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One of Manchester United’s few true stars between the wars, Joe Spence's scintillating wing play made "Give it to Joe" the most regularly aired terrace chant during his 14 years at Old Trafford. Indeed, such was his stature in football, he was known locally as ‘Mr Soccer’.
Born in Throckley, Northumberland, the young Spence played for Blucher Juniors and Throckley Celtic. While with the former, he scored an astonishing 42 of the team’s 49 goals in his first season. At 13 he began work as a miner and was conscripted into the army at 17, where he served as a machine-gunner. He guested for Liverpool, Newburn and Scotswood during his years in service and won the Army Cup with his battalion. But in March 1919, the year after the First World War ended, Spence signed for United from north-east amateur side, Scotswood.
He wasted no time in making an impact: scoring four in a 5-1 Lancashire Section drubbing of Bury at Old Trafford on his debut. His official debut came in August when the league programme resumed and he was a model of consistency after that, making 510 appearances and scoring 168 goals. Sadly for Spence, he failed to win any major honours and it was not until he left United in 1933 that he lifted any silverware – the Third Division North Championship with Chesterfield, in 1936.
It was his misfortune to be at Old Trafford during such a time of transition, but in a period when United teams often failed to produce the goods, his entertaining presence was a true highlight. He remains among the top 10-appearance makers for the club and his 481 league games was a record that stood for 40 years until surpassed by Bill Foulkes. Joe later returned to work for United in a coaching and scouting role.