The Leeside Legends series: From Cork schoolboys soccer to Man United boss

The Leeside Legends series: From Cork schoolboys soccer to Man United boss
Frank O'Farrell was appointed as Man United manager after an impressive run with Torquay and Leicester.

THE name of Frank O’Farrell is well known in soccer circles as the Corkman that once managed the famous Manchester United.

O’Farrell was born on Leeside in 1927 and his rise in the soccer world from playing soccer on a patch of ground in Douglas to managing the Iranian national team is a story that dreams are made of.

In his young days, Frank played football with Clapton Celtic, Western Rovers, St Joseph’s (Waterford), CIE 90 (inter-house) and Cork United.

The Western Rovers minor soccer team at Turner's Cross in 1945. Included is Frank O'Farrell (back row, third from left). 
The Western Rovers minor soccer team at Turner's Cross in 1945. Included is Frank O'Farrell (back row, third from left). 

O’Farrell’s stay at Cork United was a very short one as he was signed by West Ham United as he was soon appointed captain of the Hammers.

Frank made over 200 appearances with West Ham before being transferred to Preston North End.

His outstanding leadership qualities were also spotted at Deepdale where he was again handed the captain’s armband.

He then joined Weymouth and led the Southern League side to a history-making FA Cup fourth round appearance and later to their first championship.

Clubs all over England were monitoring Frank and in his first season at Torquay he took them from the fourth to the third division at his first attempt.

In 1969 he replaced Matt Gillies as manager of Leicester and took the Filbert side to an FA Cup final where they lost to Manchester City 1-0.

Frank brought Leicester back to the first division in 1971, a feat that landed him the biggest job in British football when he took over as manager of Manchester United.

In the race to be the manager of United Frank saw off people like Jock Stein, Brian Clough, and Dave Sexton.

O’Farrell had the enviable task of replacing Sir Matt Busby and while having the likes of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, and, occasionally, George Best at his disposal, the task of replacing Busby proved daunting.

In truth, Frank gave his best shot but he was never far away from Busby’s long lingering shadow as he found it hard to work with the senior players who had grown up under their former boss.

The Reds 11th defeat of the season was the catalyst for Frank’s departure in December 1972 and one year later took over the reins at Cardiff City before moving to manage Iran on the international stage.

Frank O’Farrell, right, is unveiled as Manchester United manager in July 1971 in the company of general manager Sir Matt Busby and chairman Louis Edwards.
Frank O’Farrell, right, is unveiled as Manchester United manager in July 1971 in the company of general manager Sir Matt Busby and chairman Louis Edwards.

O’Farrell guided his team to the Asian Games championship final when they defeated Israel 1-0 before 120,000 spectators in Tehran.

Iran qualified for the Olympic Games in 1976 and two years later the fruits of Frank’s labour was seen when they qualified for the World Cup in Argentina.

On his return from Iran he rejoined Torquay as a football consultant and general manager before retiring five years later.

The fact that Frank became involved in professional football was quite remarkable given that, from the outset, he always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a train driver.

Frank began working on the railway at the age of 16, but his dream of being a train driver was soon derailed as he instead set out into the football world.

Indeed, Frank played Gaelic football at Christ the King and his first schoolboys soccer team were Nicholas Rovers.

It was ironic that in 1947 Cork United had signed him to replace Tommy Moroney who had joined West Ham, but he received a good education where he played alongside stars like Owen Madden, Seanie McCarthy, Florrie Burke, and Davy Noonan.

West Ham soon saw Frank’s potential and while it took him some time to settle down he was later groomed for the captaincy at Upton Park.

From 1952 to 1959 he made nine appearances for Ireland and was very popular among the Irish faithful.

He gained his first cap in 1952 where he played in the Irish team that were thrashed 6-0 by Austria in Vienna.

Frank was there again for the return and scored one of the goals in a tremendous 4-0 victory truly exorcising the ghosts of Vienna.

O’Farrell played his final game for Ireland in 1959 against Czechoslovakia while he was still a Preston North End player.

Frank was voted the Texaco Sports Star of the year in 1971 as well as becoming the first soccer personality to receive the Supreme Sportstar Award in the same year.

Frank O’Farrell’s dream of becoming a train driver just like his father was thwarted, but soccer certainly gained a true gentleman whose service to football is a credit to him.

FACTFILE:

  • Frank O’Farrell won a total of nine Irish caps between 1952 and 1959.
  • Frank played with Nicholas Rovers in schoolboys soccer before playing minor soccer with Clapton Celtic and Western Rovers.
  • He was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1971/72 season before being sacked in December ’72 following a 5-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.
  • Frank O’Farrell was the manager of the Iranian team that won the Asian Games when they defeated Israel in front of 120,000 fans.
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