment at Wembley with defeat by Southhampton in the final.
Major referee cockups saw United perform poorly in the league in 1976-77 and at one stage being in danger of relegation, but United also managed to book a trip to Wembley [again], this time upsetting Liverpool to win the FA Cup.
The Mary Brown Affair
But just over a month later, news broke of Tommy Docherty's love affair with Mary Brown, the wife of the team's physiotherapist, when he announced that he was leaving his wife to marry her. When Docherty refused to resign, the board dismissed him.
Docherty had been popular with the fans, and the new manager, Dave Sexton, needed success to dispel the unfavourable comparisons. With the FA Cup win, United qualified for the Cup Winners Cup, but were nearly expelled because of crowd trouble in Saint-Etienne. Once more United made it to the FA Cup final, but narrowly lost to Arsenal in what was known as the "five-minute final" for the flurry of goals in the last minutes.
The 1979-80 season saw the Reds narrowly miss out on league glory, finishing second to Liverpool. During that season, United fans were blamed for a collapse at Ayrsome Park causing the death of two Middlesborough supporters. Controversy also erupted over allegations that, top football clubs including United, had been making illegal payments to young players.
An injury crisis at the start of 1980-81 caused the team to slump to mid-table and fall in the FA Cup. Despite a rally in which United won seven games in a row, the fans had made up their minds and Dave Sexton lost his job.
Ron Atkinson was hired in June 1981 to take over. He would sign Bryan Robson from West Brom for record £1.5 million. Norman Whiteside also broke through the youth ranks. Success followed as United won the 1983 FA Cup after a replay against Brighton.
Although United crashed out of the FA Cup the next year in a humbling defeat at the hands of Third Division Bournemouth, they managed to beat Barcelona in the Cup Winners Cup and made it to the semi-finals before losing to Juventus. Mark Hughes made his debut the following season and was selected as the Young Footballer of the year. But once again, United were disappointed in their bid for a League championship.
In 1985, Manchester United would beat League champions Everton to win another FA Cup, but not without some drama as Kevin Moran became the first player, albeit controversially, to ever be sent off in an FA Cup final. Down to ten men, Norman Whiteside scored the only goal of the game in extra time to win the Cup.
Once more, however, injuries and a lack of fan support would conspire to bring down a Manchester United manager. United raced to the top of the standings with a run of victories, but then injuries piled up and a slump began. When United lost the top spot and news broke of Mark Hughes's imminent move to Barcelona, the fans were angry, and Atkinson was finally sacked after a 4-1 loss to Southhampton.
Alex Ferguson was hired from Aberdeen on Nov 6th, 1986, barely hours after Atkinson was sacked. When he took over, United were languishing at second from bottom, but Ferguson managed them to finish the season in 11th place. That summer, Ferguson signed some major players, including Viv Anderson, Brian McClair, Stev Bruce and Jim Leighton.
In 1987-88, United were foiled in their attempts to land silverware, finishing runners-up to the league title, clawing back to 9 points behind from Liverpool's 17-point lead, and exiting the FA Cup at the fifth round stage. At the end of the season, fans celebrated the return of Mark Hughes, who was regarded to have flopped abroad.
Following the ineffectual 1988-89 season (finishing 11th after slipping in the late season), Ferguson began introducing some youth players into the side, and bought footballers such as Gary Pallister, Paul Ince and Danny Wallace. However, he came under fire for several poor performances, including a humiliating 5-1 loss to huge rivals Manchester City, not helped by the media furore over a takeover bid by Michael Knighton. Despite calls in January 1990 (at which point United were sitting 15th out of 20) for him to be sacked, Ferguson guided United to win the that season's FA Cup, silencing the critics and beginning the most successful period in the team's history. A finish in the league at position 13 was disappointing, but confidence was high that the following season would yield a higher place.
The next season, United finished the league in 6th and went out of the FA Cup in the 5th round to Norwich City. However, that season the ban on English teams entering European competition (following the Heysel Stadium disaster was lifted, and the team went on to win the European Cup Winners Cup against Barcelona in Rotterdam. Mark Hughes scored both United's goals in a 2-1 win against his old team. They also finished runners-up in the League Cup, losing 1-0 to Second Division Sheffie. The following season, however, they did manage to capture the trophy, beating Nottingham Forest 1-0. A tremendous season was let down in the final game, meaning United finished runners-up to Leeds and also won the League Cup. The 1991-92 season was also important in that 18-year old winger Ryan Giggs and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel were brought into the team.
Alex Ferguson "The Boss"
The final piece in the puzzle was finally pushed home in 1992 as forward Eric Cantona was signed for £1.2 million from Leeds, after a slow start to the season. Cantona had previously proved too fiery for many teams but fitted straight in at Manchester United. He formed an impressive partnership with Mark Hughes, scoring and creating many chances which had previously been lacking. As a result, the team's performances boosted them up the table, and after 26 years, Manchester United won the inaugural FA Carling Premiership in 1993, finishing 10 points above Aston Villa.
22-year old midfielder Roy Keane was bought from Nottingham Forest for a then record fee of £3.75m for the 1993-94 season. Despite being marked by the death of United legend Sir Matt Busby on Jan 20th, 1994, United managed to retain the Premiership, also adding the FA Cup after a 4-0 win in the final against Chelsea. Even though they missed out on a domestic treble, losing 3-1 to Aston Villa in the final of the League Cup, United had claimed the first League-Cup double since Liverpool in 1986.
