O'Farrell recalls United links

The oldest living former West Ham United player, Frank O'Farrell, has strong links with both clubs involved in Saturday's Boleyn Ground fixture.

Having played 197 league games for the Hammers in a spell which lasted eight years between 1948-56, the Cork-born wing half later went on to manage Manchester United.

The Irishman, now 86, travelled back to E13 to watch the Hammers take on Stoke City earlier this season and he remembers his time with the Hammers with great fondness.

"West Ham United is very important to me, still," O'Farrell said. "I came over from Ireland in 1948, to a strange city where people spoke with a different accent and I had to get used to all of that.

"It took me about 18 months to get in the first team, but I had a good spell when I did. Not only that, but in 1954 I married my local girl Anne from East Ham, in St Anthony's church in Forest Gate.

"We will have been married 60 years this year, so I found success and love at West Ham. I've been a very lucky man.

O'Farrell remembers his time at the Club being a progressive one, with manager Ted Fenton and player Malcolm Allison particularly influential.

He continued: "In terms of the football there were fewer tactics then. It was only when Ted Fenton came to the club and then Malcolm Allison, that the driving force behind it came.

"He had done his National Service in Germany and he saw they way they did things. When he came to West Ham he tried to put them into action and he was influential in the other players developing new ways and new tactics."

After playing for Preston North End, O'Farrell went on to forge a long career in management, which included spells at Torquay United, Leicester City, Cardiff City and the Iranian national team.

He took the reins at Manchester United between 1971-72 and faced many of the problems which current Red Devils boss David Moyes is now encountering, as he followed another legendary manager in the shape of Sir Matt Busby.

O'Farrell added: "Manchester United was the biggest club. I started at the bottom with Weymouth and Torquay and wasn't anticipating becoming manager of Manchester United.

"Sir Matt Busby resigned and rang me up and asked if he could come to my house. Anyway he came round to my house and offered me the job.

"George Best was like every other player except that he was much more in the public domain. George Best was big news. There were times when I didn't know where he was. He would be away for a couple of days, and I'd ring his digs and ring his house, but no-one knew where he was.

"Eventually he would come back, and the other players got annoyed when I picked him because they would think 'Why has he picked when we have trained and he has been away?'

"Well, quite simply I had to pick my best players and the rest of the team weren't good enough without George. A half-fi t George Best was better than a lot of the team and I
owed it to the fans and to the team to pick the best players.

"Every time I had reservations about picking George, I would do it anyway because I knew he could win you a game."