FAIRYTALES really can become reality – just ask Frank O’Farrell whose journey to the top of the tree in the beautiful game rivals even that of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Both men will forever be linked with the great name of Manchester United but unlike the silverware-laden story of the current conductor of the Theatre of Dreams, O’Farrell’s trip has taken a very different route.

Managing the likes of Best, Charl-ton and Law under the shadow of Sir Matt Busby is only a small part of the soft spoken Irishman’s tale, which started with a fantasy of working on the railways back in 1943.

The 84-year-old, whose autobiography ‘All Change at Old Trafford, The Frank O’Farrell Story’ hit the bookstands recently, told Echosport: “Football and Manchester United will always be an important part of my life but it is not the whole story.

“What happened was a fairytale really. At 16 I wanted to be an engine driver. Steam engines were a big thing for youngsters growing up back then and driving one was many teenagers’ main ambition.

“I was going to do it as I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father but I ended up going down another route altogether.

“I never planned any of it and I will always be grateful for the things I experienced, particularly as I nearly died three times along the way.

“To think I came through all that and I am now 84 is incredible and that is why I will always look back on all the times I have had with great fondness.”

From Cork United to Preston North End as a player, and then Weymouth to Manchester United as a manager, O’Farrell not only scaled the ladder once but twice.

During his time at the Terras he led the club to the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1961-62, a feat that has never been repeated, before delivering a first-ever Southern League title in 1964-65.

Further success followed at the helm of Torquay United and Leicester City before his big move to Old Trafford, but the former wing-half never lost sight of the importance of the grassroots game along the way – even now.

He added: “Weymouth was my first job and experience of being a player-manager. I actually took the job at the same time that the maximum wage was abolished.

“The season before I had been playing Division One football for Preston getting £20 a week and then suddenly there I was at Weymouth on £25 a week, which included a club car and a rented house.

“The fact I was better off in non-League football than League football was a crazy situation but that was just the way it was at that time.

“It was also a good period to recruit players. Due to the maximum wage being abolished, clubs had to pay players more to retain their services and balance it by releasing others to cut staff.

“Due to that we had a very good first season where we reached the fourth round of the FA Cup.

“We got to the third round hoping to get a big club away and a big gate but we ended up drawing More-cambe away.

“It was incredible really. Only three non-League clubs were in the draw and we managed to get one of the other two.

“The other, King’s Lynn, got Everton so they were fine.

“In the end though it worked out well because we beat Morecambe and drew Preston in the next round where we ended up getting two gates after the first game was abandoned due to fog.

“We had a very good team at the time and in my last season we went on and won the Southern League title before I then moved on to Torquay, which gave me the chance to start at the bottom of the Football League.

“I left with a clear conscience as I had done what was expected of me and all I was looking to do was to improve my position.”

Two out of his three near-fatal experiences occurred during his time in Weymouth due to a car crash and profuse bleeding from the nose, the other occasion saw him nearly drown at the tender age of 10.

And it was another case of sink or swim at Torquay where he led the Gulls to promotion to Division Three before taking the hot-seat at Leicester City a couple of years later where he reached the FA Cup final in 1969, only to see his men beaten 1-0 by a Manchester City side containing Summerbee, Bell and Lee.

O’Farrell eventually led the Foxes to the Division Two title in 1971 and subsequently took the reins at United but with his arrival at Old Trafford coming two years after Busby’s retirement and just three years after their infamous European Cup triumph, expectations along with Best’s excesses proved hard to manage.

Despite seeing his side race 10 points clear at the top of Division One at the start of his first season in charge, O’Farrell then saw things turn sour, culminating in his sacking just 18 months later.

Further spells at the helms of Cardiff City, the Iranian national team and Torquay followed before the Cork-born boss eventually retired in Devon in 1983 where he still lives to this day in Babbacombe.

Since then O’Farrell has watched football evolve into a huge cash cow from the terraces along with the majority of us and although he does not begrudge those profiting from today’s global game, he does feel the beauty of it is in danger of being lost.

He said: “I still stay in tune with what is happening at Weymouth and unfortunately like a lot of other lower league sides they have had a difficult time of late.

“I am also fortunate to have been given a seat in the directors’ box at Torquay and still enjoy going there to see the games.

“For those playing today, it is a wonderful thing because of the money and the rewards but having said that is it sustainable?

“A lot of clubs are being put into difficulties with too much wages going to players.

“When I played we did not get enough but now we are at a stage where wages are over generous.

“As a result, smaller clubs are over stretching themselves in order to try and compete and getting into a worse position because of it, and to me the whole system of finance in football really needs to be looked at.”

O’Farrell went on to add: “Clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool get most of the column inches nowadays but for me the best thing about football is hearing from the fans on the terraces at Torquay.

“Some of them have been going since the 1950s and have experienced both the good times and the bad.

“Their stories and passion for the club are so moving and there are millions of other supporters at different clubs around the country who are just the same.

“They are true fans of the game and it is vital that they are safeguarded by the sport’s governing bodies in the future.”

n O’Farrell’s book is available for £12.99 (softback) in major book shops, and can also be purchased at a special offer price of £10.99 from BACKPASS, the retro football magazine.

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