Steve Harris – @steveharris84
Steve blogs about one of United’s greatest ever managers
As a young boy Frank O’Farrell’s biggest ambition was to follow in his father’s footsteps and drive a steam train between his native Cork and the Irish capital Dublin.
However, his life would take a very different route. He would become the manager of the most glamorous football clubs in the world, and a spell in charge of Torquay United played a large part in helping him achieve that goal.
Football wise, it all started for Frank with Cork United, who he was spotted playing for by West Ham United and he moved to England in 1948 to sign for the Hammers. At the Boleyn Ground, he became part of the famous West Ham Academy – as many of his team-mates – including Malcolm Allison, Noel Cantwell and Dave Sexton – would also go on to become managers and coaches themselves.
In December 1956, Frank was on the move again when he left West Ham to join Preston North End, where he would appear alongside one of the true greats of the game in Sir Tom Finney.
As well as appearing for the Hammers and the Lilywhites, Frank was also capped nine times by the Republic of Ireland.
His career in management began in 1961, after his playing days were brought to a premature end by injury, as he took charge of Southern League side Weymouth. Frank proved to be a big success with the Dorset side, as he steered them to back-to-back Southern League titles in 1963-64 and 1964-65.
Frank then embarked on League management for the first time with Torquay United in 1965 – when United chairman Tony Boyce chose him to succeed the long-serving Eric Webber.
On his arrival at Plainmoor, he signed several players that he believed that could help the Gulls achieve promotion from Division Four. Gerry King arrived from Cardiff City, Doug Clarke joined from Hull City and Alan Kirkman was signed from Scunthorpe United. Frank also returned to his old club Weymouth to sign midfielder Tommy Spratt, who finished the 1965-66 campaign as United’s top scorer with 18 goals.
The Gulls made a slow start to the season as they lost their first game of the season against Bradford City 4-1. However, they soon put that defeat behind them as they went on a run of four consecutive wins.
In the New Year, he pulled off a major coup when he persuaded his former West Ham teammate John Bond to sign for United. Bond had been part of the Hammers that had won the FA Cup in 1964. He proved to be a good acquisition for Torquay, as they clinched promotion for the second time in their history during the 1965-66 season since they were elected to the Football League in 1927.
Frank used his West Ham connections to bring a few other players to Plainmoor including defender Bill Kitchener and winger Tony Scott. He then pulled off another transfer coup when he persuaded Ken Brown to join the club in 1967. Like John Bond before him, Brown had been part of the Hammers side that lifted the FA Cup in 1964. In addition to this, he had later been part of the West Ham side that beat 1860 Munich to win the European Cup Winners Cup in 1965.
On the pitch, Frank had turned the Gulls into a force to be reckoned with as they finished seventh in their first season in the Third Division. In the following season, United recorded their highest ever League finish as they came 4th, narrowly missing out promotion to Division Two.
It was a shame that the Play-Offs didn’t exist in those days as United would have had given another shot at reaching the second tier for the first time in their history.
His achievements were being viewed with interest from afar, as he left Plainmoor in December 1968 to take charge of Leicester City. Frank’s spell in charge of the Foxes also proved to be successful as he guided them to promotion from Division Two and the 1969 FA Cup Final, which they lost to Manchester City.
In 1971, he took on the biggest job in the land when he was appointed as manager of Manchester United as the successor to Sir Matt Busby. His spell in charge at Old Trafford did not turn out to be successful, as Frank found it difficult to follow in the footsteps of Busby. Despite getting off to a strong start, the Red Devils finished eighth in the ‘old’ First Division in the 1971-72 season. He found himself in charge of an ageing side, and he also had to deal with an increasingly erratic George Best. He was dismissed in December 1972, following a 5-0 defeat to a Crystal Palace side managed by his former West Ham teammate Malcolm Allison.
However, it also worth noting that the £125,000 which Frank spent on bringing Scottish defender Martin Buchan to Old Trafford from Aberdeen proved to be one of the most astute buys that Manchester United have ever made. Buchan would go on to become one of the club’s greatest ever defenders in an 11-year spell at the club – which included several years as captain.
Spells in charge of Cardiff City and the Iranian national side, who he won gold at the 1974 Asian Games, followed before Frank returned to Plainmoor following the departure of Malcolm Musgrove in 1976. He stayed until March 1977 before handing over the managerial reins to player-manager Mike Green. However, he did remain at Plainmoor in a consultancy role and played a major role in the signing of striker Steve Cooper, who proved to be a big hit with the Plainmoor faithful, amongst others.
He also had a brief managing Al-Shaab in the UAE before he made a return to the Plainmoor hot seat in 1981 for the third time following the departure of Green. He brought in former Scotland captain Bruce Rioch as his assistant. Later in the season, he managed to persuade former West Brom and England striker Tony Brown to sign for the club. One of the highlights of Brown’s spell at Plainmoor was a testimonial against Frank’s former club Manchester United, which the Gulls won 4-2.
At the end of the 1981-82 campaign, Frank moved upstairs to become General Manager as his protégé Rioch took over as manager. He left the post in 1983 and retired from football.
Frank is considered by many to be one of the greatest Torquay United managers of all time – if not the greatest – and rightfully so.
COYY – Steve