Roy looks back
When former United manager Roy McFarland joined his old captain Paul Wanless for a sportsman’s dinner in aid of the club’s Youth and Community Trust in December 2011, he shared a few moments with Matt Ramsay.
Roy McFarland represented England on 28 occasions and spent 14 years as a Derby County player, winning two First Division titles along the way. As a manager he oversaw promotions for Bradford City in his first job and Burton Albion in his last, but he is most fondly remembered in these parts as being the boss who guided the U’s to promotion from Division Three in 1998/99. It was management that he spoke about first.
‘Getting promotion was fantastic. I can look back and enjoy the whole four and a half years that I was here because I loved every minute of it. I was disappointed to leave the football club and the circumstances with that but overall I loved my time here.’
The Liverpool-born centre half finds it difficult to pick between two of the sides he guided to promotion when it comes to deciding on his fondest memories. ‘With Bradford it was my first job and we got promoted in the first year, which was tremendous. With Burton Albion it was just about coming in and carrying on from what Nigel Clough had done, and with fingers and everything else crossed we just pipped Cambridge to promotion, so that job was just the six months. The thing with Cambridge is that it took maybe two and a half to three years to build the team and get the team right, having lost four very good young players at the end of the first season. That was an achievement that I really enjoyed.’
After his departure from the Abbey in 2001, McFarland spent a brief period at Torquay, with fellow United legend David Preece as player-coach, and then spent almost four years keeping Chesterfield in Division Two (now League One). During this period he said the Spireites would be his last club in management, but in January 2009 he returned to the fray at United’s promotion rivals Burton Albion.
‘It was Ben Robertson, the chairman at Burton Albion, who convinced me,’ he explains. ‘I’d finished at Chesterfield thinking that was the end of my football career, and I was quite happy to finish it there. With Burton the chairman came to my house and we sat down for what we thought would be an hour and it lasted about five hours. He tried to persuade me to come and finish off the job that Nigel (Clough) had done, and then if the job was done see if I’d like to stay on as manager.
‘I said no, not really. I said I would help and try to get promotion, then if we did that then we could talk about it again. We did get promotion, I was delighted that we’d crossed that line and that was enough for me. In terms of being manager, I’ve had enough and I thought it right to finish.
‘Now I’ve got nothing on in terms of management. I get invited over to Burton, I get invited to Derby County regularly as a guest and I’ve just been invited to Chesterfield. It’s lovely that I get invited to these clubs from where I live on the outskirts of Derby. I go to a lot of games. I still have the enthusiasm for it.’
Since Burton’s promotion to League Two in 2009 there has indeed been no further involvement in the game for the man who was signed at the age of 19 by the more famous of the Clough managers, the legendary Brian. Talk turns to ‘Old Big ’Ead’ as the main influence behind his decision to continue in football after playing and take over at Bradford at the age of 33. And he shares a Clough-ism he experienced early in his own managerial reign. ‘I remember the first phone call I had at Bradford after I took the job. I was sat in my office and had a phone call from Brian Clough. He said “Hello, this is Brian Clough. Good luck, you’ll need it. Ta-ra.” And that was all he said.’
It is clear that the U’s still hold a place close to the 62-year-old’s heart, and
that he believes the club would have held their own as a Football League side had they been successful in either of their two promotion bids in recent years. ‘I still have contact with John Taylor, though sadly I haven’t seen him for over 12 months. It’s nice to come down and see Paul Wanless, my captain at the time. Sadly we’ve lost David Preece, who was my number two. [Preece died in 2007. In addition to seconding McFarland, he played 75 games for the U’s between 1996 and 2001.]
‘I came back here 12 months ago with Burton and lost 2-0 to you as we ended first and you second. Of the two teams I managed before who were in the play-off final that season, yourselves and Torquay United, I wanted Cambridge to win.
‘Cambridge United is still there in my memories. I look at the results all the time, I was disappointed when they got relegated and I was disappointed 12 months ago when they didn’t get promotion. Torquay have gone on and proved themselves and they’ve been excellent. I think the same would have happened with Cambridge United.’