MatchDay Memory–1974: Part 2 (Manchester United)

Forty years ago I came into the world and while I may not have made an impact on the game of soccer, it has surely made an impact on me.  Playing the game from a very early age, I didn’t start following the game until my early 20’s.  Starting with Manchester United, I eventually started reading everything I could get my hands on and watching whatever game was on, learning about the rich and complex history of the game.  My MatchDay Memory posts over the next few weeks will focus on events in world soccer during the year of my birth, 1974.  It is in no way a comprehensive summation but rather an examination of teams and incidents that I was drawn to in my research.


Manchester United is my team.  Despite my other dalliances in other countries and other teams, I always come back to the Red Devils.  By no means an expert or the most die hard fan, I have a decent knowledge of the history of the team, able to acknowledge key moments in the club’s history—the Munich Air Disaster, the 1968 European Cup triumph, the relegation of 1974, the appointment of Alex Ferguson in 1986, the first League title in 26 years in 1993, and the Treble of 1999.


For the purpose of this post I want to focus on the events of the 1973/74 season. Looking back at Manchester United in early 1970’s, the team was in transition, the start of a Dark Age that would last until 1993, with no First Division Championships and only the occasion FA Cup Triumph (1977, 1983, 1985 and 1990).  A post by Irish Pete at his blog Frankly Mr. Spencer summarized the decline and set the stage for this sad season.    The glow of the European Cup victory in 1968 had faded and Sir Matt Busby had decided to retire shortly after.  A series of lackluster managerial appointments and poor transfers had damaged the club and by the 1973/74 season, the Reds were no longer a domestic or European power.  Tommy Docherty had taken over in late in 1972 and had started the hard work of reshaping the team.  Gone were Charlton, Law and Best and the other heroes and links to the past.

The club hit bottom when they were relegated from the First Division at the end of the 73/74 season.  I had always understood that the former King of Manchester, Denis Law, had relegated his former team but I was mistaken.  In my reading I came across an article on ESPN UK that put United, the 73/74 season and Law’s move to City that season, into context.  The post traced the decline of the club and what transpired during the season to create a situation of ironic and depressing proportions: the former hero causing defeat to his employer, on the field of some of his greatest triumphs.  His goal did not send United down as the Red Devils not only had to win the match against City, but also get help from other games in order to play for survival on the last day of the season.  A draw was not sufficient, so Law’s goal only confirmed relegation and added a dramatic layer to the story, as Jim White states in Manchester United: The Biography: The Complete Story of the World’s Greatest Football Club: “It was almost Greek in resolution, the victim of treachery returning to apply the ultimate act of revenge.”

The Red Devils would return to the First Division the following season, but it would take almost 20 years (and several managers) to return to the glory of Sir Matt Busby.  With Ferguson’s retirement at the end of the 2012/13 season, it will be interesting to see if history will repeat itself.


I chose 1974 simply because it was the year I was born, yet in reviewing the events of those 12 months it was interesting to see how many precursors and foundations and glimpses into the future were present.  The eternal battle between disciplined defenses against attack minded opponents; players and clubs searching for the next dollar/euro/monetary unit; shock results;  the constant emergence of new and dynamic talent from all around the world.  In 1974 I imagine that there were unknown pockets of activity around the world, complete with rich storylines and regional influence, and stories these days are now part of the worldwide narrative thanks to the internet and globalization.  Teams, players, coaches and cultures are more familiar and are part of a global fabric, with the game belonging to the world and being shared with the world.  Part of the sharing is this project, which was hard work, but informative and enlightening, and I hope you have enjoyed this look back into footballing history.



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