Manchester United Football Club is an English football club, based at the Old Trafford stadium in Trafford, Greater Manchester, and is arguably the most popular football club in the world, with over 330 million supporters worldwide (of which 139 million are regarded as 'core' supporters), almost 5% of the world's population. The club was a founding member of the Premier League in 1992, and has played in the top division of English football since 1975. Average attendances at the club have been higher than any other team in English football for all but six seasons since 1964–65.
The club is the second most successful in the history of English football and by far the most successful of recent times, having won 18 major honours since the start of Alex Ferguson's reign as manager in November 1986. They are the Premier League's reigning champions, and have won the Premier League/Football League 16 times. In 1968, they became the first English club to win the European Cup, beating S.L. Benfica 4–1, and they won a second European Cup in 1999. They also hold the record for the most FA Cup titles with 11.
Since the late 1990s, the club has been one of the richest in the world with the highest revenue of any football club, and is currently ranked as the richest and most valuable club in football, and indeed any sport, with a value of £897 million (€1,333 mil / $1,800 mil) as of May 2008. Manchester United was a founding member of the now-defunct G-14 group of Europe's leading football clubs and its replacement, the European Club Association.Sir Alex Ferguson has been manager of the club since 6 November 1986. The current club captain is Gary Neville, who succeeded Roy Keane in November 2005
Early years (1878–1945)
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, near the future site of the Manchester Piccadilly railway station 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 £2500. At one point, their Bank Street ground was even closed by the bailiffs.
Just before having to be shut down for good, the club received a sizeable investment from J. H. Davies, the managing director of Manchester Breweries.. Legend goes that Harry Stafford, the club captain, was showing off his prized St. Bernard dog at a club fund-raiser, when Davies approached him to buy the dog. Stafford declined, but was able to persuade Davies to invest in the club and become club chairman. It was decided at one of the early board meetings that the club required a change of name to reflect the fresh start they had been afforded. Manchester Central and Manchester Celtic were among the names suggested, before Louis Rocca, a young immigrant from Italy, said "Gentlemen, why don't we call ourselves Manchester United?" The name stuck, and Manchester United officially came into existence on 26 April 1902. Davies also decided it would be appropriate to change the club's colours, abandoning the green and gold halves of Newton Heath, and picking red and white to be the colours of Manchester United.
Ernest Mangnall was appointed as club secretary after James West had resigned as manager on 28 September 1902. Mangnall was charged with trying to get the club into the First Division, and fell just short of that target at the first attempt, finishing in 5th in Division Two. Mangnall decided that it was necessary to bring in some fresh faces to the club, and signed players such as Harry Moger in goal, Dick Duckworth at half-back and John Picken up front, but it was another new half-back by the name of Charlie Roberts who made the biggest impact. He cost the club a then-record £750 from Grimsby Town in April 1904, and helped them to a third place finish in the 1903–04 season, just a point short of the second promotion place.
It was not long, however, before the club was at last promoted to the First Division for the first time under their new name, finishing in second place in the 1905–06 Second Division. A season of consolidation followed, with the club finishing in 8th, before they finally won their first league title in 1908. Manchester City had recently been under investigation for paying some of their players a salary over the amount allowed by FA regulations. They were fined £250 and eighteen of their players were banned from playing for them ever again. United were quick to pounce on the situation, picking up Billy Meredith (the Welsh Wizard) and Sandy Turnbull, amongst others. The new boys from across town were ineligible to play until New Year's Day 1907, due to their suspension, so it was left until the 1907–08 season for them to make a proper impact on United's bid for the title. And that they did, getting the campaign off to a storming start, with a 2–1 victory over Sheffield United, beginning a run of ten consecutive victories. Despite a shaky end to the season, United managed to hang on and finished the season nine points ahead of their closest rivals, Aston Villa.
The following season began with United picking up another piece of silverware, the first ever Charity Shield, and ended with another, the club's first FA Cup title, sowing the seeds for what has become a record number of FA Cup titles. Just as they were in the club's first title-winning campaign, Turnbull and Meredith were instrumental in this season, Turnbull scoring the winner in the FA Cup Final. The club had to wait another two years before winning any more silverware, winning the First Division for the second time in the 1910–11 season. In the meantime, United moved to their new ground at Old Trafford. They played their first game there on 19 February 1910 against Liverpool, but lost 4–3 having thrown away a 3–0 lead. They then went trophyless again in the 1911–12 season, which not only proved to be the last with Mangnall in charge (he moved to Manchester City after ten years with United), but also the last time the club won the First Division for 41 years, the longest time they have gone without winning the league in their history.
For the next ten years, the club went into a state of gradual decline before being relegated back down to Division Two in 1922. They were promoted again in 1925, but struggled to get into the top half of the table, and were relegated again in 1931. In the eight years leading up to the Second World War, the club became somewhat of a yo-yo club, reaching their all-time lowest position of 20th in Division Two in 1934. They were promoted and relegated once again before being promoted in the penultimate season before the Second World War. They guaranteed their place in the top flight for after the war by finishing in 14th in the 1938–39 season.
The Busby years (1945–1969)
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 F.C., 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 8th 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 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 2nd 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 2nd 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 SL 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 8th, 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 United 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 would come to be touted in the future as 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 era, pre-Treble (1986–1998)
Alex Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen to replace Atkinson and guided the club to an 11th place finish. The following season (1987–88), United finished second, with Brian McClair becoming the first United player since George Best to score twenty league goals in a season.
