McFarland's ascent to the managership last weekend, after Arthur Cox resigned due to ill-health, has shades of the shop steward who eventually takes over the firm. For when Clough and Peter Taylor walked out alleging boardroom interference in their television work, he led the players' campaign to have them reinstated.
Amid threats of strike action, McFarland even rang Dave Mackay asking him not to accept the job. And it was to him, as captain, that the rest of the squad looked to deliver a statement to the board. When no one would see them, they besieged for four hours the very corridors where McFarland is now greeted as 'boss'.
'With Clough and Taylor at the helm we believed we could dominate Europe,' the 45-year-old Merseysider recalled. 'We came to see the chairman (the late Sam Longson) and secretary (Stuart Webb) but we were completely ignored, which put everyone's backs up. Things just escalated and in the end we became too involved, too emotional. Without doubt we went too far.'
It was an extraordinary episode, which made the Venables-Sugar feud look like a storm in a satellite dish. But then McFarland's time with Derby, which spans most of his adult life, has been nothing if not mercurial. He won League championships and England caps, being acclaimed by Bill Shankly and Don Revie alike as one the game's greatest defenders, but also suffered cruelly with injuries.
Meanwhile, Derby's years of plenty have more than once given way to penury, with the European Cup jaunts to Turin and Madrid replaced by Third Division nights at Newport and Gillingham. However, that week in 1973, from which the club have arguably never fully recovered, remains sharpest in McFarland's memory.
By coincidence, England were preparing for a do-or-die World Cup match, against Poland, when the drama began at the Baseball Ground. 'I remember driving back after playing in the 1-1 draw at Wembley, knowing that we weren't going to the finals and that I was going back to a club without a manager. It was my lowest point.'
Since the end of another fraught era, during which Robert Maxwell was the Rams' absentee owner, the local free-sheet tycoon Lionel Pickering has spent pounds 12m in two years in a bid to restore the good times. Now the task of translating potential into promotion, which proved frustratingly beyond Derby last season, has fallen to McFarland.
He has made a positive start. Within hours of his elevation from his post as Cox's assistant, Derby beat West Bromwich Albion 5-3 to go sixth in the table. Wednesday's
2-0 defeat of Exeter in the Coca-Cola Cup has brought a mouth-watering home tie against Tottenham, and an eminently winnable home match with Luton follows tomorrow.
McFarland's verdict on a hectic first few days reveals how his values were shaped by the duo who persuaded him - against his better judgement - to sign from Tranmere 26 years ago. 'You're always pleased when your strikers are scoring because goals give them confidence,' he explained. 'They can play terribly but get a hat-trick and go home delighted.
'On the other hand, I still have a centre-half's instincts and the thing Clough and Taylor drummed into me from the start was an obsession with keeping clean sheets. So that side of me was annoyed by Albion's goals, though the video shows we were caught by some exceptional finishing.'
Clough, who lives 'round the corner' in the city suburbs, was the person to whom McFarland instinctively turned when he landed the job of player-manager to Bradford City in 1981. The reaction on the other end of the phone line was typically terse.
'It was the best advice I ever had from Cloughie. All he said was: 'Good luck. You'll need it. There's only one thing you've got to do, young man, and that's win football matches. Cheerio'.'
McFarland won enough to take City up from the Fourth at the first attempt. He also learned that management is 'bloody hard work - the buck stops with you' before an offer to reunite with Taylor at Derby proved irresistible 18 months later. However, with the club in desperate financial straits, Taylor was soon gone, leaving McFarland in temporary charge as the team tumbled into the Third.
'I wanted the job, and felt I was ready for it. I don't knock the club for appointing Arthur instead of me, though what was disappointing was the charade of the interview. It wasn't a nice time and I just wanted to go, but I was persuaded to see Arthur. We talked football for three hours and I decided to give it a try. With hindsight, working with him has given me an even better education.'
Derby had just nine registered players when Cox arrived, yet within two years he restored them to the top flight. McFarland, having been captain, coach, caretaker manager and reserve manager, settled into his deputy's role. 'I started to feel like part of the fixtures and fittings,' he admitted, 'though I wasn't sure whether that was a good or bad thing.'
Now, with Pickering planning a new stadium and promising fresh funds, his dream is to restore Derby to the status they enjoyed under Clough. 'The bottom line is that we must get into the Premiership, and I'm convinced we'll do that providing I can get the staff around me that I want.'
While he maintains that the gulf between the big-city and provincial clubs has grown since his playing prime, McFarland sees no reason why Derby should not emulate Norwich's success. 'You can't stand still . . . even Alex Ferguson is trying to improve his squad. I'm thinking big and I know the board are too.'
Derby should therefore brace itself for change, albeit of a more constructive nature than in Octobers past, although the surfeit of skill and quality the new incumbent has inherited guarantees that one aspect will remain constant.
'Clough and Cox are totally different characters, but they have a common bond - their love of football and a belief in the way it should be played,' McFarland said. 'I am determined to carry those principles through.'
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