Former Old Trafford boss speaks frankly about his long footballing life

  • October 09, 2018 13:50
  • Jon Henderson

Frank O’Farrell lives quietly in retirement these days after an eventful career in football that lasted nearly 40 years.


Frank O’Farrell’s football career seemed to be ebbing to a peaceful conclusion in 1961. As a hard-working midfielder he had played for 13 years in the Football League, first with West Ham and then Preston North End, and had represented the Republic of Ireland. He was now approaching his thirty-fourth birthday. A second cartilage had recently been removed.

‘It was then that Weymouth came in for me to be player-manager,’ O’Farrell says,  and the image is, irresistibly, of a life slowing down to a soundtrack of distant seagulls and the gentle wash of surf.

‘I asked one or two people about Weymouth and they said it was a good club,’ he says. ‘It was a non-League side, of course, but they always did well and got decent gates. So I went down for an interview and was given the job.’

Apart from anything else, the economics made sense. ‘I was on £20 a week at Preston as a First Division player,’ O’Farrell says. ‘I went down to Weymouth where I got £25 a week and, being the manager, a club car and a club house. So I was better off in Southern League football than being a First Division player. That’s the way it was.’

And that’s the way O’Farrell himself thought it would stay. ‘I wasn’t seeking after things,’ he says.

But he had not reckoned with others seeking him out, which is what happened after O’Farrell, within a year of joining Weymouth, guided the Dorset club to the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time.

Weymouth actually went into the fifth-round draw after their tie at O’Farrell’s old club Preston was abandoned after 14 minutes because of bad weather and rescheduled for two days later. With the prospect of playing Liverpool in the next round as an incentive, Weymouth failed to respond and lost the delayed match 2-0. But their Cup run had reflected well on their young manager.

‘It meant that journalists from London were now ringing me up for stories,’ O’Farrell says, ‘and I was getting talked about in the national papers.’

In 1965 he took his first manager’s job in the Football League at Fourth Division Torquay. ‘I brought a lot of First Division players down from London,’ he says, ‘which was easier then because the difference in wages between the divisions wasn’t as great as it is now.’

Specifically, he raided West Ham’s larder of veterans with whom he had once played, players such as John Bond and Ken Brown. They would travel down to the Devon resort at weekends while continuing to live and train in London.

The arrangement worked well. Torquay won promotion straightway and O’Farrell, again a target for larger clubs, moved to Leicester City in December 1968.

His stay at Leicester started eventfully. In the space of a few days at the end of his first season Leicester were relegated and appeared in the FA Cup final, which they lost 1-0 to Manchester City. But they were only briefly in the Second Division, O’Farrell taking them back up in 1971.

‘Once again this got me noticed,’ he says. ‘Next thing Matt Busby came and asked me if I’d go to Manchester United.’

At the time Busby was still a towering figure in English football. He had been Mancheser United’s manager from 1945-69, during which he was badly injured in the 1958 Munich plane crash, and since December 1970 had been temporarily back in charge while United sought a new manager.

O’Farrell’s version of his 18 months – June 1971 to December 1972 – at Old Trafford goes like this:

‘It was a difficult time to go there because the club needed rebuilding and Matt hadn’t done anything. He was very loyal to his players, including those who came through Munich with him, and I could understand that. But it meant it was a job that whoever it was who succeeded him was going to have to do. I happened to be the first one and then there were three more after me before things kind of settled down.

‘It was a difficult job, changing players, dropping someone like Bobby Charlton who then went around with a long face, but these are things you have to do as a manager.

‘And, yes, it did upset me when they got rid of me. Matt had admitted that he’d let things go and that it might take me a while to sort things out and, no, I don’t think they gave me that time.

‘One time I had a bit of an altercation with him. The club used to have an annual function, a dinner, which the players and directors went to. Ann and I went while we were there and coming back in the car Ann said to me, “Matt had a word with me.”

‘I said, “Oh, what did he say?”

‘She said that Matt had told her, “Your husband is an independent sod, Ann. Why don’t you get him to come and talk to me?”

‘I was bloody angry really. I saw him most days if he wanted to see me. He could come into my office; he knew where I was. But to go through my wife, involve my wife, when it was nothing to do with her…

‘So I waited deliberately until he was in after the weekend. I invited him into my office and said, “Matt, Ann says you told her I was an independent sod and that she should get me to come and talk to you. Here I am. What have you got to say?”

‘So he said, “I don’t think you should have dropped Bobby Charlton.”

‘He was interfering, so I stated my case and he went away.

‘But then in December 1972 we lost heavily at Crystal Palace [5-0] and the club had a board meeting on the Tuesday and they called me in. They sacked Malcolm Musgrove, my coach, as well as me and also John Aston, the chief scout. I don’t know what he had to do with the team getting beaten. He’d been a player there and came through the Munich disaster.

