Manchester United – the greatest football club in the world – is an institution with a rich, but also tragic, history. It is the club with humble, working-class roots that rose like a phoenix from the flames of Munich to become champions of Europe with Sir Matt Busby at the helm, before enjoying a period of unparalleled success under Sir Alex Ferguson as United became the dominant force in the modern English game and claimed an unprecedented treble in 1999.
Supporting Man Utd is a way of life for millions of passionate reds around the world. There is a magnetic attraction, a powerful hold the club exerts. It’s the attacking traditions, the faith in local youngsters, the triumph against the odds. It’s the indefinable, almost mythical sense of something absolutely special and unique.
There is always more to learn about Manchester United’s history, and there are always new perspectives from which the story can be told. We have put together this list of the 10 best books about the history of Man Utd – if you’re looking to delve deeper or just want some great reading material, look no further.
Essential Manchester United History Books: The Full List
Manchester United: The Biography (2009)
Presented as “the complete story of the world’s greatest football club,” Jim White’s book traces the club’s journey from a group of railway workers through to their position as English and European champions in 2009, when the book was published. The book is heavy on statistics, which some fans will love, and others may find an obstruction to the wider narrative, but he writes with a seductive vividness that’s bound to suck you in.
The Official Illustrated History of Manchester United 1878-2012: The Full Story and Complete Record (2012)
If you like your history in visual form, Alex Murphy’s second illustrated history of Man Utd is just the ticket. This full-colour volume is packed with 100s of stunning photos from a period spanning 134 years, plus loads of facts and figures. A great reference and worthy of any United fan’s coffee table.
Only One United – A Personal History of Manchester United (2014)
This another one of the lesser-known books on United’s history, but very much worth a read. Clive Hindle truly captures the epic nature of the United story, and he doesn’t shy away from discussion of the Glazers, with some strongly-argued and balanced insight on the events around the takeover. The author has a distinctive writing style, weaving ancient literature and mythology into his work. United’s eternal quest for European glory is, he writes, “ingrained in the heart of anyone who plays for United. It has become an abiding passion, the ultimate goal. Those who tilt for it and fail are condemned to wander forever in a sort of neo-classical hell…forever bemoaning the incompleteness of their souls. Whereas those who stand on the pinnacle are at one with themselves and the world.” Looking to the future, Hindle warns the Glazers were “lulled into a false sense of security by Ferguson’s success,” and characterises the current moment as a major crossroads for the club.
Manchester United – Tales From History (2014)
A now for something a little different… this is the official graphic novel (volume 1) on United’s history, created by Philippe Glogowski. Glogowski is a renowned Belgian artist who has produced similar graphic novels for the French rugby team and the Brazil World Cup. The story is told through the eyes of a fictional footballer named Harry, who provides his perspective on the legendary players and key events of the club’s history. You can see a few pages here.
The Promised Land: Manchester United’s Historic Treble (2013)
Guardian journalist and lifetime Man Utd fan Daniel Harris’ book is the definitive account of the club’s dream-like 1999 treble. The account captures the drama of this incredible season and includes plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, covering the training ground, the dressing room, and the action on the pitch, and exploring the psychology of the players, coaches and management. How did the treble happen? “Outrageous perseverance, individual brilliance, collective brilliance, improbable comebacks, late goals, and intimidating unity.” Indeed.
United in Europe: Manchester United’s Complete European Record (2015)
In the most recent major book on United’s history, author Christopher Davies takes an in-depth look at the club’s adventures in Europe since emerging as England’s first representatives in the European Cup in 1956. If you’re hungry for trivia and like drilling into the details, this is an indispensable reference. As well as a summary of United’s performance in Europe each season, there are complete teamsheets and stats for every single game. A truly comprehensive and painstakingly researched piece of work, this book has been described as “a football obsessive’s dream.”
A Tale of Two Cities: Manchester United & Real Madrid 1957-1968 (2011)
This book by Manchester-based writer John Ludden focuses on a very specific period in Man Utd’s history – from United’s European Cup loss to Real Madrid in 1957, followed by the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, through to United’s unthinkable European triumph in 1968. The rivalry between United and Real had already been cemented in these post-war years, and with Fergie’s assertion that he “wouldn’t sell them a virus” when the Ronaldo saga began, plus the recent De Gea situation, it’s easy to think that the two clubs have always been firm enemies. But, as Ludden recounts, Real Madrid in fact did more than any other club to help United recover from Munich, agreeing to a series of fund-raising friendlies and even offering to loan Alfredo di Stefano – the world’s greatest player at the time – to us for the 1958-59 season (this was blocked by the English FA). A Tale of Two Cities is “a unique football tale of a friendship born of tragedy and a club’s quest for redemption,” and definitely worth a read.
The Lost Babes: Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich (2010)
Whilst no history of Man Utd can possibly ignore Munich, Jeff Connor has devoted a whole book to the Flowers of Manchester – the victims of the 1958 tragedy. Where others have simply paid tribute to those who lost their lives on that runway, however, Connor confronts some difficult truths. As per the book’s synopsis:
“Jeff Connor traces the rise of the greatest Manchester United side of all time, alongside a vibrant portrait of England in the 1950s, but he also paints a dark picture of a club that enriched itself on the myth of Munich while neglecting the families of the dead and the surviving players. The repercussions and the toll the disaster took on so many linger to the present day.
“Drawing on extensive interviews with the Munich victims and players of that era, The Lost Babes is the definitive account of British football’s golden age, a poignant story of the protracted effects of loss and a remorseless dissection of the how the richest football club in the world turned its back on its own players and their families.”