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Old 15th March 2010, 19:13   #1
tomclare
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Join Date: Oct 2004
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Default United Captains - Martin Buchan

Martin McLean Buchan

It seems incredible to think that it is 27 years since Martin Buchan last played a competitive game for Manchester United. In today’s modern era when the media, and the various supporters forums on the internet are often selecting Manchester United’s “greatest team”, I am always surprised that when it comes to the centre back pairing, Martin Buchan’s name very rarely comes up, or even into the equation. The reason I feel that this is the case, is that he happened to play at Old Trafford in one of the club’s least conspicuous eras.

From my own point of view, I feel very, very privileged to have been able to watch a player whom I consider to be one of the finest footballers in Manchester United’s history. Buchan was exceptionally quick, read the game so well, and had great anticipatory judgement. Strong in the air, and with two great feet, not only was he a great player, but in my opinion, a great captain too.

A native Aberdonian, Buchan was born in the city on March 6th, 1949. Martin was quite gifted academically. However he had joined the Aberdeen ground staff when only 15 years old whilst still studying at school. He did have ambition to go on to University, but three days into his sixth year at school, when just 17, he was offered the opportunity to join the Dons full time. His thinking was that if he hadn’t made the grade as a footballer by the time he was 21, he could still go back to University. However, his progress was rapid and he was soon in the Aberdeen first team. Under the guidance of the old Scottish international player, Eddie Turnbull, he developed into a fine “sweeper’, being the authorative figure who marshalled the Don’s defence.

It wasn’t too long before his leadership skills were recognized and he became Aberdeen’s youngest ever captain at just 21 years of age. Probably the finest match in Buchan’s Aberdeen career came on April 11th, 1970. When Glasgow Celtic travelled to Hampden for the Scottish Cup final in 1970, they wore a mantle of near-invincibility. They had captured their fifth successive title and were on their way to their second European Cup final in four seasons, the domestic showpiece coming between the two legs of the semi-final victory over Leeds United. Only Aberdeen stood between Jock Stein’s side and a clean sweep of Scottish honours. But the Dons had other ideas.

Hero of the hour was teenager Derek McKay. He scored winners in the previous two rounds and hit two late goals in the final after Joe Harper had opened the scoring from the penalty spot. Bobby Lennox struck for Celtic to make it 3-1, in front of a crowd of 108,434. Martin Buchan, just three months into the captaincy, recalled: “Derek came in for the match against Falkirk because of a flu epidemic and only actually played in cup ties, hence the nickname ‘Cup Tie’ McKay. Though we were outsiders, we were confident because we had gone to Parkhead and beaten Celtic a couple of weeks before. Prior to that League match, Eddie Turnbull, the manager, gave us an inspirational team talk, reminding us Celtic had the champagne on ice, but the boss told us, ‘They’re not going to celebrate at our expense’. In the dressing room at Hampden, left-back George Murray said, ‘Mr Turnbull, just repeat your Parkhead team talk’. He did, which calmed us all down, and we won again. That day, we were a team with a mission. We wanted to make amends for losing to Celtic in the 1967 final.” Buchan was the youngest ever captain to lift the Scottish FA Cup.

The following year, 1971, Buchan won the first of his 34 international caps when he played against Portugal. His performances and reputation began to attract attention from clubs south of the border. In the summer of 1971, Manchester United appointed Frank O’Farrell as Manager. He took over from Sir Matt Busby after Busby had taken over in the middle of the 1970-71 season following the sacking of first team coach Wilf McGuinness.

Initially, O’Farrell seemed to galvanize a United team that had a blend of experience and youth. It has been said in many reports and publications that he inherited an ageing team, but that simply wasn’t true. Of the squad who had won the European Cup in 1968, just three years earlier, Stepney, Burns, Dunne, Sadler, Kidd, Charlton, Law, Aston, and Best were still around. Scottish international winger Willie Morgan had been purchased from Burnley, so that forward line was as potent as anything around in the First Division at that time. Youngsters Tommy O’Neill (who sadly, was to die after suffering a heart attack in 2006, at the young age of just 53 years), Alan Gowling, Steve James, and Sammy McIlroy, were the other members of the first team squad.

On December 4th 1972, after beating Nottingham Forest by 3-2 at Old Trafford, Manchester United were five points clear heading the First Division table. Up and until that point of the season, they had played some scintillating football. They were clear favourites to win the title for the first time since 1967. However, after that December 4th win, there followed a disastrous sequence of results which saw United not win another league game until mid-March 1972. By this time they had fallen to 8th place in the table, nine points behind the leaders, Manchester City!

