Manchester United returned to League football on 30 August 1919, following a four-year gap caused by the First World War. The team for that first match back against Derby County included many new faces - in fact only two of the men on duty had played in United's previous league game at the end of the 1914/15 season.
Billy Meredith was still at Old Trafford, but reaching the end of his illustrious Old Trafford career. He made only 19 appearances in 1919/20 when United finished 12th in the First Division. The new hero of the terraces, Joe Spence, finished the season as the team's top scorer with 14 League goals. He was joint top scorer again in 1920/21, but this time with half the tally as United again under-achieved to finish in 13th place.
Manager John Robson then left the club, to be replaced by John Chapman, who reverted to the dual role of secretary/manager last held by JJ Bentley. Meanwhile, former manager Ernest Mangnall continued to make the local headlines with City, as they moved into a new stadium at Maine Road.
Mangnall also re-signed Meredith for City and despite his advancing years, it was perhaps no coincidence that United were relegated in their first season without him, winning only 8 of their 42 matches in 1921/22. Chapman's team that played in the Second Division until the third attempt, when the on-field leadership of Frank Barson resulted in promotion at the end of 1924/25. United finished second to Leicester City, after losing only eight games.
United's top flight status was cemented with a ninth-place finish in 1925/26. Chapman's team also went on a great run in the FA Cup, but this came to a halt in the semi-finals when Manchester City beat them 3-0 at Bramall Lane. City's luck then ran out, as they lost both the final (to Bolton) and their place in the First Division.
Not that United supporters could afford to laugh at City. Two months into the 1926/27 season, they had troubles of their own when the FA suspended manager John Chapman with immediate effect, the reasons for which never became public. Wing-half Clarence Hilditch took over as player-manager while the club looked for a more permanent replacement, but 'Lal' was reluctant to pick himself, and the team suffered.
Chapman's permanent successor, Herbert Bamlett, arrived later that season. He was already known to United fans as the referee who called off the club's FA Cup quarter-final tie at Burnley in 1909, when their team was trailing 1-0 in the midst of a blizzard. Bamlett, though, was too cold to blow the final whistle, so Charlie Roberts did the job and United went on to win the Cup that season!
Sadly Bamlett had no further impact on United's success as their manager. The team slowly slipped down the First Division, finishing 15th in 1926/27 and 18th in 1927/28, only to recover slightly to 12th in 1928/29. Joe Spence continued to score goals by the bucketload but not even he could stop United's steady decline...