However, United struggled throughout the next two seasons, with many of Ferguson's signings not reaching the expectations of the fans. Alex Ferguson was reportedly on the verge of being sacked at the beginning of 1990 but a Mark Robins goal gave United a narrow 1–0 win in the third round of the FA Cup over Nottingham Forest. This kept the season alive, and the team went on to win the competition, beating Crystal Palace in a replay in the final.
United won the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1990–91, beating that season's Spanish champions Barcelona in the final, but the following season was a disappointment as a late season slump saw them miss out on the league to rivals Leeds United. Meanwhile in 1991, the club floated on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of £47 million, bringing its finances into the public eye.
The arrival of Eric Cantona in November 1992 provided the crucial spark for United, and blending with the best of trusted talent in Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and Paul Ince, as well as budding stars like Ryan Giggs, they finished the 1992–93 season as champions for the first time since 1967. They won the double (the league and the FA Cup) for the first time the following season, aided by the capture of Roy Keane, a determined midfielder from Nottingham Forest, who would go on to become the team captain. In the same year, however, the club was plunged into mourning following the death of legendary manager and club president Sir Matt Busby, who died on 20 January 1994.
In 1994–95, 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. Drawing their last league match and losing to Everton in the FA Cup final left United as runners-up in both the league and FA Cup. Ferguson then outraged the supporters by selling key players and replacing them with players from the club's youth team, including David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes. The new players, several of whom quickly became regular internationals for England, did surprisingly well and United won the double again in 1995–96. This was the first time any English club had won the double twice, and the feat was nicknamed the "Double Double".
They won the league in 1996–97, and Eric Cantona announced his retirement from football at the age of 30. They started the following season (1997–98) well, but they finished in second place, behind the double-winning champions Arsenal.
The Treble (1998–99)
The 1998–99 season for Manchester United was the most successful season in English club football history as they became the first and only English team to win The Treble — winning the Premiership, 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 Premiership 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, losing going into injury time and 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.
After the Treble (1999–present)
United won the league in 2000 and 2001 but the press saw these seasons as failures as they 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. 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 Premiership 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 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 at the end of the season, Tampa businessman Malcolm Glazer, acquired a controlling interest in the club.
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, and the club failed to qualify for the knock-out phase of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in over a decade after losing to Portuguese team 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.
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 Helsingborgs, 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 A.C. Milan 3–5 on aggregate.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Manchester United's entry into European competition, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, Manchester United played Marcello Lippi's European XI at Old Trafford on 13 March 2007. United won the game 4–3.
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 Premiership 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.
The Malcolm Glazer takeover
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 (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.
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.
Club crest and colours
During its days as Newton Heath, the club's home jerseys were yellow and green; this strip was revived as an away kit in the early 1990s. In 1902, in conjunction with the name change to Manchester United, the club changed their colours to red jerseys, white shorts and black socks, which has become the standard for most Man Utd home kits ever since. The most notable exception to this is the shirt that the team wore in the 1909 FA Cup Final against Bristol City, which was white with a thin red V-neck. This design was resurrected in the 1920s before United reverted back to the all-red shirts.
Away strips are usually white jerseys with black shorts and white socks, but other colours have been used, including a blue and white striped shirt used on-and-off from 1903 to 1916, an all-black kit in 1994 and 2003 and a navy blue shirt with silver horizontal pinstripes in 2000. One of the most famous, yet short-lived, United away kits, though, was the all grey kit from 1995–96. This kit was dropped after Manchester United failed to win a single game while wearing it. At half-time during a game against Southampton, when United were already 3–0 down, they switched to their blue and white third kit, but eventually lost 3–1. According to the players, the grey kit was not visible enough which led to the poor results. Another famous Man Utd away kit included a reversible shirt that was white with black sleeves and gold trim on one side, and gold with black trim on the other side. This shirt was released as the last kit created by Umbro for the club before the change to Nike, and commemorated 100 years since the club had changed its name from Newton Heath to Manchester United.
The United third kit is traditionally all-blue in homage to the kit that the 1968 European Cup was won in. Exceptions to this rule have included a bright yellow kit worn in the early 1970s, the aforementioned blue and white striped shirt from 1996, which proved to be a firm favourite with the fans, and a white shirt with black and red horizontal pinstripes from 2004. United have also used what were originally used as training shirts as their third kit in the past, having adopted an all-black kit in the 1998–99 season and a dark blue shirt with maroon sides in 2001 for games against Southampton and PSV Eindhoven.
Currently, Manchester United's home jerseys are red with a vertical, white broken stripe with black trim on the reverse. The stripe is adorned with the letters MUFC at the top of the bottom portion, and a silhouette of the devil from the club badge at the top of the top portion. The AIG and Nike logos are also white. A patch with the words "The Red Devils" written in white, over an image of the club badge's devil, is attached to the bottom-left of the shirt. The club crest sits on a red kiss-cut shield on the left breast. The away jerseys are similar in template to the home shirt, but are black. The crest sits in a black shield, also on the left breast. There is a red-coloured piping running from the neck to the armpit and the AIG and Nike logos are white. The shirt also features the broken stripe on the reverse.
The Manchester United crest has been altered on a few occasions, but the basic form remains similar. The badge is derived from the crest of the city of Manchester. The devil on the club badge stems from the club's nickname "The Red Devils", which was adopted in the early 1960s after Matt Busby heard it in reference to the red-shirted Salford rugby league side. By the end of the 1960s, the devil had started to be included on club programmes and scarves, before it was finally incorporated into the club badge in 1970, holding its unmistakable trident. In 1998, the badge was once again redesigned, this time removing the words "Football Club". This move was met with opposition from some supporters, who viewed it as a move away from the club's footballing roots and more into the business side of the game.