O’Farrell moved into the transfer market during the first week of march 1972 when he paid 122,500 pounds for Buchan in the hope that he would bring stability to United’s creaking defence. Although Martin was not to know it at the time, he had moved to a club that was breaking into some disarray. As later stories were to tell, there was discord between the senior player themselves, and the manager. The dressing room was not a pleasant place to be. Sir Matt was still in the background and O’Farrell was finding it hard to manage one of the biggest clubs in the world game. Some of the senior players were openly critical of the manager,

For a young player moving to such a club as Manchester United, it was a dream come true. But the next few years were to show a rapid decline in fortunes and Buchan must have wondered many times if he had made the right move. There were some strong personalities in that dressing room who weren’t frightened to voice an opinion. O’Farrell found it a hard task. United were to finish that season in 8th place – disappointing given the wonderful results they had achieved before Christmas.

If the second half of the 1971/72 season was disappointing, then the first half of the 1972/73 season was absolutely disastrous, and for frank O’Farrell, it was the end of his tenure at Manchester United. It took United until the 10th league game of the season to register their first league win and in the previous nine games had only mustered a paltry total of just four points. Old Trafford wasn’t a happy place to be. Just before the end of the previous season Ian Storey-Moore had been signed from Nottingham Forest and literally stolen from under the nose of Derby County’s ebullient young manager, a certain Brian Clough. Just a day before Storey-Moore signed, Clough had paraded him in front of the Derby County faithful as “our new signing.” The fact was, the deal had never been concluded and O’Farrell stepped in persuading Storey-Moore that his future was at Old Trafford. In September of 1972, O’Farrell also made the strange decision of signing Wynne Davies the big Welsh centre forward from Manchester City.

Down in Bournemouth, who were then in the Third Division, a young centre forward was rapidly making a name for himself and was a prolific goal scorer. In a move that wasn’t too popular with United fans, O’Farrell brought him to Old Trafford for a fee in excess of 200,000 pounds. Ted McDougall found that there was a lot of pressure and expectation upon his shoulders. No matter what O’Farrell tried, it didn’t work and he’d certainly lost the dressing room. The final nail in his coffin came on Saturday December 16, 1972. United were annihilated 5-0 by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park and the club’s Directors acted quickly and sacked O’Farrell. Just a few days later, Tommy Docherty was appointed manager.

Throughout all of the turbulence, Martin Buchan kept a low profile. Despite having had to play in several different positions, he just kept his head down and got on with his job. Docherty breathed fresh air into Old Trafford, but he knew what a difficult job he had on his hands. Things would only get worse before they would get better and he had a relegation fight on his hands. There was a flurry of comings and goings where players were concerned and Docherty found most of them from Scotland. He brought in Alex Forsyth from Partick Thistle, Lou Macari from Celtic, George Graham from Arsenal, and a giant of a centre half from Shrewsbury named Jim Holton who would later become a cult figure with the United fans. The team scrapped and scrapped its way out of the relegation positions and when the season ended, they had finished in 18th position. Denis Law had left on a free transfer to Manchester City, George Best had announced his retirement, and Bobby Charlton retired after the last game of the season at Chelsea.

Docherty had also sold MacDougall to West Ham United after just having played 18 games for Manchester United. MacDougall, now coaching in Atlanta in the USA recalled:
"Old Trafford was not the happiest dressing room back then. The manager, Frank O'Farrell, was a lovely man, but United were an ageing side in decline lying about fourth from the bottom. Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law were still there from the glory days, as was Sir Matt Busby though he 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 like me, Wyn Davies, Ian Storey-Moore and Alex Forsyth. I never thought to ask why but at training, we always got changed in the reserves' dressing room.
"I scored on my debut at Old Trafford, which was memorable, but the rest of my time is best forgotten. Let's just say there was a lot of bitching and a lot of blaming everyone else."

