December 17, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 3 (1959 to 1986).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:48 am


In 1958-59, the first season after the Munich Air Disaster, Manchester United produced a surprise finish of second place, with Bobby Charlton scoring 29 goals, and the team netting 103.  Huge crowds showed up at Old Trafford, in the wake of the tragedy, and the team must have fed off the moral support.   The following season (1959-’60), Dennis Viollet scored a team record 32 goals, and the club finished in 7th place.  A new addition the next season was a hard-tackling full-back named Norbert “Nobby” Stiles, a local product {see his bio, here}.  The club had another 7th place finish in 1961, but United plummeted to 15th place in 1962.  That summer, the club signed Scottish forward Denis Law from the Italian club, Torino, for a then-record 115,000 pounds.          **{See this Denis Law highlights reel}** (Trust me, it’s so good, you’ll play it twice.)denis_law.gif

Law was a prolific scorer, but he didn’t get many opportunities until Paddy Crerand arrived, from Celtic, in February 1963.  Man. United, whose poor form had left them in a relegation battle in the League, did so well in their FA Cup run that they made it to the FA Cup Final.  Their opponent, Leicester City, were heavy favorites, but Manchester United beat them, 3-1.  United’s goals were scored by David Herd (twice), and Denis Law.  **{See highlights of the 1963 FA Cup Final.}**  They were Cup champions, yet they finished 19th in the League.  Home attendance was poor: their 33,400 league average was the club’s lowest in the post-war era.

In 1961, Manchester United’s scouting network had found a gem in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by the name of George Best.  **{See video tribute to George Best, here.}**george_best.gif  

Best debuted in September, 1963, and the much-improved club, with the “holy trinity ” of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, and the 17-year old Best, rocketed up the table, to 2nd place.  Losing twice to Liverpool that season was decisive, as Manchester finished just 4 points behind their Merseyside rivals.  The following season (1964-65), Manchester United battled Leeds United for the crown.  The two clubs ended up tied, and Man. U. pipped Leeds on goal average.  It was Manchester United’s 6th League Title.  Denis Law scored 28 goals that season, and was named European Footballer of the Year (for 1964).  For Matt Busby, the Title meant another chance at his holy grail, the European Cup.  But Manchester were beaten in that competition the next spring by Benfica, of Portugal.  They sputtered in the League that year (1966), as well, finishing 4th.

The club bounced back in the 1966-67 season.  They won their seventh League Title, and were back in the European Cup.  This time they went all the way to the final, in May, 1968.  It was their good fortune that the final was held in England, at Wembley Stadium.  Again, they faced Benfica.  Bobby Charlton scored in the 53rd minute, but Graca equalised in the 75th minute, and the game went into extra time.  George Best scored in the 93rd minute, with a fine individual effort; 19-year old Brian Kidd headed in a third goal one minute later; and Charlton added the fourth soon after.  Manchester United were, finally, Champions of Europe.  They became the first English club to do so.  Matt Busby had at last realized his dream.  He was knighted soon after.  **{See highlights of Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup victory.}**busbys_grail2.gif

United finished second in the League that year.  1968 produced the club’s highest league attendance to date: they averaged 57,500.  But by the next season, the squad seemed to have run out of steam.  They finished in 11th place.  Matt Busby retired as manager, staying on at the club as director.  The club then finished in 8th place for 3 straight seasons (1970, ’71, and ’72), before a slide down to 18th place, in 1973.  It got worse, as the club was relegated in 1974, on a goal scored by ex-United star Denis Law, who had returned to his former club Manchester City. Law executed a backheel flick to score it.  **{See it, here.}**

Manchester United only spent one season in the Second Division, though.  By this time, all the stars of the latter Busby era were gone.  The squad, now managed by Tommy Docherty, featured Stuart Pearson at striker, and a young Steve Coppell at right wing.  The club roared to a 3rd place finish, and made it to the FA Cup Final.  Heavy favorites, they lost to second-division Southampton, 0-1.  The next year (1977), they dropped to 6th in the League, but won the FA Cup, over Liverpool, 2-1.  Goals were scored by Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhof. 

For the next decade, although they would make it to the FA Cup Final 3 times, Manchester United would frustrate their fans by failing to win the League Title.  The closest they would come was 2nd place, in 1980, and 3rd place, in 1982 and ’83.  The club lost the 1979 FA Cup Final 1-3, to Arsenal.  Four years later (1983), under manager Ron Atkinson, they won the FA Cup, in the replay, 4-0, over Brighton.  Goals were scored by Bryan Robson (twice), Norman Whiteside, and Arnold Muhren.   And Manchester United won their 6th FA Cup two years later, in 1985, with a 1-0 win over Everton.  Norman Whiteside scored the winner in extra-time, with a sublime curling shot **{see it here}**.  Key players from this period also included Mark Hughes, Paul McGrath, and Gordon Strachan. 

But the club had not won the League Title since 1967.  This title-drought would eventually reach 25 seasons, the club’s second longest period without a league crown.  For a club as huge as Manchester United, this was simply unacceptable.  And so, after a terrible start to the 1986-87 season, with the club in the relegation zone, Atkinson was sacked.  His successor was a 44-year old, who had recently led Aberdeen to back-to-back Scottish League Titles, named Alex Ferguson.

End, Part 3.

Thanks to: (telegraph[dot]co[dot]uk);  (Empire-uk[dot]com);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (manutdzon[dot]com).

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