There have been dark days in the history of Manchester United.
Thursday 6 February 1958
The darkest, by a long, long way, was 6 February 1958. Just the day before, Busby’s young team had won a place in the semi-final of the European Cup. Returning from Belgrade, they had to stop in Munich so that the plane could re-fuel. It was snowing and there was slush on the runway. On the third attempt at take-off, the plane left the runway, hit a nearby house and burst into flames. Twenty-three people died, including eight members of the Manchester United team. The disaster shocked the football world. A team at the height of its powers had been decimated. For Manchester United it was the darkest of dark days.
Tuesday 11 March 1941
It wasn’t until 1910 that Manchester United moved into a home in keeping with its aspirations. The first game at Old Trafford was against Liverpool and was watched by a huge crowd. Most stood on the open terracing as there was only one stand. In the 1930s roofs were added to other parts of the ground so that, when football more or less ceased in 1939, Old Trafford was in good shape. Then, on the night of 11 March 1941, the ground was bombed. The main stand, the club offices and the team dressing rooms were all destroyed. When the war ended, and league football re-commenced, Old Trafford was still in ruins. It wasn’t until 1949-1950 that the ground was fit to be used again.
Saturday 27 April 1974
The years after the 1967-1968 European Cup win weren’t easy. The team aged. Bobby Charlton retired, Denis Law moved to Manchester City on a free transfer, and George Best self-destructed. The 1973-1974 season was a struggle. With two games to go, relegation threatened. It was the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. Towards the end of the game, with Manchester United hanging on for a point, Denis Law received the ball from Francis Lee and back-heeled it into the goal. Manchester United lost. With just one game remaining, they could no longer escape. Their neighbours and former captain had put them into the second division. It was a dark day.
Saturday 26 December 1931
The 1930-1931 season was a disaster. United lost their first twelve games and never recovered. They ended the season bottom of the league, losing twenty-seven matches and conceding one hundred and fifteen goals. They were relegated from the first division and their manager, Herbert Bamlett resigned. The next season didn’t begin much better. They won only one of their first seven games. The season’s first match at Old Trafford attracted only three and a half thousand spectators. By the end of 1931 they were in severe financial difficulty and faced bankruptcy. On Boxing Day, they played Wolves at Molineux and lost 7-0. Were the lights about to go out for good?
Wednesday 25 January 1995
In 1994-1995, an away game to Crystal Palace should have been straightforward. Manchester United were near the top, Palace near the bottom. At 1-1, Eric Cantona had his shirt pulled and responded by kicking his opponent. It was spotted by the linesman and Cantona was sent-off. Taunted by the home supporters as he left the field, he suddenly launched himself into the crowd with a kung fu-style kick at one of the Palace fans. Alex Ferguson had to wait until he got home to view the incident. He was shocked, along with everyone else in football. The club immediately suspended Cantona for the rest of the season; the Football Association extended the ban to eight months. Cantona delighted United supporters in many ways, but he also gave them one of their darkest nights.
.. and the best of times?