- Rewind to 1937
The season United got relegated and City won the titleJonathan Molyneux-Carter April 26, 2012
This season, the two Manchester clubs have led the way in the Premier League to such an extent that there has been little doubt that the title would remain in the city. It hasn't always been that way, though, and, in 1937, City claimed their first ever league trophy while rivals United were relegated to the Second Division.
In the early 1930s, Arsenal were the team to beat. Under Herbert Chapman, whose bronze bust remains proudly on show at Emirates Stadium, the side won the league titles in the 1932-33, 1933-34 and 1934-35 seasons and were viewed as one of the finest teams to have played in the English top-flight.
But there were new challengers on the horizon. Sunderland had finished second in the 1934-35 season and the following year ended as champions, scoring 109 goals in their 42 games to finish eight points clear of Derby County. Then there was Manchester City: FA Cup winners in 1934 and a side many considered to be well equipped to mount a serious title challenge.
A team under the management of Wilf Wild contained Frank Swift, Billy Dale, Sam Cowan, Jimmy McMullan, Jackie Bray, Fred Tilson, Alec Herd, Ernie Toseland, Eric Brook, Sam Barkas and eventual Manchester United legend Matt Busby. City finished a disappointing ninth in the 1935-36 season, but there were positive signs, including the presence of Busby. As Stanley Matthews once pointed out: "One of Matt's greatest strengths as a player was his passing. Not only could he split open defences but the pass was always so beautifully timed and weighted it was perfect for City forwards such as Eric Brook, Freddie Tilson or Alex Herd to latch on to without breaking their stride. For all players were tightly marked in the '30s, Matt could overcome all that with one sweeping pass. I think his ability to pick out team-mates with superlative passing was indicative of his great vision even then."
Ahead of the 1936-37 season, Wild took the surprise decision to sell Busby to Liverpool and also moved Cowan on to Bradford. With the money raised, he bought Peter Doherty from Blackpool for a club record fee of £10,000 and City's forward line boasted five quality players: Brook, Herd, Tilson, Toseland and Doherty.
By contrast, city rivals Manchester United were not the force they are today. They had won the First Division title in 1908 and 1911, but were relegated in 1922 and again in 1931 after coming back up. After a scare that saw them escape relegation from the Second Division by the skin of their teeth in 1934, a forward line of Tom Manley, Thomas Bamford, George Mutch and Henry Rowley yielded an impressive 70 goals to see them promoted to the top-flight for 1936-37.
However, by the end of 1936, United were bottom of the table, with a 3-2 home win over City in September providing one of only six victories from their opening 23 games. City had managed just two more wins, and two more draws, but were tenth. For City, it was hardly a precursor of what was to follow, as Gary James points out in Manchester City: The Complete Record: "It was still not championship form, but enough to give them a foundation to build on. The New Year saw City climb up the table and, by the time of their meeting with the usual dominant Arsenal in April 1937, the two sides occupied the top two positions."
The turning point for both sides could well be pinpointed to the Manchester derby on January 9. A 1-0 win for City set them on the way to a run of 13 wins and five draws in 18 games; United, meanwhile, won just four of their remaining fixtures.
But if the derby got City going, then it was the meeting with Arsenal in April that sealed their place in history. Moving top for the first time since a brief spell there after a 6-2 win over West Brom on the third matchday, City dominated in front of a record crowd of 74,918 and Peter Doherty and Ernie Toseland scored the goals that gave them a 2-0 victory. With four games left, they would not relinquish top spot again and beat Sunderland (3-1), Preston North End (5-2) and Sheffield Wednesday (4-1) to claim the title. A 2-2 draw against Birmingham City in the final game of the season mattered little as City had already been crowned champions by three points over nearest rivals Charlton.
In total, City had scored 107 goals - Doherty (30), Brook (20), Herd (17), Tilson (15) and Toseland (7) - while they had the sixth best defensive record in the league after conceding 61 goals in 42 games. What made it even sweeter for the blue half of Manchester was that their rivals, United, had lost 1-0 to West Brom on the final day of the season and were relegated. At the end of the disastrous campaign, Scott Duncan resigned as manager while City celebrated their first title.
Under the title of 'Manchester City: Coronation year champions, 1937', a poem by Fletcher & Son recorded their achievement - while also, interestingly, predicting United's success in 1997. It read:
First and foremost in Football fame,
Is Manchester City, who ''play the game,''
Right from the start without much luck,
Showing opponents their determined pluck,
They're now ''on top'' and safely stuck.
DOHERTY, the star, who we praise so loud
In the net placed three against Preston Proud.
Valuable points which were two of the best,
Inspired his team-mate - put Arsenal at rest.
Swift in goal, three seasons without fail
Is strongly supported by Barkas & Dale,
Our half-backs Percival, Marshall & Bray,
Noteworthy players, who have won the day.
Century of goals, 'put that in your book'
Helped by Toseland, Herd, Tilson & Brook,
Arsenal of North, our neighbours in distress,
Manchester United have failed to impress,
Perhaps some day they'll have an Eleven,
In Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Seven?
No wonder was Wilfred Wild with delight,
Sunderland! Arsenal! Preston! - what a sight!
What happened next? The club chose an odd place to bask in the glory as they undertook a tour of Nazi Germany to play in front of 70,000 at Berlin's Olympic stadium. Adolf Hitler had wanted to use the tour as propaganda for the regime that would soon tear the world apart, but Doherty revealed: "We were expected to give the Nazi salute at the line-up before the match started, but we decided merely to stand to attention. When the German national anthem was played, only 11 arms went up instead of the expected 22!" City lost the game 3-2 and, the following season, became the first side to be relegated a year after winning the title (despite scoring the most goals in the league - 80). United were back in the First Division that season as well but did not claim their next title until 1952, under Sir Matt Busby.