The Doc's Devils: Manchester United 1972-1977

The Doc's Devils: Manchester United 1972-1977

by Sean Egan


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Tommy Docherty led Manchester United through one of the most interesting periods in their history. Employed in late 1972, the former Scotland manager led the club on an amazing journey, taking in a successful relegation battle, relegation itself, instant promotion, and two successive Cup Finals, all in just four and a half years, and the nature of his eventual sacking, following allegations about his private life, gives some indication of the complicated, less than perfect man this book seeks to unveil. Docherty's unconventional, at times controversial, approach to team affairs and man management is explored on a season by season basis, while numerous interviews from those who worked with and played under him, including legends of the era such as Brian Greenhoff and Sammy McIlroy, ensure that no stone is left unturned in this tale of the highest highs and lowest lows the great game has to offer. These first hand accounts make this the definitive account of this period, and the book is a must read for any serious United fan, while the author's ability to maintain a degree of neutrality rarely found in such biographies will also encourage followers of teams outside of the red half of Manchester to persist with this incredible footballing story. In addition to The Doc's story, this book also looks at the post United careers of those who played in his sides and who came to love and loathe him in equal measure. It also includes a full matchography for the period.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781901447378
Publisher: Cherry Red Books
Publication date: 01/01/2011
Pages: 500
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Sean Egan is a music and sports journalist, and has written for Billboard, Classic Rock, Record Collector,, Sky Sports, Uncut, and Vox, among others. He is the author of Jimi Hendrix And The Making Of Are You Experienced and Sick of Being Me and was nominated for an Award for Excellence by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections.

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The Doc's Devils

Manchester United 1972-1977

By Sean Egan

Cherry Red Books

Copyright © 2016 Sean Egan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-909454-51-4



1972/73: Rescue

December 16 1972. Manchester United were just about to hit their lowest ebb since 1939, a time when they were – unthinkably by now – a club in the second tier of the English Football League.

They were playing Crystal Palace at the latter's Selhurst Park ground. Palace were a rather unprepossessing club. Currently bottom of the First Division – then the top flight of English football – not only would they be relegated this season, they would be relegated to the Third Division the season afterwards. As recently as April 1971, United had put five past Palace at this ground (even if the home side had replied with three). This fact, however, only told part of the story, for Manchester United were no strangers to the lower depths of the First Division themselves at this juncture and were hovering above the relegation zone (which then constituted just two places). Even the extent of Palace's 5-0 trouncing of United this day did not fully explain why the result was so cataclysmic.

Yes, losing 5-0 was humiliating, but the result had a symbolic quality far and away above the realities of current form, squad weakness and League positions. The club that Palace took apart were a legend. Not for nothing was the 39,484 gate that day the biggest at Selhurst Park so far that season, as well as the largest in the four divisions of the Football League that day. Manchester United, then as now, were the most famous club name in English, nay British, possibly – even then – world football. As with many legends, tragedy – in this case, the Munich air disaster of 1958 which had taken the lives of eight members of United's young team – played its part, but the legend was based far more on achievement than sympathy. This achievement was as much to do with conduct as honours. During the 60s, United had won the FA Cup and two League championships and had become the first English team to win the European Cup. However, it was the style with which they had taken those trophies that endeared them to the public in a way that others who won similar honours with more prosaic soccer could never hope to match. Under manager Matt Busby, the Red Devils – as they were nicknamed from the early 60s – put the emphasis on swashbuckling, attacking football. Busby's nose for players who would fit this vision had ensured that United's name was attached to those of a string of iconic footballing figures, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best amongst them. In short, Manchester United was a name synonymous with quality. To see United succumbing to a sub-standard side like Palace as both teams attempted to keep their feet off the relegation trapdoor was tragic.

Asked if the 5-0 scoreline accurately reflected the run of the play, Martin Buchan, a central defender for United that day, says, "Oh aye. We were lucky to get nil. I remember Don Rogers running riot. They thoroughly outplayed us." Striker Ted MacDougall agrees, and says, "We basically as a team knew that the manager was going to get canned and it was a feeling of insecurity."

