Manchester United 1973-74

The 1973–74 season was Manchester United’s 72nd season in the Football League, and their 29th consecutive season in the top division of English football. It was the first full season in charge for manager Tommy Docherty, who had been appointed the previous December following the dismissal of Frank O’Farrell. Only six seasons after winning the European Cup, United were relegated, meaning that they would be a Second Division club for the first time since 1938.
Having been persuaded to return to the team after walking out during the previous season, the troubled George Best briefly returned to the side, but played his last game for the club on New Year’s Day, and his contract was cancelled the following season after more than a decade at Old Trafford.
Docherty took the unusual step of appointing goalkeeper Alex Stepney as the team’s penalty taker. After 12 games, Stepney had converted two penalties, which made him the club’s joint top scorer, a position he held for ten matches.
United began the season with two victories in their first three games, but then recorded only four wins in twenty League games between September and March. A late-season run of victories raised the prospect of survival, but United stumbled as the season drew to an end. On the last full day of the season, United could survive only by winning their home game against Manchester City and then their rearranged game at Stoke City, provided that points were dropped by other relegation candidates, all of which had only one game remaining. In the event, United lost both games whilst their rivals’ results meant that they would have been relegated anyway.
The scorer of what proved to be the winning goal for Manchester City in United’s penultimate game was former United player Denis Law, who scored with a back-heel in the 81st minute. He did not celebrate the goal, and was substituted shortly afterwards. The goal triggered a series of pitch invasions by Manchester United fans, perhaps hoping to get the match replayed, that forced the referee to abandon the game in the 85th minute. After a review, the Football League decided that the result should stand.
This was the season in which the Football League increased the number of relegation places from two to three, and it is often incorrectly claimed that by winning at Old Trafford Manchester City “relegated” United. In fact, it was Birmingham City’s win over Norwich City and West Ham United’s point against Liverpool that sealed United’s fate, since, with a win still worth only two points, United could not have caught Birmingham and West Ham even if they had won their last two fixtures. However, City’s victory and Southampton’s win at Everton meant that United finished in 21st place, and would still have been relegated under the old system.
Already relegated, United then lost their last game of the season, against sixth-placed Stoke City.
In spite of the relegation to the Second Division, the club’s directors decided not to sack Docherty, placing their confidence in him to restore the club’s First Division status at the first attempt.

First Division

DateOpponentsH / AResult
F – A
ScorersAttendance
25 August 1973ArsenalA0 – 351,501
29 August 1973Stoke CityH1 – 0James43,614
1 September 1973Queens Park RangersH2 – 1Holton, McIlroy44,156
5 September 1973Leicester CityA0 – 129,152
8 September 1973Ipswich TownA1 – 2Anderson22,023
12 September 1973Leicester CityH1 – 2Stepney40,793
15 September 1973West Ham UnitedH3 – 1Kidd (2), Storey-Moore44,757
22 September 1973Leeds UnitedA0 – 047,058
29 September 1973LiverpoolH0 – 053,882
6 October 1973Wolverhampton WanderersA1 – 2McIlroy32,962
13 October 1973Derby CountyH0 – 143,724
20 October 1973Birmingham CityH1 – 0Stepney48,937
27 October 1973BurnleyA0 – 031,976
3 November 1973ChelseaH2 – 2Greenhoff, Young48,036
10 November 1973Tottenham HotspurA1 – 2Best42,756
17 November 1973Newcastle UnitedA2 – 3Graham, Macari41,768
24 November 1973Norwich CityH0 – 036,338
8 December 1973SouthamptonH0 – 031,648
15 December 1973Coventry CityH2 – 3Best, Morgan28,589
22 December 1973LiverpoolA0 – 240,420
26 December 1973Sheffield UnitedH1 – 2Macari38,653
29 December 1973Ipswich TownH2 – 0Macari, McIlroy36,365
1 January 1974Queens Park RangersA0 – 332,339
12 January 1974West Ham UnitedA1 – 2McIlroy34,147
19 January 1974ArsenalH1 – 1James38,589
2 February 1974Coventry CityA0 – 125,313
9 February 1974Leeds UnitedH0 – 260,025
16 February 1974Derby CountyA2 – 2Greenhoff, Houston29,987
23 February 1974Wolverhampton WanderersH0 – 039,260
2 March 1974Sheffield UnitedA1 – 0Macari29,203
13 March 1974Manchester CityA0 – 051,331
16 March 1974Birmingham CityA0 – 137,768
23 March 1974Tottenham HotspurH0 – 136,278
30 March 1974ChelseaA3 – 1Daly, McIlroy, Morgan29,602
3 April 1974BurnleyH3 – 3Forsyth, Holton, McIlroy33,336
6 April 1974Norwich CityA2 – 0Greenhoff, Macari28,223
13 April 1974Newcastle UnitedH1 – 0McCalliog44,751
15 April 1974EvertonH3 – 0McCalliog (2), Houston48,424
20 April 1974SouthamptonA1 – 1McCalliog30,789
23 April 1974EvertonA0 – 146,093
27 April 1974Manchester CityH0 – 156,996
29 April 1974Stoke CityA0 – 127,392
PosClubPldWDLGFGAGAvgPts
20Southampton4211141747680.69136
21Manchester United4210122038480.79232
22Norwich City427152037620.59729

Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GAvg = Goal average; Pts = Points

FA Cup

DateRoundOpponentsH / AResult
F – A
ScorersAttendance
5 January 1974Round 3Plymouth ArgyleH1 – 0Macari31,810
26 January 1974Round 4Ipswich TownH0 – 137,177

League Cup

DateRoundOpponentsH / AResult
F – A
ScorersAttendance
8 October 1973Round 2MiddlesbroughH0 – 123,906

Squad statistics

Pos.NameLeagueFA CupLeague CupTotal
AppsGoalsAppsGoalsAppsGoalsAppsGoals
GK Alex Stepney4222010452
DF Martin Buchan4202010450
DF Alex Forsyth18(1)1200020(1)0
DF Brian Greenhoff3632010393
DF Clive Griffiths70000070
DF Jim Holton3422010372
DF Stewart Houston2020000202
DF Steve James2121010232
DF David Sadler2(1)000002(1)0
DF Arnie Sidebottom20000020
DF Tony Young2912010321
MF George Best1220000122
MF Paul Bielby2(2)000002(2)0
MF Gerry Daly14(2)1001015(2)1
MF George Graham23(1)1101025(1)0
MF Mick Martin12(4)0200014(4)0
MF Jim McCalliog1140000114
MF Sammy McIlroy24(5)61(1)00025(6)6
FW Trevor Anderson11(1)1000011(1)1
FW George Buchan0(3)0000(1)00(4)0
FW Paul Fletcher2(3)000002(3)0
FW Brian Kidd2121(1)01023(1)2
FW Lou Macari34(1)5211037(1)6
FW Willie Morgan4122010442
FW Ian Storey-Moore21000021
Own goals0000