There was not much to celebrate or remember of the eighteen-month managerial reign of Frank O’Farrell. He was something of a proto-David Moyes, a good manager but suited to a smaller club with lower expectations. At Old Trafford he was out of his depth while the club slipped further into decline. A junior seaman attempting to steer The Poseidon away from a looming Tsunami. However, he did leave one good thing behind, one of Manchester United’s greatest ever defenders and captains, the eternally blasé Martin Buchan.
The born and raised Aberdonian had the air of a man who was born with an unimpressed raised eyebrow, clutching a copy of Private Eye, and firing withering insults to an attending nurse. Buchan was the epitome of unflustered, rarely wasting energy getting his shorts dirty when he could think several moves ahead of everyone else. Whether it was smacking errant team-mates round the ear for not marking on a throw-in, or swatting aside a rude journalist, Buchan was rarely a man caught short.
After one match, Buchan headed for the players lounge after winding down in a post-match bath. One the way he was cut off by a journalist who pressed his hand on the defender’s chest: “A quick word, Martin?”
“Velocity,” replied Buchan
As Buchan walked away, he turned and added the exclamation point of “**** off.” (via The Scotsman)
The Scottish international spent the formative years of his career at his hometown club of Aberdeen. A testament to his ability and leadership qualities was demonstrated by him captaining the team in the 1970 Scottish Cup Final against Jock Stein’s brilliant Celtic side. Aberdeen won the match 3-1.
In 1972, Buchan arrived at United for a then club record fee of £120,000. It was a huge coup for a club on the slide, Buchan was wanted by Leeds and Liverpool, but he chose United, impressed by then-manager O’Farrell’s personal integrity.
Ever since the appearance of Liberos (playmaking centre-halves) in the 1960s, English teams crawled over glass for classy, ball-playing centre halves. But he was considered almost too luxurious. Many felt he didn’t have the toughness for the top level.
When Leeds United defender Terry Yorath, once said: “I worry about him when the going gets tough.” Buchan sent him a postcard to his hotel room when he moved to Coventry City from Leeds: “Dear Terry, greetings from my second World Cup. Hope the going doesn’t get too tough. Yours in sport, Martin.”
It was a suitably cutting reply from a man whose wit was as sharp as his intellect. Buchan eschewed the knuckle-dragging, hard-drinking macho culture of the game and preferred to spend his time reading great literature or learning Spanish to add to his already impressive ability to speak Latin.
Buchan was as tough as anyone, he just never saw the sense in having to prove it mindlessly when he could be as good as anyone without muddying his shorts. He was Rio Ferdinand before Rio was even a glint in his father’s eye. Watching Buchan play in the 70’s was akin watching Keats or James Joyce get parachuted into the middle of a brawl in a Weatherspoon’s.
The 1977 FA Cup Final against is a fine example of how good Buchan was. In the second of three FA Cup Finals in four seasons he led the club to, Buchan marked Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan entirely out of the game barely breaking a sweat.
For context, Keegan was the best player for the best club side in Europe. Liverpool were going for the treble that year – having won the League Title and European Cup – United stole the final piece of the jigsaw and sauntered away with the FA Cup with a brilliant second half display. Buchan had the two-time Ballon D’or winner in his back pocket for the entirety of the game. The victory made him the first player to captain Scottish and English FA Cup winning sides.
Even in his post-match interview though, the victorious captain looked distinctly indifferent to the first ray of light the club had since that glorious May night in 1968. He would likely have been the only player that day who got the literary reference in John Motson’s brilliant commentary, “How appropriate, that a man called Buchan climbs the 39 steps to collect the trophy.”
Buchan’s talents deserved more than the two major trophies he won. Leading a highly a distinguished career which only saw him receive five bookings, but you always get the sense Buchan never held regrets about that. Football was a game and a wonderful job, but not everything to an intellectually formidable man who marched to the beat of his own drum.
In the hearts of Manchester United fans who watched the club regularly during the 1970’s and 1980’s, Buchan will always be held in extremely high regard as someone who lead the club out of a dark period with dignity and refinement.
Read More Icons of Old Trafford
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Sir Bobby Charlton: “The complete footballer”
George Best: “The Belfast Boy”
Denis Law: “The King”
Patrick O’Connell: “Don Patricio”