Manchester United History: 1920-1945
Manchester United would return to business as usual for the 1919-1920 season following the conclusion of the First World War, but it would still be many years before the club recovered from the events of the previous decade.
While the end of the war was a joyous occasion for the people of that era, there would be little reason for celebrations at Old Trafford in the upcoming decades. As Europe began to rebuild, United struggled to do the same, much of their squad having lost the best years to the war.
United had already been struggling in the league following the departure of Earnest Mangnall, and were dealt a painful blow just prior to the war with the match-fixing scandal involving Liverpool. Matters would only get worse at the conclusion of the war.
Following 12th and 13th place finishes in 1920 and 1921, respectively, the club lost its talisman when Billy Meredith returned to Manchester City. The following season, United finished at the bottom of the First Division table and were relegated back into the Second Division.
It was around this time that an outside right (or winger in today's terminology) by the name of Joe Spence started to make a name for himself at Old Trafford. To this day, he remains seventh in United's all-time top goalscorers with an impressive 168 goals in 510 appearances.
The man nicknamed "Mr Soccer" was an important player for the club after the war, and his crucial influence on the team resulted in the chant "give it to Joe" from the United faithful.
United would not make their return to the top flight until 1924-25, when a second-place finish in the Second Division earned them promotion. Building off the triumph of promotion, United made a run to the FA Cup semifinals the following season, only to be knocked out by Manchester City in a 3-0 defeat.
After a few years of mediocrity in the First Division, the club suffered further heartache when John Henry Davies, the man who saved United from extinction two decades earlier, passed away in October 1927. After three years of ongoing health problems, he died at the age of 63.
The club was relegated once again after finishing in last place of the First Division in 1930-31, beginning a period when United became one of the dreaded "yo-yo clubs," going up and down between the First Division and Second Division.
With the Great Depression wreaking havoc across the world in the late 1920s, everyone was hit hard by the devastating effects, and United were no exception. Just a few years after losing their one-time savior in Davies, the club were on the brink of extinction again under the burden of financial hardships.
Rapidly approaching the threat of bankruptcy—staff went unpaid for weeks, attendances were on the decline and the team was racking up poor results—the club was desperately in need of a miracle to survive.
A successful businessman, James W. Gibson, came to the rescue of his local club in timely fashion during December 1931.
After initially providing the club with just enough to cover some of their operating costs, Gibson convinced the board to step down and he took over full control as chairman of United on January 19, 1932. The debts that had burdened the club were cleared and United was saved once again.
Gibson would go on to make many important changes. One of his greatest contributions came prior to the 1940s, when he supported the initiative for the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (MUJAC). To this day, it remains an important part of the club.
Founded with the help of club secretary Walter Crickmer and chief scout Louis Rocca in the late 1930s, MUJAC laid the foundation for finding promising young talent to develop into the stars of the future.
Of course, this philosophy would later produce the famous Busby Babes and Fergie's Fledglings.
The beginning of Gibson's reign at the club was not so joyous, however. After a few more years in the Second Division, the club finally earned promotion in 1935-36 with a first-place finish.
Their return was short lived, finishing second from the bottom in the first season back in the top flight, and they were consequently relegated again in 1936-37. A second place finish in the Second Division the following season earned them another promotion in 1937-38.
United finished the decade in the First Division. The Second World War would bring about an end to the Football League in 1939 for the duration of the conflict. The club was again involved in the War League, although none of these matches counted as competitive fixtures.
German bombing raids caused significant damage to Old Trafford in December 1940 and March 1941, leaving much of the stadium in ruin. United would not return to the pitch of their home ground again until the reconstruction was completed in August 1949.
When the war concluded in 1945, United would be prepared for a period of rebirth under one of the game's all-time greatest managers.
During the final year of the Second World War, the future of United was placed safely in the hands of a man who would become a legend at Old Trafford.
On February 19, 1945, former Manchester City and Liverpool player Matt Busby signed a contract to become the manager of Manchester United.
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