‘I said, “What reason are you sacking me for?”

‘The chairman, Louis Edwards, used to mumble a bit although he was all right really. Matt had him in his pocket. He said, “W… w… we’re bottom of the league.”

‘I said, “Well, we’re not bottom actually, we’re third from bottom.”

‘But that was the reason they gave, which I needed to know because I had to go to see a solicitor now and hire him because they were awkward. And they were awkward – they didn’t pay me for nine months. They stopped my money and they wouldn’t give me the remainder of my contract that was I entitled to.

‘Things dragged on and on and on and then eventually before it came to court they settled. About £17,000 I think I got.’

Other versions of this story exist and Matt Busby, or Sir Matt as he had been since United won the European Cup in 1968, is still held in the highest esteem by very many for what he achieved at Old Trafford and how he achieved it.

For Frank O’Farrell, his long journey through football would end without further ado.

‘I went down to Cardiff City for a while, before Iran came in for me to manage the national team. I enjoyed that. Then it was back to Torquay.’

And this is where he still is when I visit him. His quiet, courteous manner and contented air place him as a stereotypical Torquay retiree. The stories he has to tell, though, instantly place him outside the circle of pensioned-off bank managers and accountants who are his neighbours in the clifftop homes overlooking the English Channel.

The rancour of the manner of his parting from Old Trafford has clearly survived, but loses much of its venom when delivered in Frank O’Farrell’s sotto voce Irish brogue.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.



  • October 08, 2018 11:06
  • Biteback Publishing

Biteback Publishing has acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ forthcoming call to arms, Where We Go from Here.

One of the most recognisable and popular figures in recent American politics, and whose first book Our Revolution was a New York Times bestseller, Senator Sanders will explain what he's been doing to oppose the Trump agenda and strengthen the progressive movement since the 2016 election.

Sanders came to the world’s attention when he campaigned to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 2016 US presidential election. Though he eventually lost out to Hillary Clinton, he ran a campaign that energised a generation and gained him a huge grassroots following. In the shadow of the most reactionary presidency in American history, Sanders continues to call for an unprecedented political movement to stand up to the greed of wealthy corporations and the cynicism of politicians, with a message which resonates globally.

James Stephens bought UK and Commonwealth rights from Chris Scheina at St Martin’s Press. Stephens said: ‘At a time when many liberal and progressive voters the world over are frustrated about politics, Senator Bernie Sanders stands out as a beacon of light. This is a hugely important book, reiterating the core values of the movement he started two years ago and showing us how to turn them into actions that will transform the world. Biteback is delighted to be publishing it.’

Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance by Bernie Sanders will be published in hardback by Biteback Publishing on 27 November 2018.


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Brian Clough: great player – even greater manager

  • October 05, 2018 10:04
  • Jon Henderson

A terrible knee injury in 1962 ended Clough’s career as a free-scoring striker, but it released him at the age of 30 to become a legendary manager


Brian Clough is sometimes underestimated as a player because so much emphasis is placed on his many managerial successes. But as a goalscorer he was up there with the best, even bearing in mind that only one of his League goals was scored in the First Division.

He scored 197 League goals in 213 appearances for Middlesbrough and 54 in 61 for Sunderland. This is a better strike rate than the great Jimmy Greaves’s but maintained over a shorter period when Clough was in his prime.

Stan Anderson, who played alongside Clough at Sunderland – and also, incidentally, was worthy of more than the two England caps he was awarded – is in no doubt about Clough’s quality as a potent striker.

‘People either liked or disliked Brian Clough and I admit that when he first came along I thought what a pain in the arse he was,’ Anderson says. ‘And when he said things like, “If you get it and knock it in the box, I’ll stick it in the net for you,” you’d think, “Is he bloody kidding or what?”

‘But then you got to know the bloke and that’s what he did. A number of times playing alongside Brian I used to think, “What the hell’s he going there for?” ’

Anderson cites an occasion during a Sunderland match when he pushed a pass down down the line for Harry Hooper to run after. ‘Harry then hit this ball that struck the fullback, came out, hit somebody else and there was Brian standing three yards out and sidefooted it into the net. I was thinking, “How the hell did you manage to be in the right place for that one”.

‘It’s a knack, I suppose, being in the right place at the right time even though it looks as though it’s the wrong place. Somehow the ball seemed to fall to him and he knocked it in.’

Anderson was injured and sitting in the stand when on Boxing Day1962 Clough, who at the time ‘was scoring goals for fun’, received the injury that effectively ended his career. The match  was against Bury at Roker Park.

‘The match wouldn’t have been played if it was today,’ Anderson says. ‘There was ice all over the pitch.

‘Chris Harker, the Bury goalkeeper, came out and went down for the ball. No problem at all. But because Cloughie couldn’t stop he went over the top of Harker and tore all his knee ligaments. That was the end of his career and cost us promotion. We’d have walked promotion if Cloughie had played the rest of that season.’

