Monday, March 12, 2012

English Leagues the 70s: Crystal Palace Manchester United Division One 1972 1973

16 December 1972
Selhurst Park,

  The end of the 71-72 season saw George Best's increasingly chaotic life unravelling further. At the start of the campaign Best had been in top form and at one point he reeled off 11 goals in a 10-match spell to drive United to the top of the table. But in the New Year he vanished for days and United's title hopes disappeared with him. Astonishingly, despite missing training on numerous occasions and going AWOL between games, Best still managed to play in 40 of United's 42 league matches and finished the club's top scorer yet again with 18 goals. In May 1972 he failed to turn up to play for Northern Ireland against Scotland and he admitted publicly that his drinking was out of control. He escaped to Spain, insisting that he had retired from professional football, aged 26. But his retirement lasted just a fortnight and he returned to Manchester in time for the start of the 1972/73 season. The messy end to his career, though, was in sight. By now United had degenerated into something like anarchy, with the dressing room riven by discontent. Best in open revolt and results in freefall. United opened the new season abysmally, failing to win any of their first nine games and they were knocked out of the League Cup by Bristol Rovers. It was clear that O'Farrell, a mild-mannered man from Cork, was unable to keep a lid on the madness and he was relieved of his duties in December 1972, thanked for his services and paid off with a golden goodbye of about £50.000. He left Old Trafford feeling bitter about his treatment, frustrated that he had never been able to exert any authority while Busby was still around. Many of the players still called him Boss and OTarrell felt he had been let down by him. 'I had never admired a man as much as Matt Busby,' O'Farrell said. 'But when I left Old Trafford I had never been let down by any man as much as by him.' Many of the players, who had not wanned to O'Farrell's self-effacing, low-key character, were glad to see O'Farrell leave. Denis Law said, 'He came a stranger and he left a stranger.'

His replacement was an altogether more abrasive, self-confident character Tommy Docherty who had learned his man-management skills on the streets of Glasgow's tough Gorbals district. As a player Docherty had been a combative wing-half for Celtic. Preston, Arsenal and Chelsea, and he took his uncompromising approach to the game into management. He moulded a collection of promisingyoungstersand veteran players intoa formidable team at Chelsea in the 19605, and also had spells in charge at Rotherham, QPR. Villa. Porto and the Scotland national side, before United hired him to banish the club's deep-seated malaise. He wasted no time in making his mark on the club. 'It was a disaster area,' Docherty said. 'Frank O'Farrell had corne in and done a decent job in many ways, but there was still so much to do. The truth is the team which won the European Cup had gone on too long and it should have been broken up much sooner. There were lots of big names there long past their sell-by date and the rot had set in. A lot of it was down to Sir Matt staying on too long. He went upstairs, but he should really have left the club. When Wilf McGuinness took over as coach Sir Matt was always there in the background and he never had a chance. It was the same story for Frank.
'Even by the time I arrived Sir Matt was still the re, still with a big influence on the players. If I fell out with a player over something, and they felt they were getting no satisfaction, they were going to see Sir Matt. They called him "the old boss". That kind of thing isn't good for the stability of a club or for discipline. You can only have one boss.

 But the biggest disaster for United was letting Jimmy Murphy go. He never received half the credit he deserved for rebuilding the team after Munich and everything else he did for the club, and his knowledge was irreplaceable. He was a wonderful man. Docherty made it clear that a number of big names did not figure in his plans and a whole collection of them were destined to tumble out of the door in the summer of 1973. Among them was Charlton. who left at the end of the 1972/73 season to manage Preston. Law also went, moving across Manchester to play for City. The long-serving full-back Dunne signed for Bolton. Docherty's surgery enabled the team to avoid relegation in 1972/73 and United ended up in iSth place. But it was a wretched season all round, as the team could muster only 44 league goals. A distracted Best played less than half the season, scoring only four goals, and the side was toothless in attack without him. Charlton signed off his United career as top scorer, with just six goals. It fell like the nadir of United's fortunes, but there was one further indignity in store before the club could begin the long road back to success...

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