So how is it that things had come to this, just four-and-a-half years since United had achieved that European Cup milestone? The resignation of Matt Busby as manager in 1969 was perhaps inevitable. Mentally, Busby had been rendered an old, old man by Munich, a sense of responsibility for the deaths of his beloved young charges weighing heavily on his shoulders because he had insisted on taking part in European competition when the Football League had made their opposition to it explicit. He had no reason to feel guilty: if it hadn't been for a petty rule dreamed up by League secretary Alan Hardaker as a sulking response to Busby ignoring officialdom's opposition, the Munich tragedy would not have happened. The rule – which dictated that any team taking part in European competition must be back in their home country a full 24 hours before their next domestic fixture – prevented the club from simply abandoning their journey until the next day when the conditions might have been more conducive to air flight. The tried to take off in terrible weather conditions with horrific consequences. Nonetheless, Busby blamed himself and many got the sense that he had only held on to a job for a further decade that he would have gladly relinquished in 1958 because had he not won the European Cup it would almost be as though the deaths of the members of the 'Busby Babes' were for nothing. With that European Holy Grail finally secured, Busby – knighted shortly after it – could settle into the retirement he had long desired. He quit his post on April 26 1969 after 24 years asmanager. At the time of writing it appears that Sir Alex Ferguson will at least equal that record, but he will never be able to claim – as Busby was too modest to but many of his fans are happy to testify – that he built the cub in his own image. Ferguson inherited a legend. Busby inherited a team whose last glories were a generation in the past and whose Old Trafford ground was a World War II bomb-site and built it into a legend.

Busby's successor was a surprise. Managers like Johnny Carey (a member of Busby's first great United team, the 1948 FA Cup winners), Ron Greenwood and Don Revie were all spoken of for the role but instead it went to somebody most of the public had never heard of. Wilf McGuinness had been a Busby Babe himself before injury cut short his career and led him to turn to coaching, a career move that had made him not only a United youth and reserves coach but put him in charge of the England under-23s and additionally ensured his involvement in England's 1966 World Cup triumph. The journey from the position of coach to manager is not uncommon in football (although he was actually given the title of 'Chief Coach', while Busby remained 'General Manager', even if selection, coaching, training and tactics were exclusively McGuinness' preserve). However, what complicated this appointment was the fact that McGuinness was a contemporary of many of the current United team. At 31, he was the youngest-ever chief coach/manager of a First Division side. Additionally, his tender years were compounded by a familiarity that would not have applied had he been an outside appointment. Busby had an effortless authority about him (illustrated by the fact that every single player interviewed for this book who spoke of him referred to him as "Sir Matt"). McGuinness was just one of the lads. Perhaps this is why McGuinness sometimes seemed to be trying too hard in the disciplinary stakes. United winger Willie Morgan – one of the few rays of hope in this period in United's history – has related with disgust how a McGuinness rule that anybody caught with his hands in his pockets would be required to execute press-ups led to Bobby Charlton – a figure of infinitely greater gravitas and dignity than McGuinness – having to humiliatingly drop down to the mud of the club's training ground dressed in a smart suit.

McGuinness' United won only one of their first eight League games. A match in August 1969 against Everton saw five players dropped, including – shockingly – Law and Charlton. The match resulted in a 3-0 defeat and, according to Busby, a visit to him by McGuinness seeking his advice. At McGuinness' request, Busby told him what team he personally would select, one that included Law and Charlton. McGuinness picked it and stuck to it, resulting in a 10-match unbeaten run. Though at the end of the season, McGuinness could point to the fact that he had taken United to FA and League Cup semi-finals and a position in the League of eighth – better than Busby's final season – for those within the club au fait with the fact of the counsel given, his status must have been utterly undermined. McGuinness formally became team manager in the summer of 1970 but by Christmas of the 1970/71 season, he couldn't even point to respectable results: United were flirting with relegation. McGuinness taking United to the semi-final of the League Cup no more swayed the United board than his two semi-finals the previous season. That record was deemed not good enough given that he had inherited a European Cup-winning side and that he had at his disposal players of significant calibre among them Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best, the latter a man many to this day consider the greatest footballer of all time. On December 28 1970, McGuiness was fired.

