Tributes to 'very special' Frank O'Farrell, who has died aged 94

Torbay Weekly

'A very special person' and 'the man who made us into winners' are two of the tributes which have been paid to former Torquay United and Manchester United manager Frank O'Farrell, who has died at the age of 94.

Bruce Rioch, whom O'Farrell brought to Plainmoor (1980) only 18 months after he had captained Scotland in the World Cup finals, said: "Frank was an incredible man in every way, who has come to the end of an amazing innings.

"The things he told me and the advice he gave me stayed with me throughout my career, and I've tried to do for other managers down the years what Frank did for me.

"Whether it was at Middlesbrough in liquidation, Bolton, Arsenal or wherever, he would always ring me, often when I was least expecting it, with a word of encouragement or understanding.

"His knowledge of the game was extraordinary, and he was a very special person."

United 'legend' Robin Stubbs was one of the players whom O'Farrell inherited when he took over from the long-serving Eric Webber in the summer of 1965.

Stubbs had been the free-scoring idol of Plainmoor in Webber's always entertaining but often under-achieving teams.

Stubbs didn't score as many goals under O'Farrell, but United won promotion in his first season (1965-66) and he had the club pushing for the old Second Division (Championship) for the next three years before his departure to Leicester City in December 1968.

"Frank and I had our moments, and a lot of people thought that we fell out all the time, but that wasn't true," said Stubbs, who still lives in Torquay at the age of 80, is a vice president of United and goes to most home games.

"I had a lot of respect for him, he wanted to improve my game and he got the whole team going," said Stubbs.

"Under Frank, we were a team that nobody took lightly.  He made us into a team of winners.

"We had a very good team, he made a lot of good signings and he always wanted the best for the club.

"I enjoyed the seasons we had under him, and so did everybody else.

"It was an exciting time to be in Torquay and a great time for the club."

Born in Cork in 1927, the son of a train driver, O'Farrell started work at 16 as an apprentice fireman on the Dublin-Cork line.

Equally good at Gaelic Football and soccer, he was spotted playing for Cork United, where his part-time wages of £3 a week doubled his earnings on the railway.

West Ham had a strong scouting network in Eire and they signed him for £3,000 in January 1948.

It was two years before he broke into the first team at Upton Park, but he ended up playing 213 Second Division (Championship) games at wing-half.

Frank met his wife Ann at a Catholic church hall meeting in the East End.

In November 1956 he moved to Preston where, with the great Tom Finney and Tommy Docherty among his teammates, North End finished third and second in the old First Division in his first two seasons.

Almost 130 games and nine Eire caps later, O'Farrell retired from top-flight football after a cartilage operation and became player-manager of Weymouth.

The £25 a week he was paid was £5 more than he'd been on at Preston.

O'Farrell guided Weymouth to the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1962 - they lost to Preston! - and, after finishing runners-up in 1964, the Terras won the Southern League for the first time in 1965.

Torquay chairman Tony Boyce was keen to usher in a new era at Plainmoor and he headhunted O'Farrell for the job.

It was a controversial decision.

Webber had been a popular manager for 15 years, leading United to their first-ever promotion (1960) and, only six months before, his Torquay team had held Spurs 3-3 -Stubbs scored twice - in an epic FA Cup-tie in front of 20,000 at Plainmoor.

O'Farrell's more disciplined and pragmatic approach did not go down well for a while, in the dressing-room or on the terraces. But he was not a man for turning.

His methods paid off, and Boyce backed him to the hilt in transfers which saw a series of high-quality players arrive, several of them from his old club West Ham.

Over three-and-a-half memorable years - Torquay was riding high as a popular resort in the 'Swinging Sixties' - United won promotion in 1966 and then finished seventh and fourth in the old Third Division (League One).

They were going well again when, after several other clubs had tried and failed, Leicester City finally tempted him away in December 1968.

He left behind a club which had been transformed, with average gates doubled to 10,000.

In three years at Leicester, O'Farrell took City to the FA Cup Final (1969) and the Second Division Championship (1971) before Manchester United, looking for a man to succeed the veteran Matt Busby, came calling.

O'Farrell is still the only Irishman ever to manage the Old Trafford club, but his attempts to rebuild an ageing side were hampered at every turn.

After a bright start, he was sacked 18 months later, after a 5-0 defeat at Crystal Palace in December 1972.

O'Farrell went on to manage Cardiff City, the Iranian national team and in the United Arab Emirates before returning to Torquay in a variety of management roles from 1977-83.

He became a scout for, among other clubs, Everton, ran a nursing home in Torquay for a while and, a devout Roman Catholic all his life, then threw himself into a wide range of church and charity work with all the commitment he always showed during his football career.

Along with his wife, who died three years ago, O'Farrell had been cared for at the Warberries Nursing Home until he passed away, with his family at his bedside, on Sunday morning.