Frank O'Farrell - a great man who was, and always remained, ours

Torbay Weekly

When Manchester United appointed Frank O'Farrell as their manager in the summer of 1971 - only three-and-a-half years after he had left Torquay United at the top of 'League One' - the Gulls' charismatic right-back John Bond said: "I hope they know what they're getting."

Although everyone at Plainmoor knew exactly what awaited the Red Devils, the movers and shakers at Old Trafford clearly didn't.

Desperately clinging on to past glories, United needed someone like O'Farrell - the disciplined, God-fearing relentlessly honest 'train driver' he'd always wanted to be as a boy. They actually hoped for a banner-waving psychiatrist. Still do.

The pride that everyone in Torquay felt at O'Farrell's promotion, after he'd led Leicester City back into the old First Division, was a reflection of the extraordinary job he'd done at Plainmoor.

He'd turned a team of loveable entertainers - they'd just given Spurs a hell of a scare in that 3-3 FA Cup epic but finished halfway down the Fourth Division - into serial winners.

Brave enough to drop Bobby Charlton, he had Manchester United at the top of the table before telling the horrified directors, and his predecessor Matt Busby, the names of the once-great players - chaotic genius George Best not among them - who needed replacing.

He was greeted by averted gazes and later described the next year as 'death by a thousand cuts'.

Eighteen months after they sacked him, United proved him right by getting themselves relegated.

He'd had to sign on the dole, because the club wouldn't pay his compensation. He had to sue them for the money.

He later said: "Football and Manchester United always played an important part in my life, but it wasn't the whole story.

"After shovelling coal on the footplate as a teenager, football was easy after that.

"I never planned any of it, and I'll always be grateful for the things I experienced."

A great manager, but also a great man. And he was, and always remained, ours.