The Fonz of Old Trafford

Marin Buchan

Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

Martin McLean Buchan was born on 6 March 1949 in Aberdeen, Scotland.  The young Buchan always dreamt of becoming a professional footballer and his dream came true when his home town club signed him as a 15-year old trainee (on a provisional form) on 30 July 1964.  Aberdeen’s scout had been watching Buchan for a while when he was playing for Banks O’ Dee Football Club in the Granite city, and he recommended him to the Aberdeen manager, Eddie Turnbull.  Aberdeen are nicknamed “The Dons” and Turnbull was one of the club’s historic and legendary “Famous Five.”  However, the famous five club he was a member of had nothing whatsoever to do with the novel series of the same name written by the English author, Enid Blyton.  In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Turnbull was one of Hibernian Football Club’s famous forward line of five which also included Bobby Johnstone, Willie Ormond, Lawrence Reilly and Gordon Smith.  

In 1952, Blyton’s eleventh novel in her series was published and it was entitled “Five Have A Wonderful Time.”  During his career with Hibernian, Turnbull won the Scottish League title in seasons 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1951-52.  He was also the first British player to score a goal in the European Cup.  At the end of the 1954-55 season, L’Équipe, the French sports magazine and their editor, Gabriel Hanot, devised the inaugural European Cup competition.  The competition was open to the domestic Champions of a number of countries plus a few selected prestige European sides.  Chelsea were First Division Champions for the first time in their history in season 1954-55, but were barred by the Football League from participating in the European Cup which the hierarchy of the English game regarded as a distraction to their clubs’ League commitments.

The participating clubs in the first four seasons of the European Cup were selected by L’Équipe.  Hanot had initially invited the 1954-55 Scottish League Champions, Aberdeen, to participate but, when they were informed that the ties would be played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the club’s Board of Directors turned the offer down as they believed playing under floodlights (which weren’t installed at Pittodrie until 1959) would give rival sides a clear advantage.  It was also suggested that revenue from home games in the competition would not generate sufficient funds to offset the expense of air travel to away fixtures.  Glasgow Celtic, Glasgow Rangers and Heart of Midlothian had finished second, third and fourth in the Scottish First Division in season 1954-55, but Hanot decided that a club’s past achievements and their appeal to fans were key to entry, rather than simply winning domestic titles.  And so, Hibernian, who finished fifth in the table, were invited by Hanot to be Scotland’s representatives in the inaugural season of the European Cup, 1955-56, which the Edinburgh club accepted.

On 14 September 1955, Turnbull scored the club’s first ever goal in the European Cup in the 35th minute of their 4-0 away win over Rot Weiss-Essen in a First Round, first leg tie.  Hibs made it all the way to the semi-finals where they lost 3-0 over two legs to Stade Reims, the reigning Ligue 1 holders (Champions of France).

Martin made his senior debut for Aberdeen on 5 October 1966, aged 17, in a 9-2 victory against Deveronvale in a friendly at Pittodrie.  Three days later, Turnbull handed him his League debut, a 1-1 draw with Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park.  He played at left-half and slotted well into the team with a faultless display exuding poise and style for someone so young and so inexperienced.

Form is temporary, class is permanent.”

Bill Shankly   

The young Buchan was eager to learn the game and in his mind, there was no one better suited to teach him than his mentor, Turnbull.  When his manager spoke, Buchan was like a sponge, soaking up every piece of information Turnbull uttered whether it was about an opposing player or team tactics to combat the threats of a particular opponent.  Turnbull knew that in Buchan, he not only had an attentive player but a future star.  After his retirement, Martin said that he would never have reached the heights he did had it not been for the knowledge of the game which Turnbull bestowed upon him.

