It’s amazing to think that Roy McFarland’s long and distinguished association with Derby County is over 50 years old.
McFarland joined Derby from Tranmere Rovers in August 1967 as one of Brian Clough’s early signings at the Baseball Ground alongside John O’Hare and Alan Hinton.
The defender was a big hit during 15 years and two spells at the Baseball Ground over the course of the 1960s, 70s and 80s as a player and is considered one of the club’s all-time greats for his outstanding displays in central defence.
He was a key member of the Derby side which won the Second Division title in 1969, and he remained an important player in the title-triumphs in the First Division in 1972 and 1975, both on and off the field.
Capped by England on 28 occasions during his career, McFarland was the first-ever winner of Derby County’s Player of the Year Award, the Jack Stamps Trophy, and he amassed in excess of 500 appearances for the club in that time.
He later went on to act as assistant manager to Peter Taylor and Arthur Cox before taking over the reins himself in 1993.
McFarland spent two seasons as Derby manager and in his first campaign his side were within a whisker of reaching the Premier League, but they lost 2-1 to Leicester City in the Play-Off Final at Wembley in May 1994.
Now 74, McFarland is still closely associated with the club as an ambassador.
His Derby County story is a fascinating one and it all began on an August evening in 1967.
“I had played for Tranmere Rovers against Reading, drawing the game 1-1, and I went for a pint with my cousin in Liverpool before we got the bus home,” McFarland told Colin Gibson in his RamsTV Meets interview.
“I remember I was tired and went straight to bed. Then, at about 1am, I was woken by my Mum and she told me there were some gentlemen downstairs who wanted to see me by the name of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.
“I knew about Brian from when he played for Sunderland and how he had to retire due to injury. I found him an interesting person and he certainly was when I first met him.
“After about 30-45 minutes of talking I asked Brian if I could have the weekend to think about the move to Derby. He told me some things which I thought were pie in the sky; I never envisaged that they would actually happen!
“Brian said I could have as long as I liked but added he and Peter weren’t leaving the house until they got a definite answer. There had been some talk in the papers at the time about Liverpool being interested too, which I was aware of.”
So, what was it that convinced McFarland to put pen-to-paper in the early hours of the morning?
He explained: “I asked my Dad what he thought.
“He said to me ‘if they want you that badly, son, you should sign’.
“Peter Taylor had the papers with him and pulled them out his bag and put them in front of me. He told my Dad ‘Mr McFarland, you’ve made the right decision for your son’.
“Peter looked me in the eye and suggested getting the papers signed immediately so everyone could get off. He put the pen in my hand and I signed it.
“It was so late in the night I was shattered. I couldn’t believe I had signed for Derby; it was unbelievable. It was, although I didn’t know it at the time, the best decision I could have made.”
He added: “I had been at Tranmere in the Fourth Division, getting promoted in the first season, and before I knew it I had gone on a steady climb to the Second Division. It was all a step up for me.”
Clough is regarded by many as the ‘best manager England never had’.
His time at Derby, with his departure confirmed in October 1973, was proceeded by short spells at Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United, before a successful spell across the East Midlands at Nottingham Forest.
He enjoyed unrivalled success at the City Ground and famously led them to two European Cups and the European Super Cup.
His retirement was confirmed in May 1993 following over 1,400 games as a manager.
McFarland regards Clough as, understandably, a massive influence on his career.
While some of his managerial methods would perhaps come into question in the modern era, McFarland is convinced he would have easily slotted into football today.
“He was very forward thinking and, as we know, he had very strong opinions and especially about football,” he said.
“People ask me how he would have fitted in to the game as it is today and my response is always the same, he would have fitted in anywhere.
“The era he was involved in back in the 1970s and 1980s was very different to what it is now. As football has evolved, managers have had to as well and I am sure Brian, and Peter Taylor as a pair, would have.”
Clough’s first season in charge of Derby, and McFarland’s first in a Rams shirt, saw the side finish in the lower reaches of the Second Division.
However, progress was being made with Clough and his trusted assistant Taylor assembling a squad capable of challenging for promotion.
The pair pulled off a coup of a signing ahead of the 1968/69 season as the experienced Dave Mackay arrived from Tottenham Hotspur.
Mackay was on the cusp of resigning for Heart of Midlothian at the time, but he was persuaded to seal a move to the Baseball Ground.
It proved to be a masterstroke. His experience and understanding of the game was influential as he was named as the joint Footballer of the Year with Tony Book of Manchester City.
