Stepping out from the shadows
It's 41 years since Frank O'Farrell signed on as manager for a club called Manchester United. Personally approached by Matt Busby for the job, he was told he had five years to transform what, was at the time, an ageing team. 18 months later he was sacked and memories of that period in his life are somewhat mixed, he told Louise Cashell
"I was with Leicester City at the time and my contract had finished and I got a phone call from Manchester United asking to meet with me. They came around to my house, offered me the job and that was that. I couldn't find ground to turn it down. That's why you start at the bottom like I did - so you can work your way to the top."
Frank O'Farrell was born in Cork in 1927. After moving to Turner's Cross from Blackpool at the age of six, he started off playing Gaelic Football at school and then he started to play school boy soccer on top of that.
"There was a ban on playing both sports at the same time so we had to play soccer on the QT as they say, or we would have gotten the cane!" he says with a smile.
At the age of 16 he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the railway as an engine driver. Full-time soccer was never part of the plan.
"I was only ever going to be an engine driver, it never crossed my mind to play soccer full-time. I was playing local soccer and in 1947 Cork United asked me to sign on as a part-timer for them so I was working the railways and I was getting £3 a week for Cork United and we would get £1 if we won and 10 shillings if we drew so all that on top of my railway money - I was rich! Life was great and then West Ham came and messed it all up! They asked me if I would come and play with them in London. Initially I thought no, it was the railways for me and then they offered me £1000 to go. It's a lot more than £3 so I thought I had better go!"
Frank spent eight years with West Ham United and then five with Preston North End before he became a player manager with Weymouth, a non-league club.
"I started at the bottom with Weymouth, I was getting £20 a week with Preston and Weymouth offered me £25 as a player/manager so I saw it as a great promotion and it all started from there. I progressed up through Torquay United and Leicester City and the call (for Man United) came out of the blue, I wasn't expecting it at all."
Those who remember Frank's short tenure as manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world often say he was shafted. "I only took the job on the basis of what Matt Busby said to me. He came and personally offered me the job and he said he'd let things go but I got sacked after 18 months. They didn't behave very well after that. They can make a decision to sack me if they like but I was 18 months in to a five year contract and I assumed that I'd get that time that I was told about but I didn't. Then there was legal issues that went on for about a year after and I couldn't work for that year which was quite difficult but I had some quite good friends in football and they used to invite me to come and watch their teams. It was just the behaviour of one of the big clubs who you would expect to behave a lot better. I didn't take it too well."
But this was a team that was top of the league when Frank took over and featured the likes of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. Surely it beat the hard labour of his railway days?
"I have good and bad memories of it. I got on all right with the players, same as any club - you're their friend when you pick them, you're not when you don't.
"With George, my only difficulties there were when he left. When he was in the club he was no trouble. He trained hard, he was likeable, he had a very nice and lovely personality but then when he left training he didn't always come back the next day and that was the problem. He might not come back for a week and I didn't know where he was. There was a disruptive element to the whole thing and the team wasn't good enough without him and the players knew that when he came back, he would be playing.
"I only picked him because he was the best player. I had to justify it when I dropped him because there was a lot of pressure from the press who wanted to know the reasons for it. If I did drop him and we lost it was a case where I made the wrong decision because if I had started him, we probably would have won. But I had to let him know that his behaviour wasn't as it should be. Bobby was a moaner, he was coming to the end of his career so I had to drop him a few times, he didn't like that!"
Frank himself won nine caps for Ireland, although he only has seven to show for it.
"I only have seven caps, on one cap there's two matches because the FAI were strapped for cash so I think that was their way of saving a few pounds! There's always times where you think 'I wish I got a few more games' but I don't get too worked up about it. It was somebody else's choice and they have a different view.
"I still follow the Irish team and I wouldn't be too critical on them following the last few weeks' events. Spain are favourites to win the competition and the Irish were found wanting but that's the difference between the standards of the teams and you have to accept that. You have to be realistic in your expectations of what your team can achieve."
Old habits die hard and not forgetting his roots, Frank, who eventually settled in Torquay, still casts an eye over the GAA results.
"I always follow Cork's fortunes. Anything that Cork is involved in, I keep an eye on, whatever the sport is. I'm still very much a Cork man!"