At the start of the 1969-70 season he was appointed the captain of the club.  Buchan was just 21 years old when he captained Aberdeen to a 3-1 win over Jock Stein’s legendary Glasgow Celtic team, European Cup winners in 1967, in the 1970 Scottish FA Cup final.  He was the youngest ever Scottish FA Cup winning captain.  After making 134 Scottish First Division (later renamed the Scottish Premier League before the start of the 1998-99 season) appearances and scoring 9 timesfor The Dons, he moved to Manchester United in a £120,000 transfer.  Frank O’Farrell, the manager of Manchester United, broke the club’s record transfer fee to sign the silky Buchan on 29 February 1972.  O’Farrell had to act swiftly to capture the young Scot, who was named Scottish Footballer of the Year in 1971, as Leeds United and Liverpool were also very interested in acquiring him.

Annoyingly precise, like he’d just walked out of a tailor’s window.” 

Davie Robb, Aberdeen 1966-77, speaking about his former teammate, Martin Buchan

On Christmas Day 1971, United were top of the First Division, and the fans dreamt of winning the title back for the first time since season 1966-67.  The famous Triumvirate of Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best were still at Old Trafford but their halcyon days were behind them, a long and distant, but wonderful memory for all United fans.  Suddenly and inexplicably, United’s League form (they had only lost twice in their opening 23 games of the season) imploded.  On New Year’s Day 1972, West Ham United beat United 3-0 in London and a week later Wolverhampton Wanderers ravaged United 3-1 at Old Trafford.  United drew 1-1 away to Southampton in the FA Cup Round 3 on 15 January 1972 and beat The Saints 4-1 at Old Trafford four days later in a replay.  Chelsea then won 1-0 at Old Trafford on 22 January 1972 which was followed with three more losses: 2-1 away to West Bromwich Albion on 29 January 1972, a 2-0 loss at home versus Newcastle United on 12 February 1972 (on 5 February 1972, United beat Preston North End 2-0 on the road in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup).  On 19 February 1972, Leeds United humiliated O’Farrell’s side, winning 5-1 at Elland Road.  

The cracks in O’Farrell’s team had risen to the surface and he knew he had to do something to shore up his leaky defence and try and save United’s season which was crumbling under his tenure.  The first ever Irish manager in the history of Manchester United knew his job was on the line.  He was standing on a cliff edge and he was acutely aware that the ground beneath his feet was very unstable.  Enter Martin Buchan as O’Farrell took a leaf out of a popular TV show at the time called “It’s A Knockout.”  The series was shown on BBC1 from 7 August 1966 to 30 July 1982 and the participating Teams could double their points in one round by choosing to play their “Joker.”  In signing Buchan, O’Farrell played his Joker and United ended the campaign 8th in the League, a far cry in playing cards’ terms from achieving a “Royal Flush” and being crowned Champions of England.            

And so, a new Don had arrived at Old Trafford.  But more importantly, a new dawn was beginning.

Over the following decade Buchan proved to be the club’s most influential player, an outstanding captain and leader, and he was unquestionably Docherty’s linchpin in his young Manchester United team.  Martin made his Manchester United debut just four days after he put pen to paper to sign for the club, a 2-0 loss away to Tottenham Hotspur in the First Division.  

Martin Buchan was a centre half of exquisite class who oozed class, emanated calmness and who, even at a young age with Aberdeen Football Club, possessed a natural leadership ability.  When he was made captain of Manchester United after Bobby Charlton left Old Trafford in the summer of 1972-73, he was already a consummate professional, a player whose career was marked by constant improvement and which was en-route to entering the stratosphere of the game, both at club and international level.

In his first full season at Old Trafford his dream move became a nightmare when United were relegated to the Second Division at the end of the 1973-74 season.  Buchan had the chance to leave Old Trafford but decided to see out his contract.  “I wasn’t happy about relegation, but I decided to stay and help the club back into the First Division,” he later explained.

