The 1973-4 football season was not one to savour for Manchester United fans.
George Best played his last game for the Red Devils and the club found themselves in Division Two for the first time since 1938.
United were relegated from Division One in 21st position with just 32 points – three ahead of bottom club Norwich City.
The season was so dire that goalkeeper Alex Stepney was joint top scorer after 12 games – he notched up two goals as the designated penalty taker!
Supporters prayed things would improve in 1974-5 – and their beloved team would bounce back to Division One at the first attempt.
At least the board had kept faith with relatively new manager Tommy Docherty, who was appointed in December 1973 following the sacking of Frank O’Farrell.
Life for United in the second tier started well on August 17 with a 2-0 win at Leyton Orient thanks to goals from Scottish winger Willie Morgan and left back Stewart Houston.
It got even better in the second match when 44,756 fans turned up at Old Trafford to see the Red Devils run rampant in a 4-0 victory over London side Millwall.
Republic of Ireland midfielder Gerry Daly scored a hat-trick, including two penalties, while England international striker Stuart Pearson netted the third.
The Red Devils were back at Old Trafford on August 28th to play Portsmouth – a match they won 2-1 with another Daly penalty and a goal from Northern Ireland international Sammy McIlroy.
United remained unbeaten until September 28 when they travelled to Carrow Road to take on fellow relegated club Norwich, managed by John Bond. The game went Norwich’s way 2-0.
It was a temporary setback for the Red Devils. Victories over Fulham, Notts County, Blackpool and Southampton followed – then came a 4-0 thrashing of Oxford United at Old Trafford, with Pearson scoring a hat-trick.
A thrilling 4-4 draw at Sheffield Wednesday on December 7th was followed by a 2-1 Boxing Day win over West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.
Local rivals Oldham Athletic subjected United to a rare 1-0 defeat at Boundary Park on December 28th, but the first match of 1975 saw a 2-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday.
United were vying for top spot by the time they played Norwich again on March 15th, this time at Old Trafford. The match ended in a 1-1 draw with Pearson again on the scoresheet for the Red Devils. Ted MacDougall replied for the Canaries.
Norwich were to prove the season’s bogey team as they dumped the Red Devils out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage.
The first leg at Old Trafford finished 2-2 with Scottish midfielder Lou Macari netting both United goals, then Norwich won the replay 1-0.
There was a shock for Red Devils in the Third Round of the FA Cup. They were drawn against lowly Walsall of the Third Division, who came to Old Trafford with few expectations other than enjoying their football.
But they held United to a goalless draw – and then won the replay 3-2 after extra time!
Back in the league, United remained unbeaten for the remaining eight matches of the season after drawing with Norwich.
There were victories over Nottingham Forest, York City, Oldham, Southampton and Fulham as well as a 2-2 draw at Notts County.
Then came the final match of the campaign – a home game against Blackpool at Old Trafford on April 26th. A crowd of 58,769 packed the ground aiming to see United clinch the title.
They were not disappointed. The Red Devils tore the Seasiders apart 4-0 with two goals from Pearson and one apiece from Macari and centre half Brian Greenhoff.
The fans’ joy could not be contained as they streamed on to the pitch at the final whistle.
Police cordoned off a corridor for the Division Two trophy to be presented to skipper Martin Buchan, who had been a defensive stalwart all season. Manager Docherty looked on with pride.
United topped the league with 61 points while Aston Villa were second with 58. Third spot went to Norwich with 53 points.
The Red Devils were back in the First Division.
*Readers can enjoy more football and sport memories in Clive Hardy’s book Around Manchester in the 1970s, published by the M.E.N. and iNostalgia Ltd.
It’s packed with more than 300 images from the M.E.N. archive, brought to life by brilliant commentary and detailed captions.
The book retails at £14.99, with all postage and packing paid.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.