There’s that old wives tale that it’s always raining in Manchester (a myth, of course), but for Manchester United supporters right now it never rains but it pours.
From the wretched eras of David Moyes and Jose Mourinho as manager, to the failed experiments of Louis van Gaal, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and co, the past decade has been one of the worse in United’s modern history.
The latest brave soul encumbered with the manager’s chair in the dugout at Old Trafford is Erik ten Hag, and to suggest his reign in Manchester has gotten off to a slow start would be something of understatement.
The Dutchman watched on as his new side lost 1-2 on the opening weekend of the 2022/23 campaign to Brighton, before his humiliation took an even deeper hit when United found themselves 0-4 down in the first-half against Brentford largely due to a catalogue of defensive mishaps and individual errors.
It’s a team of players either not good enough or woefully short of confidence, and you wonder just how bad things will get for the red half of Manchester before they get better.
So how far could United sink? Relegation? Believe it or not, one of the powerhouses of world football has been relegated on five separate occasions.
Back in the late 1800s, Manchester United – or Newton Heath as they were known back then – were not a force in English football….far from it.
They finished bottom of the First Division in two consecutive seasons, and while they avoided relegation the first time around, in 1893/94 they would not prove to be so lucky.
To rub salt into the wounds, their fate was sealed when they lost to rivals Liverpool – whom they still have a bitter rivalry with to this day – in a so-called ‘test match’ to determine who would play in the First Division in 1894/95.
As a marker of how bad things got, United also entered the Lancashire and Manchester Senior Cups….losing in the first round of both.
Things would improve for the club in the early years of the 1900s, and in both 1908 and 1911 they were crowned First Division champions courtesy of the goals of Sandy Turnbull and Enoch West.
But it all went very badly wrong again during the 1921/22 season, when they finished bottom of the top-flight and saw attendances plummet to less than 10,000, such were their dire results on the pitch.
They didn’t win a single game between November 27 and January 27 and twice embarked on six-match losing streaks, and in the end United finished eight points from safety and were demoted alongside Bradford City.
Perhaps the die was cast towards the end of the 1920/21 campaign, where they would win just three of their last thirteen outings.
After clawing their way back to Division One in 1924/25 with a second-placed finish in the division below, United set about sticking around in the top-flight for a longer period of time.
They would last for six more seasons in the Premier League of its day, but with only one finish in the top-half of the table in the span, the Red Devils always seemed to be swimming against the tide.
United would lose all of their opening 12 games of the 1930/31 season, and ultimately manager Herbert Bamlett would lose his job – an incredible individual, he undertook the most bizarre career change in football that saw him go from international referee to manager!
Things never really improved thereafter, and United were relegated by a ten-point margin alongside their cross-Pennines rivals Leeds United.
From heroes to zeros!
Manchester United went from Second Division champions to First Division also-rans in the space of a single season in 1936/37, and a final day defeat to West Bromwich Albion saw the Lancashire outfit relegated for the third time in just 15 years.
Things could have been so different had they built on the momentum of an early season win over local rivals Manchester City, which was watched by nearly 70,000 people at Old Trafford.
Brentford 4-0 Man Utd
Brentford go wild, and that’s now seven away defeats in a row for Manchester United in the league, their worst run since 1936.
— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) August 13, 2022
Instead, they won just one of their next 14 outings, and despite a late-season rally it would be demotion again for United despite scoring a princely 55 goals. City, ironically, went on to win the title.
Better times for United were just around the corner, and in the 1950s and ‘60s they would win the First Division title on five occasions – aided by the brilliance of the ‘Busby Babes’.
But there would be just one more relegation to add to the Manchester United history books, and that would come during the 1973/74 campaign.
It was a season of disaster on and off the pitch, with the legendary George Best walking out on the club and the bizarre decision to hand goalkeeper Alex Stepney the responsibility of taking penalties – he managed to despatch two spot kicks during the campaign.
A run of just four wins from 20 games between September and March made relegation a formality, and in the end United fell five points shy of survival and were demoted to the second tier alongside Norwich City and Southampton.