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George Best's chaos, his Cork boss and a club in crisis: when United last faced Huddersfield

The sides meet this weekend for the first time since March 1972.

Image: PA

IT’S BEEN OVER four decades since Manchester United last faced Huddersfield Town.

It was March 1972 and United were still trying to figure things out in the post-Sir Matt Busby era.

He had stepped down after the 1968/69 season but remained at the club as a director. A former Busby player, Wilf McGuinness, was promoted from reserve team manager but it was an unmitigated disaster. Busby, knowing his time was coming to an end, had allowed the squad get stale and there had been little in the way of investment or development of young players.

When McGuinness was sacked in December 1970, Busby was parachuted in. But the following summer, an approach was made to Corkman Frank O’Farrell, whose work with Leicester had not gone unnoticed.

He was handed a five-year deal, the club seemingly aware of just how much work was needed to rebuild the team.

The season started incredibly well as the old guard – Bobby Charlton and Denis Law – enjoyed a golden autumn. But George Best was the relentless game-winner and proved the difference against Ipswich, Derby and Newcastle. He hit hat-tricks against West Ham and Southampton and, by Christmas, United were sitting at the summit.

Soccer - George Best Attends FA Disciplinary Hearing George Best leaves the FA's headquarters with Frank O'Farrell after facing a disciplinary hearing. Source: S&G

But, the New Year’s hangover extended well into 1972.

In the first week of January, Best went missing. Instead of training, he spent the week with Carolyn Moore, the reigning Miss Great Britain. Without him, United couldn’t find the net. Law and Charlton completely tailed off and from the first eight games of the year, United scored three times. They lost seven on the bounce. O’Farrell looked to stem the bleeding and signed defender Martin Buchan for a club record fee from Aberdeen.

In March, Brian Clough paraded Ian Storey-Moore at half-time of a Derby game, so convinced he was that the winger would be joining from Nottingham Forest. But, a week later, Storey-Moore was at Old Trafford and making his debut against Huddersfield. The deal with Derby had collapsed and O’Farrell swept in to bring him to United.

By that stage, Best was back too and the pair both got on the scoresheet in a 2-0 victory. It was the start of a three-game winning streak, Storey-Moore netting in each of the victories.

But, there were still plenty of issues. In the high-profile fixtures, there were big defeats. They conceded three times against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City and though whenever Storey-Moore scored United won, he only grabbed two more that season.

Despite a superb start, United’s second-half collapse cost them dearly and they eventually limped over the line in eighth.

Worse was to come.

George Best Source: Sven Simon

Just before the end of the season and days before his 26th birthday, Best fled to Marbella and subsequently announced his retirement from football. Topless, sipping on a beer and perched by the pool of a sun-kissed villa, he looked every inch the fallen idol.


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Of course, he came back. Just 12 days later, in fact. He met with O’Farrell and cleared the air. Afterwards, a friend asked how the conversation went.

“He talked about wolves,” Best replied.

“Wolves?” said the friend.

“Yes,” Best said.

“Something about the boy who cried wolf.”

Best was handed a two-week suspension but O’Farrell had a problem. Yes, Best was problematic. But Best was also, on his day, the greatest player in Europe.

During the following season, he continued to miss training sessions as United went on a dismal run, winning just one of their first 10 games. Best still managed to score four times but the wheels were rapidly coming off. By December, the side had already lost nine times. After another absence, O’Farrell finally lost patience and placed Best on the transfer list.

But it mattered little. The rot had set in long before but O’Farrell still believed the difficult results were an inevitable part of the transitional process. However, his signings hadn’t hit the mark. Some, like the City striker Wyn Davies, were curious additions. After a 5-0 thumping by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, he was sacked.

Tommy Docherty came in and kept the club in the top-flight but United still went down the following season.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Manchester United Photocall Source: Peter Robinson

By that stage, Best was long gone. Despite returning to the fold, he was controversially left out of an FA Cup game against Plymouth in January 1974 and never returned.

O’Farrell was never the same (he was forced to bring the club to court to get the compensation owed to him, spending nine months on the dole) and turned down offers from First Division teams because of the affect another sacking may have on his family. He drifted away from football, disillusioned by the entire thing.

And what of Storey-Moore, the other goalscorer against Huddersfield 45 years ago? He played just 38 more times for United in the league, injury forcing him into retirement at the age of 28.

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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