The following season, 1974-75, he captained the club to the Division Two title, playing in 41 of their 42 League games, and promotion back to the top flight.  Buchan played with style, he was super confident in the tackle, read the game as well as any player did, he had a swagger about him.  He had beautiful balance and a touch of panache.  United’s first season back among the big boys saw them finish in a highly respectable third place in the League but they suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Second Division Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup final.  Remarkably Buchan played in every single game for the club during the 1975-76 season, 42 League games, 7 FA Cup games and 3 League Cup games, 52 games in total without scoring.

’Too many of our players thought all they had to do was turn up to collect their medals. And they did.  Losers’ medals.’’

Martin Buchan speaking about how he felt that some of his teammates were complacent in underestimating Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup final

On 21 May 1977, Buchan became the only player to captain a Scottish FA Cup winning team and an English FA cup winning team when Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in the 1977 Silver Jubilee FA Cup final.  He almost missed the final after picking up a bad knock against West Ham United just five days before the showpiece event.  Martin received an injury in United’s final League game of the season, a 4-2 loss away to West Ham United.  The medical team at Old Trafford did not think he would be fit in time to face Liverpool but Buchan was not going to miss the opportunity of leading his team out beneath the famous Twin Towers for the second year in a row and especially after having to accept a runners’-up medal the year before.  Buchan received a couple of injections during the week and played in the final with a strapped left knee.  

How fitting it was for a man called Buchan to climb the famous 39 steps up to the Royal Box to receive the world’s most iconic and famous domestic football Cup.  The Scottish author, John Buchan, wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps in 1915 while he was ill in bed with a duodenal ulcer, an illness which remained with him all his life.  Scotland’s international defender, Martin Buchan, had an outstanding game in the heart of the United defence and kept Kevin Keegan, who was playing his last ever match for Liverpool before moving to Hamburger SV in West Germany, quiet throughout the game.  And, he did so with a dodgy knee.  Rod Stewart, a big Manchester United fan, and a fervent Scotland supporter, gave Manchester United’s travelling Red Army plenty to talk about on the journey back up North even though the title of his song that went to No.1 in the UK Singles Charts earlier that afternoon was: “I Don’t Want To Talk About It.’’    

Tommy Docherty’s side deprived Liverpool of becoming the first English team to win The Treble as they were crowned English League Champions in season 1976-77 and defeated Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1977 European Cup final four days after they lost to United.  The 1977 FA Cup final was televised live by the BBC on 21 May 1977, and it was one of the Top 10 most watched television programmes of the year.  However, across the Big Pond that same year, an American sitcom transfixed the American and British television viewers, and that show was called ‘Happy Days.’’  It was the No.1 Top Rated show for viewing figures from 1976-77 mainly thanks to its’ lead character.  Henry Winkler played the role of Fonzie, better known as The Fonz (Arthur Fonzarelli), a cool biker and High School dropout that the girls simply swooned over, fainting and falling at his feet whenever he snapped his fingers.  He was cast as an exciting rebel in the idyllic world of 1950’s suburbia America.  The Fonz was surrounded by wannabees, Richie Cunningham (the main protagonist in the show played by Ron Howard), Ralph Malph (played by Danny Most) and Potsie Weber (played by Anson Williams).  In 1977, Martin Buchan was coolness personified, he was the real thing, not a sitcom character.  Buchan also had his protagonists which included his fellow Scots, Lou Macari and Arthur Albiston (the 1977 FA Cup final was Albiston’s first ever FA Cup game for the club). Northern Ireland internationals Jimmy Nicholl and Sammy McIlroy, England wingers Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill, the Greenhoff brothers – Brian and Jimmy, Stuart “Pancho” Pearson and goalkeeper, Alex Stepney.   

The Fonz was the epitome of cool, mainly thanks to his roguish good looks and his ability to make a jukebox play a song by simply hitting it.  And, The Fonz although unreal, actually was able to go one better than Buchan.  In Happy Days, The Fonz rode a 1949 Triumph TR5 Trophy motorbike.  A classic machine for motorbike enthusiasts and historians.  In contrast, Martin Buchan drove a Triumph Dolomite car.  Winkler’s costume for every show was a black leather jacket, white T-shirt and blue jeans but Martin Buchan won the fashion contest between the two when he took to the pitch wearing a Manchester United kit.  During his Manchester United career, Martin Buchan was unquestionably The Fonz of Old Trafford.  The Manchester United No.6 may have driven a Triumph Dolomite, but he purred like a Rolls Royce on the pitch.   