Sunderland would miss out on goal average to Chelsea.

Surgeons operated on Clough’s knee soon afterwards to repair the torn medial and cruciate ligaments – and it is hard to argue with the likely accuracy of thoughts attributed to Clough by David Peace in his novel The Damned United:

But no one tells you anything, anything you don’t already know –

That this is bloody bad. This is very fucking bad –

The worst day of your life.

Clough did play again but only a handful of games before retiring as a player aged 29. ‘But football is a life of disappointments really,’ Anderson says.

Anderson also knew Clough well as a fellow manager. ‘He used to make me laugh,’ Anderson says, ‘but eventually things would get to the point where I’d say, “Now look Brian, don’t try to kid me because I know you”.’

When they were players together, the kidding was just that, inconsequential. It was when they were managers with opposing interests that Anderson was glad to be forewarned of the kind of antics in which Clough specialised.

When manager of the Fourth Division club Doncaster in the mid Seventies, Anderson had in his charge a young player called Terry Curran. He describes Curran as a good footballer but one who had difficulty doing what his manager wanted despite being told this was the only way he’d make the most of his talent.

‘Then one day,’ Anderson says, ‘this lad John Quigley, who was my coach, said, “Guess who I’ve seen coming into the ground? Peter Taylor [Brian Clough’s assistant at Nottingham Forest]. He was wearing a big scarf, a hat and dark glasses.’

‘How do you know it was Peter Taylor?’ Anderson said.

‘I know Peter Taylor,’ Quigley said.

Anderson already knew that Clough and Taylor were interested in buying Terry Curran and had been manoeuvring to get him as cheaply as possible. It was no surprise when, not long after the poorly disguised Taylor had been spotted by Quigley, Anderson took a call from Clough.

‘Hi Stan, how are you keeping?’

‘Fine, Brian. Kept them out of the bottom four and we’re pushing for promotion.’

‘They tell me you’ve got a lad called Curran there.’

‘Well you should know because Peter Taylor was here on Saturday.’

‘No he wasn’t.’

‘Brian,’ Anderson said, ‘he was here on Saturday because two or three people saw him. Don’t kid me, because that’s what you’re doing.’

Caught out by Anderson, Clough pressed on, unabashed.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’d heard of him before and I think that I’d like to sign him.’

‘OK,’ Anderson said, ‘but he’ll cost you quite a bit of money because he’s only young.’

‘Aye,’ he said, ‘come down and we’ll talk.’

Anderson had planned to go down to Nottingham on his own, but Ben Rayner, the Doncaster chairman, insisted on coming too. Anderson was not happy: ‘I knew Cloughie would tie Rayner around his little finger.’

After they arrived at Forest’s City Ground there was a brief exchanage of pleasantries before Clough came straight to the point: ‘How much do you want for him, Stan?’

‘Seventy-five grand.’

‘A bit high that.’

‘How about this, Brian: would you sell me Ian Miller and Dennis Peacock as part of the deal?’

‘Aye, 30 grand.’

‘Come on,’ Anderson said. ‘For a start neither of them is playing in your first team.’

‘Look,’ Clough said, ‘we’ll make it £55,000 for Curran plus you get Miller and Peacock.’

The two managers shook hands on it, before Rayner piped up: ‘Oh no, we want £60,000. I can’t go back to the board and say we’ve only got £55,000 for him.’

Anderson pointed out: ‘You’ve got two other players as a well, Mr Rayner. The deal is 75 grand and I’ve knocked him down to 20 grand for Miller and Peacock.’

He wouldn’t listen, Anderson says, and in the revised deal Clough confused Rayner by agreeing to pay more for Curran but wanting more in return for Miller and Peacock.

‘Going back in the car,’ Anderson says, ‘Rayner said to me, “By, good deal that. Good deal.” I said, “Do you realise you’ve just cost the club thousands.”

‘After I’d explained it to him he didn’t know what to say. Cloughie had pulled a fast one on him. He was brilliant.’

Quite how brilliant the football world was soon to find out as, in particular, fans of Derby County and Nottingham Forest remember with special fondness.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


Churchill’s Brain

  • October 02, 2018 15:32
  • David Cohen

The publication of my Churchill and Attlee has not stopped me reading about Churchill. The latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has just published two papers on the strokes Churchill suffered.

The paper by John Scadding and Allister Vale have had access to papers of Dr Russell Brain, one of the great neurologists of the day. Churchill complained of feeling peculiar in August 1949 when he was holidaying at Cap d’Ail on the Riviera. As I have argued Churchill could be very playful. He was a good swimmer and now at the age of 74 he turned somersaults in the sea to impress the actor Merle Oberon. In the evening, however, he felt peculiar. When he woke on August 24, he still felt odd. Churchill’s personal physician Charles Moran was summoned from London. He turned up with golf clubs so Churchill would not suspect any one suspected something was seriously wrong.

