click to go to homepage

European Cup

Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs lift the European Cup in Moscow in May 2008, surrounded by their United team-mates

UEFA Champions League

The UEFA Champions League is the ultimate club competition in European football and Manchester United have won the trophy three times.

United first played in the European Cup in 1956. The decision did not go down well with the Football League due to the fear that it would affect the quality of domestic competitions. This was quickly quashed as the competition helped raise standards in the English game.

The Reds' first match in the competition was a 10-0 win against Belgian champions Anderlecht. Matt Busby's men reached the semi-finals in both 1956/57 and 1957/58 seasons, but the club's involvement in the 1957/58 competition, however, will be forever linked to the Munich Air Disaster. United’s draw in Belgrade and subsequent semi-final defeat against AC Milan were overshadowed by the tragic death of eight United players.

From tragedy came hope as Sir Matt Busby built a new team. Another semi-final in 1965/66 was followed by the club's first European Cup success in 1967/68 when goals from Bobby Charlton (two), George Best and Brian Kidd at Wembley gave England its first European Cup winning side against Benfica.

The club had to wait a long 26 years to compete in the competition again, now expanded and renamed the Champions League. United reached the semi-finals in 1997 before winning the Cup for a second time in 1999.

The final in Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium looked all but lost as United trailed 1-0 going into the three minutes of added time at the end of the match. Goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Bayern devastated and United's 50,000-strong throng of supporters in ecstacy. Sir Alex Ferguson had finally emulated the achievement of Sir Matt Busby.

European glory proved elusive for United in the following seasons. Their defence of the trophy in 1999/00 was ended by a 3-2 home defeat by eventual winners Real Madrid in the quarter-finals, while two semi-final appearances (2001/02 against Bayer Leverkusen and 2006/07 against AC Milan) ultimately ended in elimination despite United holding the lead in both ties.

In May 2008, in Moscow, the Reds sealed their third European Cup triumph - 50 years after the Munich Air Disaster and 40 years since the club's first win in '68 - with a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Chelsea. Ryan Giggs, making his 759th appearance in a red shirt, thus breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time record, scored what turned out to be United's winning penalty. Edwin van der Sar confirmed United as Kings of Europe with his subsequent penalty save from Nicolas Anelka and sealed a historic double for the Reds.

Further final appearances followed in 2009 and 2011 where the Reds would find Barcelona impossible to beat, first in Rome and then at Wembley. Three runs to the final of Europe’s premier club competition in four years was a record to be proud of, however.