United then advertised their vacant manger's position for the first time in their history. United's legendary defender Pat Crerand (one of the European Cup team) has said that the idea of making an appointment from inside was a prescient one (Liverpool would later turn it into an art-form for a spell) but that McGuinness came to the job too young: another three or four years would have seen a new influx of players to whom he was more of a figure of authority. One could add that it should be remembered that Busby's last season in charge was not exactly spectacular. Though United reached the semi-final of the European Cup – and many contend would have reached the final had it not been for some criminally dubious refereeing – they had only qualified for that competition as holders. Their League form that season was mediocre and their gates had actually halved. In March 1969, a team with the European Cup on their sideboard were as low as 17th in the table. They recovered a little but could only manage a final position of 11th. Crerand later said, "We didn't become bad players, but maybe subconsciously we were like Matt. What else was there for us to achieve?" There was also another reason for the precipitous decline: the fact that 31-year-old McGuinness was a contemporary of many of his new charges doesn't only show how young he was for a manager but cuts the other way, giving an indication of the ageing nature of the United team, a side to whom Crerand admitted Busby had probably been too loyal that season. McGuinness was anxious to replenish the side even if Busby hadn't been but the receipts emanating from (usually) the highest attendances in the land did not translate into a readiness to make big money transfers, nor to pay wages commensurate with United's stature – a situation that would prevail well beyond the reigns of McGuinness and his two successors.

The first of those two successors – after a period between December 1970 and the end of that season during which Busby took the helm again and engineered a final League position of eighth – was Frank O' Farrell. This appointment came after Busby had a secret meeting with legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein about the vacant post, engineered by Stein's former charge Pat Crerand. Stein's ultimate record with Celtic would be breathtaking: in 13 seasons, he won them 10 League titles, eight Scottish Cups and six League Cups. Stein turned down the United manager's job and an unamused Busby was convinced that he had simply exploited United's interest to get a pay rise from Celtic, though Crerand has claimed that opposition from Stein's wife was the deciding factor. Future United manager Alex Ferguson later revealed, "I recall the late Jock Stein once telling me that the biggest mistake he made was to turn down United."

Frank O'Farrell was an austere Irishman who had been making a name for himself by guiding Leicester City to the Second Division championship and securing them an FA Cup final appearance. O'Farrell made some good signings, including the long-term rock of defence Martin Buchan, the prolific goalscorer Ted MacDougall and the silky-skilled winger Ian Storey-Moore. He also made a thrilling start to his first season in charge. At the end of 1971, United led the table by five points, at a time when a win was only worth two points. Denis Law had already scored 12 goals and George Best had racked up 14. Best – despite recent bad boy behaviour that had led many to diagnose him a liability whatever his talents – was not only playing brilliantly but scoring with such exquisite skill that his strikes from that period have become a staple of goals videos and DVDs whose titles are usually preceded by a number and whose second word is usually 'great' or 'classic'. However, this form, on the parts of both Best and the club, was a flame that quickly expired due to the underlying decay at the club. Martin Buchan joined from Aberdeen in March 1972, playing the last two months of that season. He was perplexed by what he was confronted by. "I think the squad was a curious mixture, ranging from ... Law and Charlton to players who wouldn't have got a game in Aberdeen's reserve team," he recalls. "It was really strange. There were some good pros there, lads like Tony Dunne, but it was a team of contrasts."

United finished the season eighth, a position respectable enough for most other clubs but disappointing for the Reds, especially after that great start. Ditto their sixth-round FA Cup ejection. The next season, however, was more than disappointing, a yardstick of which is the fact that Bobby Charlton was the club's top scorer in that campaign. Several of those goals were in the blistering long-range tradition for which he was loved by both United fans and – as until recently a long-term fixture of the England team – the nation. However, his League tally was a paltry six goals. MacDougall was signed two months into this season and he recalls of the club's situation: "Frank O'Farrell alienated himself from the players and he became distant. Unfortunately, he wasn't a great communicator and he certainly wasn't very good when it comes to tactics or trying to put the team right. Where had he been before? Leicester. Torquay. When you look at Manchester United, if you're an actor, it's like being in a play in the provinces and then suddenly going on the West End. It's a bit of a difference. It's a goldfish bowl and you know that everything you do is under the microscope as a player and as a manager and some people can handle it and some people can't handle it."

