The Brandsma Review

Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland

Issue 122, September-October 2012


ALL CHANGE AT OLD TRAFFORD: The Frank O’Farrell Story. By Frank O’Farrell with Jeff Welch. First published in 2011. 184pp. Soft covers. £12.99. All inquiries to

Football can be like the seasons. You have your springs, your summers and your winters. The secret is to hold on and know that if you have been honest, the weather will change—Frank O’Farrell

GUESS WHOSE FEET SCORED A BLISTERING OWN GOAL?…asked the newspaper headline next to a picture of a pair of “plates of meat” swathed in sticking plaster and bandages…BUT PILGRIM FRANK SAYS THE PENALTY WAS WELL WORTH WHILE. “These feet once played top flight football for Preston North End, West Ham United and the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s”, began the caption story in the Torbay Herald Express, “but recently they carried Frank O’Farrell 70 miles in three days on a religious pilgrimage”.

I first met Frank O’Farrell nearly 20 years ago on the pilgrimage road between Notre Dame de Paris and Notre Dame de Chartres. What first strikes you about him is his enthusiasm, whether it’s for “the beautiful game” or for the ancient liturgy of the Church. When I persuaded him to write up his impressions of the pilgrimage for this Review he combined both these passions in a powerful conclusion:

During my time as manager of a number of professional football clubs I had the wonderful experience of leading out Leicester City at Wembley on Cup Final Day in 1969. But the Solemn High Mass…celebrated in Chartres Cathedral on that final day to bring the pilgrimage to a close, and which brought a tear to many an eye, surpassed the Wembley experience.

Grace for the journey

What strikes you first about his autobiography is the sturdy but unassuming piety which has animatedthe entire course of his life. His was not an easy childhood, but obviously a happy and fulfilled one. As he remarked in the course of his Brandsma article, pilgrimage exemplifies the difficult journey we have to make through life, made possible only through thegrace we receive from the Mass and the sacraments.

In 1930s Cork, Frank’s parents’ generation exemplified this very well. “They raised large families with little financial resources and enjoyed very few material comforts compared with the present. But they had a strong faith and they loved the Mass…”

Like so many Irish boys at that time, Frank was educated by the Christian Brothers and his memories of them are quite positive:

It was their calling to do what they were doing and I always thought they were quite inspiring and very dedicated. They used to walk a mile to the school every day, whatever the weather, and often their shoes were falling apart. They didn’t make any money out of it—it was their vocation. They devoted their lives to educating poor children, and if we occasionally got the cane, we never held it against them.

It was still the age of steam, and Frank’s father was an engine driver. Frank’s ambition was to follow the same career, but it is probably just as well he only got as far as being a fireman (stoker), as if he had stayed on until the 1950s there would have been no more steam trains to drive. But even today he says he would have loved to have driven the express train to Dublin.

Up the ‘Ammers’!

He played football for various local clubs, and in 1947 was spotted by a talent scout from West Ham and joined that club the following year. It was in West Ham that he first met his wife Ann, to whom he has been married for nearly 60 years. When they were first introduced, and he told her he played football, Ann thought he was talking about his hobby. She had no idea people actually played the game professionally.

In between matches for West Ham reserves, Frank used to do door-to-door visiting for the Legion of Mary. I was glad to see that the book includes the tale he related years ago to the Latin Mass Society of Ireland about a lapsed Catholic lady West Ham supporter and her budgerigar. Frank persuaded her to promise she would return to Mass if he got into the first team. When he did, she kept her promise, along with her husband. The budgie used to squawk “Up the ‘Ammers’!” whenever Frank came visiting.

In 1952 Frank made his international debut with Ireland, and eventually won nine Irish caps. Later he moved to Preston North End in Lancashire, where he remained for five years. Then, being in his early 30s, he began to think about life after playing football and went to non-league Weymouth in south-west England as player-manager. From there he returned to league football as manager of Torquay United, winning promotion to Division Three in his first season. In his third season, Torquay just failed to make it into Division Two. Then in 1968 he became manager of Leicester City, which lost the following year’s Cup Final to Manchester City.

In 1971 Frank O’Farrell succeeded Matt Busby as manager of Manchester United. The professional relationship of the two men was convoluted and somewhat acrimonious. The book goes into some detail about this, and there is no doubt that Frank was treated remarkably shabbily. During his time at Old Trafford he also had to take the painful decision to  drop the wayward George Best. In a chapter headed “A Nice Day for an Execution”, Frank describes how his own contract was terminated and he had to sign on the dole. Typically, he occupied part of his ample free time by going as a helper to Lourdes, with the Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust.

Frank spent about a year without employment, but Manchester United settled his claim against them without his having to go to court. Then he was invited to Teheran to manage the Iranian national team, helping them to beat Israel in the final of the 1974 Asian games. This made Frank something of an Iranian national hero. The Shah thanked him for what he had done and asked for guidance in the future. “I said they should play better teams, because even if you lose, you learn.” Frank relates how he maintained discipline when the young Crown Prince Reza, who came to him for football practice with his classmates, started messing around. “The other lads looked on in amazement that some foreign layman could make the next ruler of Iran do press-ups”.

Differences with bishop

Frank finally returned to Torquay as general manager, retiring at the end of the 1982-83 season. He now lives at Babbacombe, just outside the town. He served daily Mass until the age of 83, when he had to give up because of knee problems. He still keeps up a lively interest in the old Latin Mass, and readers of this Review may recall his differences of opinion on that subject with the Bishop of Plymouth. Around 10 years ago Frank had told the AGM of the Latin Mass Society of Ireland that those seeking the traditional Mass were like a team forced to play uphill against the wind, two nil down, in driving rain. But if we kept on asking, and praying, we would level the score.

Thanks to the present Holy Father, the pitch is now level, the wind and rain are no longer in our faces, and we have at least a sporting chance of evening the score. Frank devotes several paragraphs of his final chapter to explaining just why:

I am feeling much more optimistic about the future of the Traditional Rite of Mass now. Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, stated that some of the problems in the Church were due to “disintegration of the liturgy”. When he became Pope, he improved the situation when he published Summorum Pontificum in 2007, where he stated the Old Rite of Mass “had never been abrogated” and priests could celebrate it without asking their bishop for permission.

He was obviously aware of many bishops making it difficult for those Catholics wanting the Old Mass to get it. So a priest can celebrate the Old Mass now if people request it, providing he is comfortable with it. It is very encouraging to see more priests going ontraining courses to become competent at celebrating it, even if some of our bishops are not happy at see ing their power to prevent it taken away from them.

Deo gratias. My prayers said on the long walks to Chartres are being answered.

Also in this issue:


The Year of Faith

The Mirage of Equality

Obama: Should He and Will He Be Re-elected?



David Manly


Liz Holmes


Éilís Ní Shiocfhradha


Peadar Laighléis




Nick Lowry

Hurling Shots from the Ditch includes “Enda at Play in Castel Gandalfo” and “Presidential Memoirs”; Letters from Louis Hemmings, Nick Lowry and Daphne McLeod; Straws from the Camel’s Back includes ‘A Dominican Tradophobe’, ‘The Panjandrum speaks’, ‘Not So Extraordinary’, ‘Devilish Tomatoes’ and ‘The New Radical Chic’; and  another list from Francis Book Sales.


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This entry was posted on September 1, 2012 by in Issues 2012 and tagged , , , .
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