Manchester United Football Club is not just one of the biggest football clubs in the world but also a major world brand. The Red Devils have been one of the most successful English clubs in the beautiful game’s history.
In fact, no English club has won more top-flight titles than United’s tally of 20. Here is how the Red Devils won their record number of titles:
The early years
Manchester United were formed in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR Football Club. The club first featured in the English First Division in season 1892–93, when the club became simply Newton Heath after becoming an independent entity from their original founders, the railway company. The club were only in the First Division for two seasons before they suffered relegation to the second tier of the English game.
In January 1902, the club was nearly over before it even truly got started when crippling debts led to the club being served with a winding-up order. However, four local businessmen, including captain and defender Harry Stafford, stepped in and found the money to help the club survive.
The club’s four new investors, who all invested around £500, decided that a name change was in order. The new name for the club was chosen, and it would be Manchester United, with the name change happening in April 1902.
United secured promotion to the First Division in 1906 by finishing as runners-up in the Second Division. The club’s first-ever top-flight title followed just two years later. United started the following season by winning their first Charity Shield. Their second First Division title followed in 1911.
However, United then became some of a yo-yo club between the First and the Second Division. The men from Manchester suffered relegation in 1922, winning promotion back to the top flight in 1925, only to go down again in 1931. In 1934, United produced their lowest-ever finish in their history, as they finished 20th place in the Second Division.
The club had once again suffered from financial problems in 1931 and came close to bankruptcy, only to be saved by James W. Gibson, who spent £2000 to take control of the club and become its chairman.
Success and tragedy under Matt Busby
In October 1945, the club saw a managerial appointment that would change its history as Matt Busby arrived as the team’s boss. Busby had a level of control over the football club, which had rarely previously been seen.
However, the decision to give Busby that sort of control paid off handsomely in the following years. The Scot led United to the runners-up spot in the First Division in 1947, 1948 and 1949, and to FA Cup victory in 1948. In 1952, Busby also guided United to their first top-flight title in 41 years.
United went on to win two straight titles in 1956 and 1957. This team was not ordinary, though, this team was the now famous ‘Busby Babes’. They were given that nickname due to the fact that the average age of the team was just 22.
In 1957, United made history by becoming the first-ever English team to feature in the European Cup. The Red Devils suffered a semi-final defeat to Spanish giants Real Madrid, but their participation had proven a major success.
The following season saw one of the biggest ever tragedies that football has ever seen. United were flying home after a victory over Partizan Belgrade in the quarter-finals of the European Cup.
The plane stopped to refuel in Munich, Germany and during take-off, crashed, killing 23 people, including players, officials and journalists. Eight Manchester United players lost their lives in the disaster, as Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan all perished in the crash.
Matt Busby sustained severe injuries but survived the crash and went on to rebuild United during the 1960s, with the likes of Denis Law and Pat Crerand arriving at the club, as well as a certain Northern Irish forward named George Best. In 1963 United returned to success by recording a 3-1 victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup final.
Far more glory awaited United in the following seasons, however. After finishing second in the league in 1964, United claimed the First Division title in 1965 and 1967. However, their most significant achievement of the decade was no doubt winning the European Cup in 1968. The Red Devils defeated Eusebio’s Benfica 4-1 in the final to become the first English club to win the European Cup.
In 1969, the Busby era ended as the highly successful manager resigned. His successor was former United star and reserve team coach Wilf McGuinness.
Struggled for results after Matt Busby
From 1969-1986, the club struggled to succeed in the absence of Busby, who at one point briefly returned as boss. The team struggled for form for much of the 1970s. The lowest point of the decade came in 1974 under Docherty, as they suffered relegation.
They bounced straight back up but suffered defeat in the 1976 FA Cup final against Southampton before winning the trophy the following year against bitter north west rivals Liverpool.
The closest United came to a title during those rather barren years was in season 1979/80, as they finished as runners-up in the First Division. The Red Devils won the FA Cup in 1983 and 1985 under Ron Atkinson, but their best league finish was fourth place in 1985/86.
The dawn of a new era under Alex Ferguson
With the team struggling near the bottom of the table in November 1986, the club’s hierarchy took the decision to sack Atkinson. Like the decision to appoint Matt Busby in 1945, their choice of the new boss was an inspired one. The next man to lead United would be highly-rated Scottish boss Alex Ferguson.
The early years were not all plain sailing for the former Aberdeen boss. He guided United to safety in his first half-season before the Red Devils finished as runners-up in his first full season in charge. United finished a disappointing 11th place in the English top flight, and reportedly only an extra-time victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup saved Ferguson’s job.
In 1992, Ferguson guided Manchester United to their first-ever League Cup when they defeated Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the final. The following season, the Red Devils went to ever greater heights as they won their first English top-flight title since 1967.
Even better was to follow in 1994, as United claimed a double of top-flight title and FA Cup. The Red Devils repeated the feat in 1996 to become the first English club ever to win the domestic double twice. The men from Manchester retained their title in 1997.
United made even more history in 1999, as they became the first English club to win the treble of titles by winning the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.
The Red Devils produced a fantastic comeback in the 1999 Champions League final, as they were losing 1-0 against Bayern Munich heading into stoppage time, only for goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to drag them to a 2-1 win.
United won further Premier League titles in 2000 and 2001 to become the first club to win the top-flight title in three consecutive seasons. The run ended in 2002, as they finished third place in the table, only to claim the title again in 2003.
However, they had to wait until 2007 to claim their next Premier League title. In 2008, the Red Devils claimed a Premier League and Champions League double. They won the Champions League title by defeating Chelsea in a penalty shootout in the competition’s final. In 2009, United claimed their third straight Premier League title, having also become the first English team to win the FIFA World Club Cup earlier in the season.
United finished as Premier League runners-up in 2010 before claiming their 19th league title in 2011. The Red Devils recorded their 20th league title in 2013, making them the most successful club in the history of the English top flight.
In May 2013, Alex Ferguson announced that he would retire as the manager of Manchester United and move upstairs in directorial and ambassadorial roles.
Little success without Ferguson
Just like after Sir Matt Busby left in 1969, Manchester United struggled to find a suitable replacement for their departing Scottish boss.
Bosses such as David Moyes, Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and Ralf Rangnick have all held the position of Manchester United boss without winning the English top-flight title.
United will always be one of English biggest clubs
Throughout their history, Manchester United have enjoyed periods of significant success. Like most clubs, though, United have also endured difficult periods.
However, whatever happens in the near future, the Red Devils will seemingly always be one of English football’s biggest clubs, largely down to the hard work of two legendary Scottish bosses.