Don’t Abandon Hope!
Learning a Lesson from Manchester United’s Past

by Richard Bowdery.

With David Moyes gone and Manchester United out of the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, many of the club’s fans could be forgiven for thinking the rot has set in, regardless of who the board appoint as Moyes’ replacement.

But before they get too despondent they would do well to consult some of their older fellow fans.

Six years after lifting the European Cup at Wembley in May 1968, the Red Devils found themselves starring down the barrel of relegation at the end of the 1973/74 season.

This demise followed the success of Sir Matt Busby’s 25 year reign. During his time at the helm across three decades he achieved tremendous success.

• In the 1946/47 season, the first following the Second World War, United were runners up to Liverpool in Division One. It was their highest league position for 36 years.
• His 1948 side lifted the FA Cup for the first time in nearly 40 years.
• During the fifties United were crowned League champions on three occasions: 1951/52, 55/56 and 56/57. Sadly the Munich disaster in February 1958 put paid to any further honours – although they were runners up in that year’s Cup Final, won by Bolton Wanderers and in the League the following season.
• They lifted the Cup again in 1963 beating Leicester City 3-1.
• The 1964/65 season saw them crowned League champions pipping Leeds United on goal difference and again in 66/67.
• In 1968 United famously trounced Benfica 4-1 (after extra time) in that year’s European Cup Final at Wembley. Busby had rebuilt the club to reach the pinnacle of European football a decade after Munich.

In 1969 Sir Matt, who had been knighted the previous year, retired. After nearly three decades of success many of United’s fans could be forgiven for wondering whether the club’s success would continue; much as when Ferguson retired.

Two new managers, Wilf McGuiness and Frank O’Farrell, came and went in quick succession – with Busby temporarily steeping back up to the plate between their two short reigns.

In 1969 Wilf McGuinness took over from Sir Matt Busby and endured a torrid time at Old Trafford.
In 1969 Wilf McGuinness took over from Sir Matt Busby and endured a torrid time at Old Trafford.

Then Tommy Docherty was hired but he couldn’t halt the club’s slide into Division Two on 27 April 1974.

The irony of that season defining game was when old boy Denis Law, released by Manchester United the previous July and signed by Manchester City, back heeled the only goal of the game in the 81st minute.

He didn’t celebrate and was immediately substituted. That was the last time he kicked a ball in ‘anger’ and he retired from the game he’d served so well.

He was later reported as saying after the game: “I have seldom felt so depressed in my life as I did that weekend”.

He needn’t have felt so bad as a 0-0 draw would have still sent United down which is probably why their fans invaded the pitch five minutes before the end of the game in the hope of getting it abandoned.

Although referee David Smith did in fact abandon the match the result was allowed to stand and Manchester United were relegated.

Twelve years later a Scot, like Sir Matt Busby, took the manager’s helm when United’s board fired Ron Atkinson. And like his successful predecessor he too reigned for over a quarter of a century.

So whatever the short term woes Manchester United will have to endure, history shows that in the longer term the good times will once again grace the Theatre of Dreams.


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