Derby won the Second Division title in style, winning their last nine games in a row, and McFarland was named as the Player of the Season – but he regards Mackay as the difference-maker.
Looking back, McFarland recalled: “I was the second player in after John O’Hare when I signed and the process was underway.
“After that players like Alan Hinton, Richie Barker and others like John Robson and John McGovern followed too. Things were happening at the club and the likes of Colin Boulton, Alan Durban and Kevin Hector were around anyway and survived the cull. Brian and Peter wanted to change the culture of the club.
“The promotion season in 1968/69 was a massive thing for us as young players; because a number of us were in our early or mid-20s. Things were happening and it was pleasing as the first year wasn’t a good one; we finished in the same position as the year before which saw Tim Ward sacked.
“The young players were there and the willingness to do the work, but what we didn’t have was a leader and someone to shake things up. Dave Mackay joined in the summer and what a signing he was; he was all of those things.
“He had won the league and FA Cup double with Tottenham Hotspur and also the FA Cup the following year. We knew about Tottenham but all of a sudden, we had this great player amongst us.
“The impact he had on all of us, not just as players but also Brian and Peter, was massive. They must have been delighted with him because the education he gave us made everyone want to latch on.
“We grabbed on and enjoyed the ride; it was a delight to play in the same team with Dave. He had so many qualities which blended in well with his confidence, which rubbed off on everyone and set us on the right path.
“I learnt so much from him. They were great days and great times.”
Another important addition around that time was Willie Carlin, who was signed from Sheffield United early in the promotion campaign from the Second Division.
Carlin, a midfielder with great tenacity, left for Leicester City early in the 1970/71 season but McFarland believes his influence should also be remembered.
He explained: “Brian and Peter always wanted things to be better. We had Dave and a good mix of youngsters and senior players, and we all wanted to improve.
“We had something missing and when Willie Carlin came in, he was a real catalyst for us; he stirred things up for us too.”
Derby’s first two seasons back in the First Division saw them finish fourth and then ninth.
However, in the 1971/72 season, Derby finished top to the pile.
By this time the likes of Archie Gemmill, Terry Hennesey and Colin Todd had signed and Mackay had moved on to pastures new by joining Swindon Town.
A 1-0 win over Liverpool, secured by a goal from John McGovern, put Derby in pole position to win the title but they had to wait for results in other games played days later.
Leeds needed a draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool required a win at Arsenal to overtake the Rams, who by this time had flown out to Majorca on an end-of-season trip.
However, Leeds were beaten 2-1 and Liverpool could only draw 0-0 – confirming Derby as First Division champions.
It was time to celebrate, but not for McFarland and Todd who were about to join up with the England squad for international duty.
While Derby’s players partied the night away in the sunshine, the duo were back in Derby and preparing for England’s British Home Championship matches against Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Colin and I were due to go away with England but we had five or six days in Majorca with the boys too,” McFarland explained.
“The England team, with myself and Colin, was due to meet up on the Monday night. We had to fly back on the Saturday or the Sunday to get our stuff to be ready ahead of joining up with the England squad.
“I went to Colin’s house with my girlfriend, who is now my wife. We got Colin’s car and we put the radio on, waiting on the outcome, and it was hell to listen to.
“I walked down the street and when I came back to the car, they were still playing. Once it was all over, it was surreal. We wanted to celebrate (with a drink), but we couldn’t! Colin got out the car and we hugged each other, and our girlfriends, and it was a magical time - but with no celebration.
“We drove down to meet up with the England team, which included some of those who missed out on the title. Alf Ramsey, the manager of the team, came over and congratulated us.”
So did they celebrate at all? Perhaps a small glass of champagne?
They did get to toast their success, but it was with a more low-key tea and biscuits.
McFarland joked: “Colin and I were rooming together, so we went upstairs and celebrated with tea and biscuits.
“We said it would never happen like that again! I said if we did it again, I wanted the champagne and celebrations.
“We heard all the tales of the lads when they got back from Spain and we also missed out on the celebrations at the Baseball Ground too because we were with England.
“It was very subdued for us both. I said to Colin it would be a lot different if we got to experience it again.”
When the European Cup was inaugurated in 1955, Derby were playing in the Third Division North.
Now, in 1972, they were England’s representatives.
And they made their mark too, reaching the Semi-Finals before unfortunately losing to Juventus.
The saw off FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo of Yugoslavia (4-1 on aggregate), SL Benfica of Portugal (3-0 on aggregate) and Spartak Trnava from Czechoslovakia (2-1 on aggregate) to reach the last four.
