We’ve all been privileged to witness some wonderful times at Old Trafford as we follow the most successful side in English football. Manchester United have enjoyed that success across much of their 139 year history but which was the best period for the club?
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The Premiership Era
Younger supporters would surely point to the Premiership era as United’s most successful period and in terms of the number of trophies won, it’s certainly hard to argue with that assessment. When the competition began at the start of the 1992/93 season, Liverpool had overtaken Manchester United to win more top flight titles and it had been a barren period of 36 years since the Old Trafford club had last lifted the old first division trophy – at the end of the 1966/67 campaign.
But, manager Alex Ferguson was starting to put together a perfect blend of age and experience. Over the Premiership years, established players such as Roy Keane, Mark Hughes, Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce would be joined by brilliantly talented youngsters including David Beckham, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs. Some inspired signings brought the likes of Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona into the club and in time, United would dominate the English footballing landscape.
In 24 years since the Premiership began, Manchester United have lifted the league title on no less than 13 separate occasions while adding in five FA Cups and two Champions League trophies for good measure. The greatest period in Manchester United’s history? It will certainly be tough to beat it.
The Busby Babes
Out of the shadow of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, United manager Matt Busby had to somehow rebuild a side that had won three first division titles in the 1950s. Greats of the game such as Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne had sadly lost their lives while Busby himself was among the survivors.
Football had to go on and the rebuild began. By 1963, United had their Holy Trinity of George Best, Denis Law and another Munich survivor, Bobby Charlton in place and the trophies were about to roll in once again.
It all began with the 1963 FA Cup Final win over Leicester City at Wembley while two First Division titles were to follow in the middle of the decade. But the pinnacle came with the 1968 European Cup win over Benfica at Wembley, a game that United won 4-1 as 18 year old Brian Kidd stepped in for Law and scored a vital goal.
Both Best and Charlton were also on the scoresheet that day on what must have been an emotional night for Busby and all involved with the club. Ten years after Munich, Manchester United became the first English side to win the European Cup.
It would be wrong not to mention the achievements of that 1950’s side, even if their feats have been eclipsed by subsequent United teams. Three league titles in that decade was a superb achievement and it seemed as though that great squad could have easily succeeded in Europe, some ten years before Busby finally broke through.
Prior to the First World War there had been sporadic success for Manchester United; they first won the first division title in 1907/08 and claimed the trophy again three seasons later. A first FA Cup win came in 1909 but it wasn’t until after World War Two that they began to win titles and cups on a more regular basis so the above lists really represent their most successful periods.
And the worst…
Some would say that Manchester United are going through a barren spell at the moment and they have yet to reclaim the Premier League title since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. But those with longer memories will be certain that the worst period in the club’s history came at the end of the 1973/74 season when the unthinkable happened and they were relegated to the old Second Division.
This is even more incredible when you think that just six years previously, United had claimed the European Cup in some style, beating Benfica at Wembley in 1968. At that point, players such as Bobby Charlton and George Best were at their peak but in the early 1970’s, Charlton was approaching retirement while Best was drifting away from the club and from football altogether.
The players that came in just weren’t in the same class and in 1973/74, they finished second from bottom of the table with just 32 points from 42 matches.
Happily, the club bounced back in 1974/75 as Champions of the Second Division and haven’t been out of the top flight since. Hopefully, they never will drop back down again.
So, what will go down in history as the most successful period for Manchester United? Will it be the Premiership era, that of the Busby Babes of the 60s or will that great 1950s side be the true greats?
Perhaps we can look forward to even better times around the corner – only time will truly tell.