Roy McFarland: McFarland and Todd relishing a Rams reunion

Thirty years after they were the best centre-halves in England, Roy McFarland faces his former team-mate as an opposing manager. Phil Shaw talked to him
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Call it uncanny intuition or cunning collusion, but to hear Roy McFarland relate a tale from when he was in tandem with Colin Todd and Derby County were a power in the land, the way Brian Clough and Peter Taylor occupied the same wavelength was downright spooky.

Call it uncanny intuition or cunning collusion, but to hear Roy McFarland relate a tale from when he was in tandem with Colin Todd and Derby County were a power in the land, the way Brian Clough and Peter Taylor occupied the same wavelength was downright spooky.

The great managerial duo had taken the Rams squad to Bisham Abbey for a break, and one evening they all walked to a Buckinghamshire country pub. In the bar, Taylor selected an item - a jug, ashtray or whatever - and bet the players that Clough, who had left the room, could identify it on re-entering. Which, of course, he did. Unerringly.

At face value, the story illustrates precisely the kind of understanding which McFarland and Todd brought to their centre-back partnership. When Derby became champions in 1971-72, their names went together like Keegan and Toshack or Bremner and Giles.

McFarland, who is now manager of Chesterfield, was a ball-playing defender who, by his own admission, "liked wandering upfield, playing one-twos". Todd, currently in charge of Bradford City, was fast, had a vice-like tackle and, in his old partner's words, was "under orders not to cross the halfway line".

The dove-tailing was so seamless that Sir Alf Ramsey invited them to reprise it with England. But just as Clough and Taylor would soon leave the Baseball Ground, eventually to reunite at nearby Nottingham Forest and turn a humdrum club into the European champions, so McFarland and Todd went their separate ways. However, their post-playing careers have remained curiously intertwined.

Both went back to Derby as manager. Each has taken charge at Bradford. They were even joint managers at Bolton Wanderers. Nevertheless, when Bradford face Chesterfield in League One at Valley Parade today, it will be their first head-to-head meeting as managers.

After the way he was sacked at Bolton in 1996, leaving Todd in sole charge, did McFarland harbour ill feeling, like Clough and Taylor when they famously fell out? "Not at all," said the 56-year-old Merseysider. "There was no strain on our relationship then and never has been to this day. We still talk regularly.

"It was obvious the co-manager thing wasn't working. Some players came to see me, others to see Toddy. Those that saw me were worried he'd think they were going behind his back, and vice versa. At half-time, I'd come in and talk, then Toddy would have his say. It was farcical.

"When the chairman said: 'Sorry, Roy, last in, first out', I wasn't happy, but I understand how football works. Once you realise it's a 'no', you must accept it. It hurts, but you can't talk yourself back into a job."

Management has tended to pitch them into straitened circumstances at smallish clubs, far removed from the glamour they knew when McFarland played alongside Bobby Moore (and later, Todd) in an England team still containing several of the World Cup-winning class of '66. Not that it was champagne all the way.

"Cloughie and the Derby boys were on the beach in Majorca when they heard we'd won the league in '72, but Toddy and me had come back early to join up with the England squad. On the Monday, Leeds were at Wolves and Liverpool at Arsenal, and both could still pip us. We sat listening on the car radio. We became champions outside Toddy's house. It was surreal.

"When we got to Hendon Hall in London, the Leeds and Liverpool lads who played for England were there. It was deathly silent. Alf congratulated us and we went up to our room to celebrate with a pot of tea and some biscuits."

Whereas Todd would rejoin Clough at Forest, McFarland stayed with Derby until becoming Bradford's player-manager in 1981. After guiding them to promotion he was soon back at the Baseball Ground as assistant to the returning Taylor. "The biggest mistake I've made," he conceded. "It was too early; I should've stayed and learned my trade. But the excitement, the emotional pull, clouded my judgement.

"This is my first game back at Bradford as a manager, though I went with Derby soon after leaving them. The crowd gave me some right stick, and rightly so. There are times when you have to hold your hands up and say: 'I didn't handle that well'. That's certainly one for me.

"The irony was that Derby were in a far worse financial state than Bradford. And both those clubs are suffering now because of relegation from the Premiership and the wage structures they had. Toddy hardly had a player signed when pre-season started."

McFarland's own position at Chesterfield is better, although, in his succinct phrase, 'there's no money'. In the dying minutes of last season they escaped a relegation that had appeared inevitable, only for key players to leave in search of richer pickings during the summer.

In came a mixture of veterans like Wayne Allison, from Sheffield United, and youthful talent in search of an opportunity. Tcham N'Toya, a Parisian striker, was recommended by Portsmouth's No.2, Jim Smith. Alex Bailey and Mark DeBolla arrived from Arsenal and Charlton respectively.

"They're rough diamonds that need polishing," McFarland said. "They're playing regularly in front of crowds, which they've never done. Reserve games don't matter as much in terms of results. Here, they're fighting for their lives every weekend."

Todd, now 55, was already a top-flight player when Derby bought him from Sunderland for £170,000, but McFarland was something of a hidden gem himself, playing for Tranmere Rovers until Clough and Taylor refused to leave his house until he agreed to a £24,000 transfer.

He supported Liverpool, and Bill Shankly had reputedly been watching him. So McFarland initially wondered what possessed him to join an unfashionable club in what was then the Second Division. When Clough and Taylor paired him with Dave Mackay - "the best I ever played with," said McFarland - any lingering doubts vanished.

Todd proved the perfect successor to Mackay. "He actually let forwards run past him because he knew he'd catch them. That sounds crazy, but his pace and power made it easy. He'd slide in, hook his foot round the ball as the forward fell over, then stand up and pass. All in one move."

Modesty forbids McFarland to add that he was quite a player, too. He never was one to bang his own drum. In this story of partnerships, he still acknowledges an enormous debt to the most dynamic duo of all.

"Everything I've done in football has been based on Clough and Taylor. When I hear that Cloughie ruled by fear, I have to laugh. If anyone was afraid it was because they didn't listen to what he told them, or because their football was inferior. Everything he said in the game has invariably been proved right. Anyone that wants to argue with that should study the record books and see what he achieved at two provincial clubs.

"He once told me: 'Roy, you can't pull the ball down in the 18-yard box every time. Occasionally you've got to whack it into the stand. Only thing is, I can't tell you when to do it. You've got to make that decision.' That says everything you need to know about coaching and management. It has been stamped on my forehead ever since he said it.

"Chesterfield in League One isn't Derby in the European Cup, but a day doesn't go by without me thinking about Clough and Taylor. Not just nostalgia, but what they would do in certain situations. I'm certain Toddy's the same. If we pooled our experiences together, we'd probably have a best-seller on our hands."

A collaboration to ponder, perhaps, as they share a brew and biscuits again at Bradford today.