Disappointment followed the next season as both the League and the FA Cup slipped from grasp in the last weeks of the season. Eric Cantona was also involved in the infamous attack on a fan at Selhurst Park which led to him being charged with assault and being banned for 9 months. Andy Cole was signed during the Winter for a record £7m from Newcastle United, but in spite of this, United finished trophyless - losing the Premiership for the first time, to the surprise champions Blackburn, and being beaten by Everton in the FA Cup final. If the Premier League had been decided on the old two points per win system (changed to three points per win in 1981), United would have been Champions again. With the close season transfer controversy of Paul Ince, mark Hughes and Andre Kanchelksis all leaving the team, many pundits expected Ferguson to be sacked at some point during the next season.
Ferguson replaced them with young players from the FA Youth Cup winning team after failing to make a major signing that summer. Defeat in the opening game (3-1 to Aston Villa) prompted the infamous "You'll never win anything with kids" remark by the BBC pundit Alan Hansen. However, the introduction of players such as Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville allowed Ferguson to develop a brilliant young side, which, powered by Cantona's return after his ban, brought a second League and FA Cup double - the first team to achieve the "Double Double". The FA Cup was won with a 1-0 victory, the only goal being scored by Cantona, who that season was voted Football writers Player of the year by the footballing press and made team captain by his club after the departure of Steve Bruce to Birmingham City.
Manchester United then bought several players for the 96-97 season, but the most successful turned out to be Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who finished the season as top scorer, despite often lacking a starting place; and Ronnie Johnson, who was a key figure in defence. They overcame injuries and a fixture glut this season to retain the Championship. There was disappointment in the UEFA Champions League as they demolished FC Porto 4-0 before falling in the semi-finals to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund. There was, however, shock to follow as Cantona announced his retirement at the end of that season's campaign, sending shock waves around the world. United held on to his contract, but he never played professionally again.
Eric "The King" Cantona
Alex Ferguson was making the Champions League his number one priority, but still it eluded them. They fell on away goals to Monaco in 1997-98, also finishing runners-up to Arsenal in the League that season, again winning no major trophies. After buying four major players - Aston Villa's striker Dwight Yorke, PSV's defender Jaap Stam, Parma's winger Jesper Blomqvist and Blacburn's Henning Berg, as well as releasing long serving players Gary Pallister and Brian McClair, finally, the holy grail came in 1999.
The season had started slowly, losing to Arsenal, Southampton and Middlesbrough. However, the Middlesbrough loss in November 1998 was their last of the season - United set up an unbeaten streak going into their FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal in what was the last ever, and is commonly regarded as the greatest ever. United played with only ten men after captain Roy Keane was sent off, Peter Schmeichel brilliantly saved a 90th minute penalty kick, and Ryan Giggs scored the winning goal in extra time with a breathtaking run from the halfway line, followed by a spectacular goal. This victory was followed by a legendary comeback victory against Juventus, inspired by captain Roy Keane, to book their place in the Champions League final. The League was clinched at home to Tottenham, the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Newcastle, before the trip to Barcelona's Nou Camp to face Bayern Munich in the final of the Champions League, on the day which would have been Sir Matt Busby's 90th birthday.
Bayern Munich scored from an early Mario Basler free-kick and United fought the rest of the game to no avail. At 90 minutes, with the fourth official signalling 3 minutes of injury time, Manchester United won a corner and pulled out all the stops, with the goalkeeper & captain Peter Schmeichel going up in his last ever appearance for the club. Bayern Munich were in shock as Teddy Sheringham squeezed in the equaliser. Less than a minute later, United won another corner and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer tapped it into the roof of the net to send the United fans into delirium and cap off the most stunning two minutes in the history of the club.
Alex Ferguson would later follow Matt Busby's footsteps, being Knighted for this achievement.
Three In A Row
The following season was a strong victory in the Premier League, United finishing 18 points clear of runners-up Arsenal, but going out to Real Madrid 3-2 in the quarter finals and not entering the FA Cup - for the first time in living memory, a major team decided not to enter the competition. This was due to the desire to play in the FIFA World Cup Championship, which clashed with the FA Cup fifth round matches. In 2000-01, Alex Ferguson became only the third manager to ever win three League titles in a row. Bayern Munich also exacted revenge by defeating United in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
United finished 2001-02 without a trophy, in a season that also saw the arrival of Ruud Van Nistelroy. They bounced back the following year however, clawing back Arsenal's lead at the head of the table to win their eighth title in eleven seasons. It is probably a commentary on the success that Manchester United have become used to that the 2003-04 season, which saw them finish third in the league but win the FA Cup, was considered a disappointment.
The Malcolm Glazer Takeover
In late 2004, Malcolm Glazer, an American billionaire who also owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made a bid to take over the club. The bid was extremely controversial due to his plan to saddle the club with millions of pounds in debt. Glazer was also seen as wanting the profit from Manchester United's worldwide popularity, rather than investing out of a sincere love of the club and the sport. Glazer began buying up shares of United and managed to oust three directors from the board in November 2004, but his takeover bid seemed to have stalled as a 28.7% stake held by Irish horse-racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus seemed secure.
The football world was thus shocked when, on May 12th, 2005, Magnier and McManus sold their stake to Glazer for £3 a share, giving Glazer the majority shareholding. This immediately sparked angry protests from United fans, who protested angrily that their club was "not for sale" and burned season ticket renewal forms. On May 16th, 2005 Glazer took control of the 75% stake needed to delist the club from the stock exchange, which he has promised to do.
Under the shadow of this controversy, United went to the Millenium Stadium to defend the FA Cup. Despite clearly dominating the game, United were simply unlucky and they lost on penalties to arch-rivals Arsenal. This capped off a disappointing season where they finished third in the league, adrift of the champions, Roman Abramovich-bankrolled Chelsea.
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