Former United manager O'Farrell passes away
Everybody at Manchester United is deeply saddened to learn that our former manager, Frank O’Farrell, has died. He was 94.
While Frank’s 18-month reign at the United helm was an undulating affair, there is no shred of doubt that he was a talented manager and a man of unimpeachable integrity. The abiding frustration is what might have been. At the time of his exit shortly before Christmas 1972, the dignified, softly spoken Irishman’s Old Trafford sojourn could be described as a tale of two vividly contrasting autumns.
In the first autumn, following his appointment in June 1971 to replace Sir Matt Busby, who had returned to the hot-seat as caretaker, O’Farrell led a deliciously entertaining side to a five-point lead in the title race, even if it was, ultimately, Derby County who topped the table at the season’s end.
Alas, in the second autumn, his misfiring, injury-hit Reds endured a poor sequence of results and a heavy defeat at Crystal Palace spelled the end for O’Farrell’s tenure.
As a player, Frank, a train driver’s son born in Cork in 1927, had been a polished wing-half with West Ham United and Preston North End, good enough to collect nine Republic of Ireland caps during the 1950s.
Always obsessed by coaching – he had been part of the renowned West Ham ‘Academy’ which included the likes of Malcolm Allison, John Bond, Ken Brown and another future United boss, Dave Sexton – he climbed the managerial ladder via Weymouth of the Southern League, Torquay United and Leicester City.
O’Farrell guided the Foxes to the 1969 FA Cup final, which they lost to Manchester City, and the Second Division championship in 1971.
United were sufficiently impressed by his cocktail of footballing expertise, strength of character, single-minded dedication and transparent honesty to hand him the demanding task of bringing back the glory days to Old Trafford after three seasons of under-achievement.
It was a colossal assignment beset by problems. With several of the 1968 European Cup winners ageing or suffering from nagging injuries, a major team rebuild was urgently needed. Against all odds, O’Farrell’s United got off to a sparkling start, losing only two of their opening 20 games and surging to the First Division summit.
Despite his growing personal difficulties, George Best thrived under Frank’s management on the field, scoring 14 times in that sequence, including two fabulous hat-tricks and a goal of unforgettable individual brilliance at home to Sheffield United.
Fatigue left United 10 points off title winners Derby by the end of the campaign, and a spate of injuries merely parlayed that jaded form into the 1972/73 season. By Christmas, spooked by the prospect of relegation, the board replaced O’Farrell with Tommy Docherty in a bid to remain in the top flight. That Docherty was only able to delay demotion by a season underlined how big a rebuild had faced any manager in the Old Trafford hot-seat in the immediate post-Busby years.
O’Farrell had been unfortunate. His first two sallies into the transfer market were inspired, but while defender Martin Buchan embarked on a lengthy, magnificent United career, the prolific attacker Ian Storey-Moore soon saw his playing days ended by injury.
After his departure, Frank went on to manage Cardiff City and the Iran national side before putting in two more stints with Torquay ahead of retirement. He lamented the fact that he had not been give more time to implement a long-term project at Old Trafford and, while we will never know how that might have turned out, we do know that we will always be grateful for his willingness to take the tiller at such a tricky point in the club’s history.
Staff at United send their condolences to Frank's family and friends at this difficult time.