King George VI.

The last time United played under a King

Sunday 18 September 2022 07:00

The last time Manchester United played a league game during the reign of a King was so long ago that the man who masterminded England’s World Cup victory in 1966 ended up making a key contribution to the result.

Back in January 1952, a few days before the death of King George VI (pictured above at the previous year's FA Cup final), the Reds welcomed champions Tottenham Hotspur to Old Trafford for a big game.

Matt Busby’s side knew it was a chance to show off our title credentials, and a 2-0 win took United to the top of the old Division One. The winter fixture was staged on an icy pitch, with the slippery conditions making life difficult for both sets of players.

Frank Clempson pressed his claims for United with his display against Spurs.

The match report in The Manchester Guardian described it as "the type of football one might expect to encounter any time in the Arctic on any available ice-floe." Yet the Reds handled the occasion far better and were worthy winners, with only Spurs keeper Ted Ditchburn preventing a greater margin of victory with some excellent saves.

Frank Clempson, who was promoted from the youth ranks for his first appearance of the season, produced a lively display in the inside-right position and Jack Rowley showed why he was one of the most in-form forwards in the country. As snow fell, John Aston Snr hit the bar with the home side knocking on the door in the hunt for an opener.

Before the end of the first half, Rowley launched an audacious effort from fully 40 yards out, after robbing Spurs defender Alf Ramsey, and narrowly missed the target with what would have been a sensational goal.

Old Trafford closed as we remember our Queen


The stadium will be closed to visitors throughout Monday, the day of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral.

Ditchburn made a tremendous save to thwart Johnny Berry, and pounce on the rebound before Aston could profit, and then denied Stan Pearson but was powerless when Ramsey - the future World Cup winning-manager - put through his own net. Under pressure from Clempson, when Ditchburn was unable to reach a Berry cross, he inadvertently turned the ball in with an attempted clearance.

Len Duquemin spurned a rare, but very presentable, chance for the north Londoners to get back on level terms and was punished, five minutes from time, when Rowley centred and Pearson did the rest, although there was a suspicion of handball against the forward when he brought the ball down.

United would go on to win the title, for the first time in 41 years and half a century after joining the league. A 6-1 thumping of Arsenal on the final day ensured top spot by a margin of four points, ahead of both north London rivals.

United and Spurs pay tribute to baseball legend Babe Ruth later in 1952, following a friendly in New York.

An expected period of dominance for United, following back-to-back league triumphs in 1956 and 1957, was later tragically cut short by the Munich Air Disaster but Busby would rebuild a team that conquered Europe a decade later, in 1968.

Spurs have only won one domestic title since, in 1961. Five years after that, Ramsey earned his place in football folklore by guiding England to World Cup glory on home turf.

From February 1952 to September 2022, all of United’s games were played during the remarkably long reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The Reds were the country's most successful club across this 70-year period, in terms of league titles won.

Our next fixture, the Manchester derby on Sunday 2 October after the international break, will be our first league game under King Charles III.