The 1973/74 season was United’s “annus horibilis.” Docherty was trying all sorts of things to try and stem the decline and find a solid base from which he could build a team. It said much for his efforts that with a third of the season gone, Alex Stepney shared the top goal scorer’s spot having scored twice from penalty kicks! Again there was turbulence in the coming and going of players. Willie Morgan had taken over at that time as Club Captain. In October, Docherty had cajoled George Best into returning home to Old Trafford, but it wasn’t to last and their relationship soured On New Year’s day 1974, United were lying in 20th position in the league and occupying one of the relegation spots as this was the season when “3 up and 3 down” was introduced. Two more Scots joined the club, Stuart Houston was bought from Brentford and Jim McCalliog from Wolves. Docherty’s own team was taking shape, but the thing that he needed most wasn’t available – time. At the end of the season Manchester United were relegated for the first time in some 37 years. It was a sad time.

The following season, United took the Second Division by storm. Wherever they played the grounds were packed to capacity, and incredibly, United’s average home gates for the season soared to a massive 56,000 plus. In a very astute move before the season had started, Docherty signed the energetic young striker Stuart Pearson from Hull City. With the old guard gone, Martin Buchan was now seen as one of the senior players in the United dressing room. He certainly exerted a lot of influence out on the field and as the team began winning their confidence just grew, and grew, and grew. In 30 games to the turn of the year, they lost just 4 times, and one of their momentous victories was a 1-0 defeat of Manchester City in a 3rd Round League Cup tie at Old Trafford. As 1975 dawned, United were four points clear in the Second Division and hot favourites to win the Division and return to the top flight.

Probably the only downside of their run was that Jim Holton (who was also sadly to die after suffering a heart attack in 1993, aged just 42 years) broke his leg in a pulsating game at Sheffield Wednesday that finished 4-4. It afforded the young Brian Greenhoff to cement his place as first choice centre half. The team was playing with such confidence and the second half of the season was much the same as the first. In March of 1975, Steve Coppell was bought from Tranmere Rovers, and this seemed to upset Willie Morgan. So much so that it strained his relationship with Docherty. Coppell became first choice and the captaincy was handed to Martin Buchan. On Saturday, 26 April 1975, United beat Blackpool by 4-0 at a packed Old Trafford, and it was Martin Buchan who received the Second Division Championship trophy and paraded it around the stadium with his team mates for all the fans to see. United were back in the top flight after just one season, and Docherty, and assistant Tommy Cavanagh, were confident that their young team could make an impact the following season.

Morgan was sold to Burnley and Martin Buchan’s influence in the United dressing room now became enormous. He made sure that all the players bonded, and that everybody pulled for each other. In many ways he was very similar to the late Roger Byrne. He was the bridge to the management. Martin was never a “yes” man and on several occasions let his feelings be known to the management. He could be stubborn, and was never seen by players as being over generous. Several stories abound about Buchan. He had a run-in with the club about his passport when after a player had turned up at the airport without his passport, when the team were leaving to go on a pre-season tour, the club decided that all players would hand their passports into the club to be held centrally, and stop this situation occurring again. Buchan rebelled telling the club that the passport was his own personal responsibility and that he would not be handing it in. There was a stand-off, but ultimately he won the day.

On that same overseas trip, as the players checked in, several of them were seen to dash of to a telephone after checking their bags. This was in the days before mobile ‘phones, and they were ‘phoning their wives and girl friends. On passing through the immigration channels Buchan was seen sitting reading a book. Gerry Daly had noticed this and mentioned to Lou Macari that he hadn’t seen Buchan ‘phone home to say cherrio to his wife. Lou replied;
“Aye, don’t worry, he’s waiting until we pass through into the Duty Free area – he thinks it’s cheaper to call home from there!.”

The camerarderie in the team was so good to see, and when the new season kicked off, they began where they had left and took the First Division by storm. They played bright, open, attacking football, and their youth and innocence allowed them to play without fear. In November of 1975, Docherty signed winger Gordon Hill from Millwall. It meant that United now had a potent threat on both flanks and both Coppell and Hill won the hearts of the fans with their dashing wing play. United were playing the game in the top flight with a smile on their face for the first time in years.

Driven by Buchan, they were challenging for the title and when 1975 turned into 1976 they were joint top of the league with Liverpool on 33 points. The second half of the season went so well also, and they reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. The week before the semi-final at Hillsborough they beat Middlesborough 3-0 at Old Trafford, and lay in second place in the league just a point behind the leaders, Queens Park Rangers. The fans were deliriously happy, and even more so when the beat Derby County in that Semi-Final at Hillsborough. Young Gordon Hill scoring two stunning goals in a 2-0 victory and United were into the FA Cup Final for the first time since 1963.