A 3-1 loss in Turin against Juventus was followed by a 0-0 draw at the Baseball Ground, meaning Derby missed out on a place in the Final against Ajax.
McFarland, perhaps fittingly, scored the club’s first goal in the competition in a 2-0 home win against FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo in September 1972.
While that was a big moment, the 3-0 trouncing of Benfica at the Baseball Ground in the Second Round stands out for McFarland, who was on the scoresheet once again.
“The Benfica game was the big one,” he said.
“They had a great reputation and history; they were the big club from Portugal.
“At the Baseball Ground we got off to a good start; I managed to score and also get an assist for Kevin Hector’s wonder goal. We won 3-0 and it was a perfect night.
“We went over to Lisbon and were a bit more defensive as we drew 0-0. Terry Hennessey played in front of myself and Colin and he played arguably his best ever game. He was plagued by injuries, but he was magnificent.
“He was an outstanding deep-lying midfielder and he was superb. That really sticks out in my mind.”
In the 3-1 Semi-Final First Leg loss at Juventus both McFarland and Gemmill were controversially booked and forced to miss the Second Leg.
It prompted Clough to hit out at the officials publicly and question their integrity.
Without two of their key players in the return fixture, Derby could only play out a 0-0 draw, with Hinton missing a penalty on a frustrating evening.
It also left McFarland wondering what might have been as they went so close to European greatness.
“Juventus; we didn’t understand it at the time,” McFarland sighed.
“Archie and I were on bookings anyway and we were both yellow carded for incidental fouls in the first-half.
“We missed the home leg which was very disappointing and frustrating.
“Had we got to the Final, we would have been up against a great Ajax side. I think we would have looked forward to it.
“I watched the Final and I don’t think Juventus got across the halfway line; they tried to keep the score down. If we were there; I think we would have had a right go. We could be tight when we needed to be, but we had real attacking flair as well and had the ability to score goals.
He added: “It was a great experience for us to play in Europe and try to learn and improve.”
Little did they know it at the time, that would be Clough’s one and only European adventure with Derby.
In October 1973, Clough and Taylor resigned following talk of a lengthy dispute with Chairman Sam Longson and other directors.
At the time, it caught McFarland by surprise as he was away on international duty with England ahead of a crucial and, ultimately, ill-fated World Cup Qualifier against Poland at Wembley.
McFarland said: “I was with England as we were about to play against Poland for the World Cup in 1974.
“The news came out before the game, on the Monday, and I was in a room with the lads. Alan Ball came in and told us that Brian Clough had resigned.
“I didn’t believe him. He told us that the club had accepted the resignation. We then saw the news and what had happened; it was chaos.
“It was one of the most important games with England on the Wednesday and Brian and Peter leaving was mayhem.
“Brian was on the television for the Poland game as a pundit. I saw him at the game actually; he told me to forget what had happened with him and Peter and to focus on England for now. That was brilliant of him; wanting me focussed on England in such a big match.”
England drew 1-1, having needed a victory to qualify.
Combine that with Clough and Taylor leaving Derby, it had not been a good few days for McFarland.
A protest was staged by supporters and the players also made their feelings known that they wanted the duo reinstated.
However, Derby were about to embark on a new era.
Mackay was announced as Clough’s replacement after he left his position at Nottingham Forest to take up the reigns and he was assisted by Des Anderson.
It wasn’t an easy start for the Scotsman, arriving at a time where the dressing room was disillusioned and results weren’t good.
Six league games and two cup encounters without victory followed before 2-0 success against Newcastle United at St James’ Park kick-started Derby into life once again.
They went on to finish in third place, which earned them a UEFA Cup spot.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t want Dave Mackay as the replacement, it was just that we wanted Brian and Peter to stay,” McFarland admitted.
“As players some of us actually met them, to try and convince them to stay, but word had got around that Dave was lined up to come in and at that time I was trying to follow in Dave’s shoes as the captain of the team.
“I spoke to Dave on the phone, in presence of the other players, and explained to him that we wanted Brian and Peter to stay and not to accept the job at this moment.
“He informed me in response that he had taken the job and was now the manager of Derby County. That’s how it happened and the way he spoke to me, he was determined to see it through.
“It wasn’t easy for him and Des Anderson when they came in and as players we probably didn’t help the situation; the results weren’t good at that particular time as it was difficult to deal with.
