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Roy McFarland (Ex) King of the Blues!

Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007

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Roy McFarland – (Ex) King of the Blues.

`The finest and most skillfull centre-half of his generation'

Roy McFarland, a consummate professional and one of the most respected figures in English football this year celebrates his 40th year in the game and I’d like to pay a tribute to the long and distinguished career of the Chesterfield F.C. manager, who as a player was regarded as the finest and most skillful England centre-half of his generation.

As a manager McFarland is described as `very experienced and a gentleman of the game’, and as a player Brian Clough called him `a Rolls-Royce of a defender’, whilst former England manager and colleague Kevin Keegan says, `McFarland was world-class’.

`Roy of the Rams'

`Roy of the Rams’ or `Supermac’ as he was known, endeared himself to Derbyshire football fans forever by skippering Derby County to the Football League Championship in 1972, and his football culture and exemplary playing-record speaks for itself - as do his 28 England caps.

In his days as an England international, Roy McFarland graced soccer grounds around the world from Malta to Moscow, but perhaps his most successful playing days were here in Derbyshire where he made almost 300 home appearances at the Baseball Ground in a Derby County career which spanned over five hundred league and cup games.

Born in Liverpool in 1948, Roy McFarland’s career began as an 18 year-old centre-half with Tranmere Rovers who had signed him from local club, Edge Hill Boys in 1966.

Peter Taylor spotted the young McFarland playing for Tranmere when he and Brian Clough were in their first managerial job at Hartlepool United in 1967, and reported back to Clough that he had found `an uncut diamond’.

Clough famously snatched him from under Liverpool’s noses and took him to Derby County for a fee of £24,000 – in circumstances that are legend:

Clough & Taylor turned up very late one night at the terraced house in Liverpool where Roy lived with his parents and got him out of bed, sat him between the two of them, and `bent his ear until 2am’. Roy had dreams of playing for Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy, and asked for time to think it over. Clough replied, “Take as much time as you want lad – but we’re not leaving this house until you’ve made a decision”.

Roy’s father came to Derby’s rescue: “If they want you that badly, son, I think you should sign”. He did, and from the moment he arrived at the Baseball Ground, McFarland made a huge impact, helping Derby reach the League Cup semi-finals in his first season and quickly becoming a favourite with the fans. With Dave Mackay alongside him, Roy’s confidence and class blossomed at the heart of Derby’s defence and he was a key figure in the team which stormed to the Second Division Title in 1969, and his solid displays soon earned him an England debut against Malta in February 1971.

The following season (1972) he led Derby County to the League Championship title and to the Semi-Finals of the European Cup in 1973.

McFarland was 24 years old and at the peak of his profession when he suffered a severe achilles tendon injury playing for England against Northern Ireland at Wembley in May 1974. The injury was career-threatening and Roy was out of action for almost a year, but he bravely battled back to play the final four games of the 1975-76 season and lead Derby County to another League Chapionship.

He regained his England place briefly and his 28 appearances set an international record for a Derby County player – passing Alan Durban’s 27 caps for Wales.

Sadly, he became increasingly susceptible to injury in a declining Derby side, and in May 1981 Roy left the club to become player/manager at Bradford City, and promptly led them to promotion from Division Four.

The following season he returned to Derby as assistant manager under Clough’s former partner, Peter Taylor and played a few games in the 1983-84 season. When Taylor left, McFarland had a short spell as Caretaker Manager, during which the Rams kept a 100% home record, but they were relegated and McFarland left following a regime change at the club.

Roy returned to the Rams as Manager in October 1993 for two seasons, before forming a managerial partnership at Bolton Wanderers with former England & Derby County team-mate, Colin Todd.

The partnership ended when Bolton were relegated in 1996, and Roy moved on to become manager of relative league newcomers, Cambridge United in November that same year.

He led Cambridge to promotion from the third division in 1998/99, then after over 230 games in charge at the Abbey Stadium, became manager of Torquay United in 2001, leaving after just one season and taking time-out to consider his future.

McFarland’s timely return to football - and to Chesterfield in May 2003 signalled an upturn in the form and fortune of the Spireites, who currently occupy their highest position in the football league since those heady pre-war days when they topped the old Second Division - seventy years ago!

In 1997 at Saltergate, Chesterfield were just minutes away from a place in football history by becoming the first-ever club from outside the top two divisions to get to the FA Cup Final, when a terrible refereeing decision cruelly denied them a deserved victory against Middlesborough, and forced a replay at Old Trafford.

Memories of that famous FA Cup glory- run which ended in semi-final defeat, were rekindled by McFarland’s men in this season’s Carling Cup Competition.

The season Saltergate was buzzing with excitement as the Spireites celebrated the manager’s 40th anniversary in style by knocking the mighty Wolves and the Premier League’s Manchester City and former cup-winners West Ham United out of the cup at Saltergate – before falling to Premier League Charlton Athlectic on penalties after a magnificent 3-3 draw.

On behalf of Peak District Online I went along to meet the man responsible, and I found that Roy McFarland had lost none of his passion for the game - or for his `adopted’ county of Derbyshire!

Roy married local lass Linda at St. Alkmund’s Church, Derby in 1973, and they have lived in the village of Quorndon ever since.

“I’m proud of my Merseyside roots, but I’ve been here 30-odd years now, and I’m not moving, said Roy, I love the county and I’m here to stay”.

He continued: “As a boy growing up in Liverpool, I had only been to Blackpool and the North Wales resorts, and wasn’t aware that such beautiful places like Dovedale or Monsal Dale existed until I came to Derbyshire. Now this is my home, and I consider myself to be a Derbyshire person”.

The highlights of his career, and his fondest memories?

“Winning the Championship with Derby County in 1972, and being shortlisted for the 1970 World Cup Squad were perhaps the highlights, but 1969-70 was a magical year, and holds my fondest memories”.

Of the late Brian Clough, for many years his mentor, manager, and near neighbour in Quorndon, McFarland simply says, “There was no one like him; for me he was an education in life - as well as football”.

Was then, the `Clough experience’ his most valuable asset in football management?

“No, football’s a seven-day-wonder, a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and I would say that my most valuable asset is my wife Linda, and the support she’s given me throughout my career”.

Roy McFarland’s greatest triumph he says is, “Staying in the game forty years, though there have been highs and lows in equal measure, apart from injuries, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, every experience, and I still look forward every day to fresh challenges. I still get a buzz from the game, and the biggest buzz of all as manager is when the players you work with day-in, day-out play well, both individually and collectively. I try to set challenges, and realistic goals, and my present challenge is for us to reach the top six in the Division”.

And what of the future?

“My future in football is invested here at Chesterfield. This will be my last club” he told me, as we sat in the delapidated Function Room which also doubles as the manager’s office. “But for our football club to progress, the move to the proposed new ground needs to happen. It was an attractive part of the package which brought me here, and is essential for the fans and the future of Chesterfield Football Club and I want to see it happen”.

*Editor’s note

It remains to be seen if Chesterfield WAS Roy’s last club, as he predicted! At the end of the 2006/07 season Chesterfield were relegated to Division Two and as the drop loomed towards the end of the season, Roy McFarland was the first casualty. Lee Richardson took over the hot seat but failed to save the Spireites from relegation. TB.

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