Whether reaching the FA Cup Final affected the team’s performance over the next month is open to debate, but the suspicion is that it did as they lost three of the next five league games before that Final. When the final legue game was over the week after the FA Cup Final, even though United beat Manchester City by 2-0 at Old Trafford, they had slipped to third in the table, four points behind the Champions Liverpool.

United were red hot favourites to win the FA Cup as their opponents were Second Division Southampton. As far as the press and media were concerned Southampton would be mere canon fodder for Doc’s precocious young team. Martin Buchan saw things a little differently however, and warned his young team against complacency. He saw Southampton as a team packed with experienced, and international players, some with more than a point to prove. Players like Peter Rodrigues their Welsh international captain, Mike Channon, Peter Osgood, Jim McCalliog, Ian Turner, Mel Blyth and Nicky Holmes.

Buchan led the United team out from the famous old Wembley tunnel into the bright sunshine that enveloped the stadium. United fans sat back and waited for the massacre to begin. It never happened, and never looked like happening. Buchan’s initial pre-match fears had been well grounded. Several of the young players ‘froze” in the cauldron that was the Wembley atmosphere – they just did not perform to their capabilities. The match itself was forgettable for United fans as a late Bobby Stokes strike (he actually mishit the ball and that is what deceived goalkeeper Alex Stepney) took the Cup down to the south coast. There was a suspicion of offside in the goal, but the after match commentaries agreed that Southampton's experience had won the day. Buchan was to say in later years when commenting on that Final that too many players had thought that all they had to do was turn out and the Cup was theirs. He said that a harsh lesson was learned.

However, one thing was certain, and that was along with Docherty and Tommy Cavanagh, he was leading Manchester United into a bright new era and they were firmly back in the First Division frame as title challengers. The cream on the cake was that United were also back in European competition having qualified for what was then the UEFA Cup. They were playing a brand of football that hadn’t been seen since the glory years of the mid to late sixties. Buchan had bonded the team into an exciting unit and he had forged a great central defensive partnership with Brian Greenhoff. Everybody looked forward to the following season with great anticipation.

Sadly, the team got off to an indifferent start to the 1976/77 season. It took them six league games to record their first win, and they also lost to Ajax in Amsterdam by a single goal in the first leg of their UEFA Cup tie. However they put a sequence of wins together and on October 2nd, after beating Leeds United 2-0 at Elland Road, United found themselves leading the First Division, although they were sharing that lead with 3 other clubs and were ahead on goal difference. They had also despatched Ajax from the UEFA Cup winning the return leg by 2-0 and when the draw was made it couldn’t have been any tougher as they drew Juventus.

In the League Cup the initial3rd Round tie was at home against Sunderland and that was drawn 2-2. The replay at Roker Park was also drawn 2-2, and so it went to a third game just two days later and United won by 1-0. However, that game was to have a big effect on United for the next couple of months as Buchan was injured and he was to miss the next eleven matches. It was a blow as his leadership was sorely missed and of those eleven games, only two were won, and neither were league fixtures – 1-0 against Juventus (the second leg was lost 3-0) and a 7-2 thrashing of Newcastle United. Four league games were lost and a league cup tie was also lost against Everton by 3-0 at Old Trafford. By the time Buchan returned to the first team at Arsenal on December 18th in a 1-3 loss, during his absence United had slipped down to 17th position.
It is certainly no coincidence that his return brought back the stability in the team and results improved dramatically. Unfortunately that bad run of results whilst he was injured made it a tough ask to get back in contention and United finished in sixth position by the time that the season finished. The FA Cup was once again their path to glory, and once again the team reached the FA Cup Final. This time they were to be underdogs as their opponents were Liverpool who were not only First Division champions, but had also reached the European Cup Final and were due to play Borrussia Moenchengladbach in Rome on the Wednesday after their Wembley encounter with United. In effect they were going for the “double” and the “treble” and United were expected to be swept away.

There was to be no repeat of the complacency that had occurred in the previous year’s final. The game was an end to end affair and was settled in a mad five minutes spell early in the second half, Stuart Pearson latched on to a clever headed through ball from Jimmy Greenhoff (who had been signed from Stoke earlier in the season) and blasted the ball past Clements and into the Liverpool net. The lead was short lived however, when Joey Jones pumped a high hopeful ball towards United’s 18 yard line, but Jimmy case took it superbly on his chest with his back to goal, swivelled, and fired a rocket of a shot past Alex Stepney. Almost immediately afterwards a high ball pumped in to the Liverpool half saw Lou Macari flick it on with his head and Jimmy Greenhoff grappled with Tommy Smith as they both went for the bouncing ball. Macari had followed up and was able to volley the ball but it hit Greenhoff’s chest and looped over the despairing Ray Clemnts and beyond Phil Neale’s frantic attempt to clear off the line. 2-1 to united and they thwarted the Liverpool quest for the “double” and the “treble’. It was a happy Martin Buchan as he led his victorious young team up to receive the Cup. He became the first Scotsman to captain both a Scottish and English FA Cup winning team.