“Dave handled it better than anyone and saw it through. A time came where we had to let go. We didn’t want to, but at some point we had to.
“In a team meeting, away from everyone else, we said what we were doing was wrong for the club and we had to move on and get our heads right. We had to accept Dave and Des were our management team and to be honest it was a good moment for us all.”
With Derby back on track, good times were around the corner again.
New players were added to the squad and Mackay’s first full season as manager, in 1974/75, saw Derby crowned as champions once again.
McFarland said: “Dave made some changes and brought some players in. Franny Lee, Bruce Rioch and Rod Thomas were great signings. After winning the league title we brought in Charlie George, what a signing.
“It took a bit of time, but with our quality it had to happen. Dave and Des dealt with the tough times really well and we went on to win the league in 1974/75.
“If you wanted someone to be enthusiastic in the dressing room before and after games, Des was your man and brilliant for the players. He was a big help to Dave as well, I am sure. They were great characters.”
That title-winning season proved to be a bittersweet one for McFarland.
He suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury whilst playing for England against Northern Ireland in May 1974.
He didn’t fully recover until the end of the season and he featured in the final four games of the campaign, with Derby keeping clean sheets in all of them.
In his absence, Gemmill took over the captaincy and McFarland is indebted to the way that Mackay handled a very difficult situation.
“I snapped my Achilles playing for England and I didn’t play during the season until the last four games and that was very frustrating,” McFarland said.
“I am grateful to Dave and Des for giving me some involvement and with my contract running out it was difficult. If it wasn’t for Dave, I don’t think I’d have got another one. He stood by me and I am grateful for that.”
The following season saw Derby finish fourth in the table and they also had their involvement in the European Cup to contend with.
A 3-1 aggregate success over Slovan Bratislava from Czechoslovakia saw them into the Second Round, where they faced Spanish giants Real Madrid.
A sensational night at the Baseball Ground saw Derby hammer Madrid 4-1 in the First Leg, with Charlie George netting a hat-trick.
However, a 5-1 loss after extra-time saw Mackay’s side beaten 6-5 on aggregate.
While the overall feeling of disappointment of letting a convincing lead slip, nothing can take away the memories of that night under the Baseball Ground floodlights.
“It doesn’t get much better than beating Real Madrid 4-1,” McFarland admitted. “It was a wonderful night for the club to defeat such a big name.
“We knew it would be daunting going to Madrid in the return game. Looking back things were against us as we had a few injuries and issues. I should have had an injection in a problem I had in my thigh; I regret not doing that.”
If anything, it’s another game that season thank frustrates McFarland.
Derby reached the FA Cup Semi-Finals and faced Manchester United at Hillsborough, but a poor performance on the day saw them beaten 2-0.
Missing out on a place in an FA Cup Final still leaves him bitterly disappointed to this day.
Looking back, he admitted: “Another one where we missed out was losing the FA Cup Semi-Final against Manchester United.
“We didn’t turn up on the day at Hillsborough and it was so disappointing; we gave everything, but we didn’t perform well enough to our ability. It was probably the biggest disappointment that we didn’t get to the FA Cup Final.
“We didn’t expect Manchester United to be so effective and lively as they were. Maybe we were too cocky, I don’t know. We were chasing the game in the end. No excuses, we weren’t good enough.”
McFarland remains happily settled in Derby to this day and after over 50 years since that day he put pen-to-paper with the club in his parent’s kitchen, he couldn’t have begun to imagine the journey he and the club would embark on.
In many ways, the former defender can be regarded as an adopted son of Derbyshire and he remains a popular figure amongst supporters and enjoys his relationship with them.
He said: “I will never forget the words from Peter Taylor when I signed; ‘this is a football town’. It wasn’t a city at the time.
“He said the supporters were hungry and wanted success. He also said they turned out week after week to watch ‘absolute rubbish’ here at times. He also explained that if we gave the fans something, they’d come in their thousands. And that’s exactly what happened.
“The support I’ve had with my time here has been tremendous. I’ve always got on well with the supporters and a number of players from my era either still live in Derby or did so for a long, long time.
“There’s a connection there with so many players, more than you believe. The position of Derby and the place, it’s vibrant and the fans love their football.”
He added: “Brian and Peter always made sure we knew how important Derby County was to the local people.
“I’ve grown to love the place and what it stands for. It’s a beautiful county.”
Want to hear more from Roy McFarland on his Derby County adventure? It is one not to be missed and his RamsTV Meets, Parts 1 & 2, can be found embedded within this article.