Moran was worried and when Churchill got back to London, he called Russell Brain – could any neurologist ask for a better name? - to ask him to examine the Leader of the Opposition as Churchill then was. When Brain did so, Churchill handed his half smoked cigar to his valet and then gave an account of what had happened at Cap d’Ail and of the fact that he felt he had lumps in his thigh and had a tight feeling in his right shoulder and on the right side of his back.

Brain found Churchill’s speech was normal. Churchill then made Brain sit on the bed while he pressed on Brain’s back. “It was like the hug of a bear,” Brain noted. He explained to Churchill that he had had a temporary impairment of the circulation through part of his brain. Churchill then insisted on showing Brain that there was nothing wrong with the way he walked. He did a kind of goose step and then insisted Brain and Moran had a sherry. Brain said that the fact the election was delayed for four months would give Churchill time to get all his old strength back. But in four months, Churchill replied, he would be four months older.

The details of Brain’s assessment have never been published before. They offer a telling insight into Churchill’s spirit as he prepared to fight Attlee, his rival but also by now an old comrade in arms, for Downing Street.

The Journal promises more new material on Churchill’s medical condition in its next issues. The French poet Paul Valery said a poem is never finished, only abandoned. You could say the same thing about a biography of Churchill.


‘Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man United – no one could have lived with us’

  • October 02, 2018 14:37
  • Jon Henderson

Tottenham Hotspur are back challenging for European footall’s top club prize – hoping to succeed where the great Spurs team of the early Sixties so narrowly failed.


Cliff Jones, an outside left of rare quality, has vivid memories of Tottenham’s stirring bid to win the European Cup in 1961-62, only the seventh time the competition had been held and still without a British winner.

It was not until early April 1962 that Spurs were edged out in a dramatic semi-final – but it was the preliminary round tie the previous September, when the team set out on an adventure unprecedented in the club’s history, that sticks in Jones’s mind.

His account of the victory over Polish side Gornik Zabrze is full of wide-eyed wonder at, what he sensed immediately, was the potential embodied in international club competition.

Jones had played with distinction for Wales at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, where visiting teams received limited support. But a home tie against foreign opposition in a club competition was of a completely different order. He describes the second leg against Gornik at White Hart Lane as the ‘one match that stood out for me during my time at Spurs’.

The away leg, Tottenham’s debut in Europe, was dramatic enough. Spurs came back from 4-0 down soon after the break to narrow the deficit to 4-2 with Jones’s goal the first by a Tottenham player in Europe.

‘We were in with a shout, but Bill Nicholson wasn’t impressed with us, he wasn’t pleased,’ Jones says. ‘The press, they weren’t pleased with us either, they gave us quite a bit of stick. It was because of this, I think, that for the second leg we were really buzzing, we just couldn’t wait to get out there.

‘As we came out onto the White Hart Lane pitch with the Gornik side the noise from the 62,000 crowd was just incredible. They were amazing, they lifted us.

‘We were looking at the Gornik players and straightaway they were on the back foot. In Gornik the atmosphere hadn’t been great. There was the ground, then there was the running track, and then there was something else – so the crowd was well away from the playing area. But at White Hart Lane the crowd was on top of them and you could see they were in trouble.

‘Right from the off we just got at ’em. Bobby Smith had a shot, the goalkeeper tipped it over the bar and from then on the noise was just one complete roar.

‘I was fortunate to get a hat-trick and I would say I have never experienced an atmosphere like it. The final score was 8-1, 10-5 on aggregate.

‘It was the start of the glory nights as they were called, and that night we played… I don’t think there’s any team who’s been or will ever be – and I’m including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man United – who could have lived with us. That night we would have beaten anybody, I don’t care who they were. We just slaughtered them. And Gornik, they were a top side. The majority of them were Polish internationals. But they just never stood a chance. We overran them.’

Tottenham also swept through the next two rounds, against Feyenoord and Dukla Prague, victories that put them into a semi-final against Benfica, the defending champions.

Two towering contests followed. Benfica won the first leg in Lisbon 3-1 in front of 86,000. Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Smith had goals ruled out for offside. Unconfirmable reports have it that Smith’s was disallowed despite two defenders being posted on the line.

Benfica went 4-1 up on aggregate in the second leg at White Hart Lane, where 64,448 spectators jammed the stands. Spurs then hit back with two goals, the second a Danny Blanchflower penalty, but in a desperate finish in which the post twice saved Benfica and Dave Mackay’s header landed on the crossbar the visitors held out.

Blanchflower observed later of the European Cup that it was hard to imagine ‘a more potent or popular soccer competition’ and described playing in it as ‘the greatest emotional experience of my career’.

The following month Benfica beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the final to retain the trophy.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.