Sadly, the elation over that win foundered on Tommy Docherty’s infidelity with the club’s physiotherapist, and Docherty was fired. United brought in Dave Sexton as manager and Tommy Cavanagh stayed on as first team coach. New manager and things changed so it wasn’t really surprising that results didn’t go as expected. Martin Buchan actually lost his place in the team for a long period during the second half of the season as Sexton tinkered with the team trying to find some consistency. He raided leeds United for centre forward Joe Jordan and then went back for centerback Gordon McQueen. It was inevitable that there would be a casualty and it was Buchan. Having won the FA Cup the previous season the team was into the European Cup Winner’s Cup but they only progressed as far as the second round before losing to Porto in a tie that was full of goals. United lost 4-0 in Porto but won the second leg 5-2. However in the league United finished tenth and the brand of football wasn’t exciting to watch.


The following season there was again lots of changes to United’s team and in the league that inconsistency cost them as it was a season in which they finished in ninth position. However, the centre back pairing was for once sorted out and Buchan partnered Gordon McQueen. The team had a great run in the FA Cup up to the semi final stage where they were paired with Liverpool and once again United were firm underdogs. In a pulsating game at Maine Road the teams drew 2-2, and in the replay at Goodison Park the Wednesday afterwards, Jimmy Greenhoff stole in to head the only goal of the game to put United through to Wembley for the third time in four years. In a final against Arsenal that will always be remembered for the last five minutes when United came back from an early 2-0 deficit to level the scores with just 90 seconds to go and make extra time imminent, they lost to an Alan Sunderland goal in the final seconds of normal time. It was a bitter pill for them to swallow and it was a crestfallen Martin Buchan that led his team up the steps to the Royal Box for a third time to collect their medals, the second time as a loser.

By the time the 1979/80 season began Buchan was approaching 32 years of age. It was a season that saw Manchester United once again make a concerted challenge for the league title. Their home form was the platform of their bid as they won 17 and drew 3 of their 21 league games at Old Trafford. It was their away form that cost them dearly as they only won 7 games, and drew 7 on their travels. There did seem to be some unrest in the camp as the type of football that was being played at that time was not attractive to watch. The following season was no different and despite the having a good run in to the end of the season, they once again finished a distant third to Liverpool. Martin Edwards decided to act and sacked Sexton and appointed Ron Atkinson in his place.

For Buchan, his time at United was fast coming to a close. Although he played frequently in Atkinson’s first season, by 1982/83, he had lost his place and was playing in the reserves. Age was catching up with him and although United were to reach Wembley that season and win the FA Cup after a replay with Brighton, Buchan played no part in either Wembley game. He decided it was time to move on and left United for Oldham Athletic. His time at Boundary Park was short and injuries blighted him. Being the person that Martin was, he wasn’t content to just sit and draw a wage packet, and so he told Oldham to tear up his contract. His playing career was over.

Buchan ventured into management for a short while with Burnley but he didn’t settle as he thought that the club’s ambitions didn’t match his own and that they had reneged on certain promises regarding expenditure that had been made to him.

Buchan will always be remembered as a terrific player and captain who was around during one of Manchester United’s less than spectacular periods. Articulate, well groomed, and one who never suffered fools gladly. A lot of his great games for United are lost in the sands of time, but he will always be remembered for the day that he clipped winger Gordon Hill around the ear in a First Division match for not obeying Buchan’s instructions to him when marking up at a free kick. He had a very dry sense of humour and my favourite story about him was about a day when he was leaving Old Trafford after a match, As he emerged from United’s dressing room, a prominent reporter from one of the national daily’s was heard to ask him; “Martin. Can I have a quick word?” To which the answer was priceless:

“Yes. Velocity!”

With that he turned on his heel and was gone.


Martin Buchan was a great player who in my opinion, was as good as any centre back who has ever played for Manchester United and better than the majority.

Last edited by tomclare; 16th March 2010 at 13:53.
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