Few clubs can compare with the illustrious list of players to have pulled on a Manchester United shirt. The names who adorn the lists of appearance makers and goal scorers are the finest to have played the beautiful game. Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes are just three of the greatest to play for the club.

Amongst those stellar names, there is one who may not be so familiar. Joe Spence finds himself sixth on the top scorer list and seventh on the most appearances for the club. Yet he hasn’t played for Manchester United since 1933 and is the longest standing member in both lists.

Joe Spence joined Manchester United from Scotswood in 1919 upon the resumption of league football after the First World War. He made his debut away to Derby County and scored an impressive 14 goals in 33 games during his first season at Old Trafford, quickly becoming an important and influential member of the side.

In his fourteen years at Manchester United, Spence would endure the struggles of a club trying to live up to its former pre-war glory. Long gone were the days of Ernest Mangnall and his title-winning side of Roberts, Turnbull and Meredith. The days of success and glory were but a fond memory consigned to the history books. In the inter-war years United suffered relegation to the Second Division twice, in 1922 and 1931. It took until 1925 for the side to return to the top flight and in 1934 the club finished in 20th place in the second tier, its lowest ever position. It was a disappointing time on and off the pitch. The club nearly went bankrupt in 1931 before being saved by another benefactor. James Gibson’s £2,000 investment halted United’s deteriorating finances and helped them regain their place in the First Division prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

During these dark days, Joe Spence was a shining light. ‘Give It to Joe’ was commonly heard raining down from the terraces. He was seen as the saviour, his performances rekindled memories of the heroes who had gone before him. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in Mangnall’s great side. Unfortunately for Joe Spence, he played for Manchester United in a time of transition, when he was the one truly great player to pull on the red shirt. His best season came in 1927/28 when he scored an impressive 24 goals. He upheld the tradition of great players turning out for the club all by himself. The club’s troubles certainly effected his international career, two caps is a modest return for a player of his calibre, but his loyalty to United was absolute.

Joe Spence doesn’t have any trophies to show for the brilliant service he gave to Manchester United. The only silverware he lifted in his career was the Third Division North title with Chesterfield. But he deservedly sits alongside such esteemed company as Charlton, Giggs and Best. He made history and set records at Old Trafford. He was the first United player to reach 500 games for the club and his appearance stood for 40 years until it was broken by Bill Foulkes.

Whilst he might not have the medals to show, Joe Spence has a legacy that lives on, some eighty years since he ran out at Old Trafford. His name is etched into the history books of Manchester United. He represented the club with class and talent and gave the fans something to cheer about when times on the pitch were hard. A true United legend.