Martin Buchan plays with that much class, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra should be playing in the stands at Old Trafford accompanying him.”  

Tommy Docherty

A number of Scottish players have been responsible for some of the greatest football quotes.  Kenny Dalglish had a tongue as quick as his turn inside the box and Gordon Strachan always had a few crackers up his sleeve.  On one occasion a reporter approached Strachan after a game and asked the canny Scot for a quick word.  Strachan looked him straight in the face and said “Velocity” and then walked off leaving the reporter as bemused as those who first heard Eric Cantona utter: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”  But Strachan, a former Aberdeen and Manchester United player just like Buchan, was not the first to use this pearl of wisdom.  

On 25 March 2017, Martin gave an interview to The Scotsman: “It was the start of season 1976-77 and Manchester United had just played Coventry City at the old Highfield Road.  I was last out of the bath because I always liked a good soak and by the time I got to the players’ lounge – right at the top of the stadium – I was in need of a refreshment.  This journalist who I didn’t know put his hand on my chest to stop me.  A quick word, Martin? ‘Velocity,’ I said, and because he’d been so rude I added ‘f**k off’.”  Manchester United defeated Coventry City 2-0 on 24 August 1976, with Lou Macari and Gordon Hill scoring for the club.

He was the sensible one.”

Arthur Graham, Aberdeen 1970-77, speaking about his former teammate, Martin Buchan

In 1979, Martin Buchan captained Manchester United for the third time in an FA Cup final, this time losing 3-2 to Arsenal.  Four years later he left Old Trafford and signed on a free transfer for Oldham Athletic in July 1983, aged 34.  He played a total of 456 times for Manchester United, scoring four goals.  Martin also found the back of the net for United’s opponents on three occasions.  During his illustrious playing career, he was only booked five times and was never sent off.  And, if he ever got too big for his boots his Mum would telephone him from Aberdeen and give off to her son.

Even when I went to Manchester, if I was booked my mum was on the phone asking what I’d been up to as if I’d brought shame on the family!

Martin Buchan

Martin won 34 caps for Scotland (no goals) and represented his country at the 1974 and 1978 Fifa World Cup finals.  After a brief sojourn as a manager, he spent four months in charge of Burnley from July to August 1985, he took up a job with the sports manufacturer, Puma, and joined the Professional Footballers’ Association in 2000 before leaving his advisory role in 2017.

Tommy Docherty may well have been Martin’s manager at Old Trafford from 1972-77, but Buchan pulled the strings on the pitch.  He was the conductor in The Doc’s orchestra as he marshalled his brass section (his fellow defenders), backed-up his wind section (the midfield) when they were in trouble, urged on his percussion section, notably Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill out on the wings, and provided the ammunition on many occasions with a sublime pass up-field to his bowed string section, his forwards, to pluck the chord and score.  

Mind you, if Martin thought any of his teammates were slacking off in a game he had no hesitation, a bit like a certain Roy Keane would do so many years later, in letting his teammate know it.  On one occasion Hill received a clip around the ear from his captain for failing to adhere to Martin’s instructions and marking his designated man when United conceded a free kick.

Did You Know That?

In May 1973, Tommy Docherty signed martin’s younger brother, George who was born on 2 May 1950, from Aberdeen.  However, unlike his older brother, George’s stay at Old Trafford was a short one as he only managed four appearances in season 1973-74, before being transferred to Bury at the end of the season.  His father, Martin senior, played for Aberdeen during the Second World War in unofficial tournaments whilst his son, Jamie, played for The Dons from 1995 to 2000.      

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