There are certain dates that will be forever etched in the minds of Manchester United supporters. Like February 6, 1958 when a plane carrying the “Busby Babes” crashed at Munich all but wiping out that great young side. Or May 29, 1968, the night United finally lifted the European Cup for the first time at Wembley. Then there’s May 26, 1999 when United achieved what no other English club has managed before by winning the treble.
And, of course, who could forget November 6th, 1986? Maybe not as dramatic or as exciting, but in terms of what it would mean for the club every bit as important and significant as that is the day when Alex Ferguson was named as the club’s new boss following the departure of Ron Atkinson.
When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford that autumn United were far from the successful side and well-oiled money making machine they are today. They were languishing at the wrong end of the old Division One table, crowds were dwindling and they hadn’t won the league since Matt Busby’s side that contained Best, Law and Charlton almost 20 years before.
It might seem strange now that this fallen giant of English football would place their trust in the manager of unfashionable Aberdeen, but the club and the board obviously felt he had something special about him and over time were proved right.
His bullish style and no-nonsense approach north-of-the-border meant that he had achieved the unthinkable and broken the duopoly of Celtic and Rangers by winning the Scottish league championship three times and Scottish Cup on four occasions, as well as defeating Bayern Munich and Real Madrid en route to a stunning European Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1983.
But even if his achievements in Scotland made him a very credible candidate for the position he would have his work cut out if he was to bring the good times back to a club that was now firmly in the shadows of a Liverpool team that had pretty much made the League Championship their own.
Deciding that he needed to drastically change the culture at the club, influential characters such as Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside - who had dominated the United dressing room during the reign of former boss Ron Atkinson in an era that was famed for heavy drinking and late nights out - were firmly in Ferguson’s sights.
Things wouldn’t change overnight, though, and he was fortunate to have a patient board behind him in those early years, which were far from successful as the new gaffer struggled to impose his winning mentality on a group of players that had seen better days.
Ferguson’s tenure at United began with a 2-0 defeat at Oxford United’s Manor Ground on November 8th and his first win came at Old Trafford against QPR almost three weeks later, but in his programme notes before that game Ferguson made quite clear the ambition he had for the club, even back then.
"I am not really interested in what has happened here in the past,” he wrote, “I don't mean any disrespect to the great achievements of Manchester United over the years. It's simply that now there is only one way to go, and that is forward. The aim at this club must clearly be to win the championship."
United finished 11th in his first season in charge before grabbing the runners-up spot behind Kenny Dalglish’s all-conquering Liverpool in the following campaign, but the club and the fans yearned for silverware, which was still some way off. Another disappointing campaign in 1988/89 was followed by a season which so easily could have heralded the end for Ferguson but ultimately proved to be the turning point that he so desperately needed.
A wretched league campaign would mean that United would briefly flirt with relegation after embarking on a spell of 11 games without a league win between November and March, but salvation for United and their beleaguered boss came in the form of the FA Cup.
After something of an epic run, which had seen them drawn away in every round, United reached the final with a late Mark Hughes’ equaliser forcing a replay which they would ultimately win, thanks to a goal from young full-back Lee Martin, which was enough to secure the Scot’s first major honour in England while changing the fortunes of the club in the process.
The progression continued the following season with an improved showing in the league and victory over Barcelona in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, before United added the League Cup to their recent haul 12 a year later.
However, Ferguson’ men still hadn’t landed the trophy that everyone wanted, the League Championship and an end of season capitulation in the spring of 1992, which allowed Leeds United to pip them to the title, caused many inside Old Trafford to believe it would never happen.
The disappointment would be short-lived, however, as just 12 months after that shattering blow United were finally crowned Champions for the first time in 26 years and not only did it exorcise the ghosts of over a quarter of a century of heartache; the arrival of the title brought with it a new era of domestic dominance.
Over the next two decades Ferguson’s side would win 13 league titles and never finish lower than third in the top-flight while also adding two Champions League trophies, the FA Cup four more times, not to mention another three League Cups to an increasingly full trophy cabinet.
In a 26 year period Manchester United claimed a grand total of 38 trophies while completely transforming the culture, philosophy and ethos of a club which is now one of the most recognised and profitable sporting organisations on the planet; thanks mostly to a relatively unknown Scot who arrived at Old Trafford from Aberdeen on November 6th 1986.