The players saw a lot more of Malcolm Musgrove – whose official position was trainer in an era where 'coach' wasn't common in UK football parlance – but MacDougall wasn't much more impressed with him: "Malcolm was a lovely lad, but Malcolm would insist somebody like Willie Morgan, who was different class with his feet, head the ball. Why would you spend all hours trying to teach Willie Morgan to head a ball when Willie couldn't head a ball and didn't want to? If you've got great players, let them be great at what they've got. That's why they became great." There were, according to MacDougall, other problems at the club. The striker later said, "Old Trafford was not the happiest dressing room back then ... Frank O'Farrell was a lovely man, but United were an ageing side in decline ... Sir Matt Busby ... never spoke a word to me in the five months I was there. Clique is too strong a word, but there was a definite 'them and us' mentality between the older players and the new guys ... I never thought to ask why, but at training we always got changed in the reserves' dressing room." Striker Sammy McIlroy had been given his debut by O'Farrell when things were going swimmingly for the club. "They were having a great run at the time and everything was going great," he says. "But in football things change and the results started going the other way and things started happening. There were players coming to the end of their career, all the great names ... and that's a big hell of a re-building to do. The players then didn't believe in Frank. Frank really couldn't handle the media side of things." He adds, "And the George thing got him down as well."

Completing the sense of decay, even chaos, around United at that time was the behaviour of George Best. The Belfast man's own personal triumph had coincided with United's: 1968 was the year he was voted European Footballer of the Year. He had then tumbled into a decline as precipitous as his club's (and in some ways, as their star player, the two things were intertwined). Just 22 at the time of the Reds' 1968 victory over Benfica at Wembley, Best found himself having to deal with the anti-climax of being a world-class player in a side that sometimes struggled to defeat mediocre teams. His bitterness at the way Manchester United and hence his own career had gone into decline was recounted in Michael Parkinson's book Best: An Intimate Biography, as was his frustration at the way Busby continued basing the side around the ageing Charlton rather than him. He didn't even have the consolation that some of his colleagues had in the form of possible glory in international football: as a Northern Ireland native, the most he could hope for was helping to upset England in the annual Home Championship. He remains without question the greatest player never to participate in the World Cup finals. A death threat from the IRA (a sympathiser was suspected of being responsible for shooting Best's sister in the leg) had additional adverse – and possibly underrated – consequences for his peace of mind and confidence. He increasingly turned to drink to bury his problems, with the inevitable detrimental results for his form. 1972 was littered with news stories of his being fined and dropped for missing training. Though he finished the club's top scorer that season with 26 from 53 appearances in all competitions (a tally double that of the second-placed player in the United goals chart, Denis Law), in the close season he announced his retirement from the game two days before his 26th birthday. After a meeting with O'Farrell, he changed his mind. However, come the new season, the problems with his missing training got so bad that on December 5th he was transfer listed and suspended for two weeks. Manchester United chairman Louis Edwards had announced that Best would resume training – the implication being that he was now off the transfer list – the day before the Crystal Palace game, something that some interpreted as a deliberate piece of undermining by Edwards designed to provoke O'Farrell's resignation.


Excerpted from The Doc's Devils by Sean Egan. Copyright © 2016 Sean Egan. Excerpted by permission of Cherry Red Books.
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Table of Contents

Ackowledgements vi

Foreword vii

Introduction 9

Part 1 1972/73: Rescue 13

Part 2 1973/74: Relegation 87

Part 3 1974/75: Resurrection 151

Part 4 1975/76: Revitalisation 225

Part 5 1976/77: Retribution 343

Part 6 Requiem: Manchester United After Docherty 473

Appendix I Résumés: The Fate of The Doc's Devils 519

Appendix II Results: Matches Played by Manchester United Under Docherty 558

Bibliography 577

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