Everyone at Preston North End was saddened to learn of the passing of former player Frank O'Farrell at the age of 94.
If I was asked to name just two true gentlemen who had played for Preston North End that I have had the privilege to meet, one would obviously be Sir Tom Finney and the second the genial Frank O’Farrell.
This passionate Irishman just wanted to be a train driver in his youth working on the railways, just like his father before him. He started on the bottom rung as an engine cleaner before becoming a “fireman” but in the meantime he was playing football, Gaelic football and hurling.
His football started with a local Sunday team named Nicholas Rovers before moving on to Clapton Celtic and Western Rovers. Then just before his 20th birthday he was asked to join Cork United on £3 per week which was decent money back then coupled with his railway wage.
Then his life turned around as West Ham United bought him for £3,000, with his wages going up to £10 per week plus an extra £2 if selected for the first team. In England at that time no footballer could receive more than a £10 signing-on fee, but that was not the case in Ireland, as Frank stated in his book All Change at Old Trafford. He received the massive sum of £1,000!
At West Ham he played around 50 reserve team games before making his Football League debut in November 1950 against Notts County. After 210 appearances for the Hammers – all in the left-half number six shirt – the talented Irish international (he had seven caps by now) was tracked and signed by Preston North End in November 1956. It was a player exchange deal, with North End’s reserve centre-forward Eddie Lewis going to Upton Park.
Lewis was unlucky in the fact that Tom Finney had reverted to centre-forward that season and therefore could not get many games under his belt. Ironically both Lewis and O’Farrell scored on their debuts for their respective new clubs!
Frank, a strong dependable wing half, got off to a great start to his career at Deepdale. Besides his debut goal, a 20-yard effort in a 3-1 home win versus Manchester City, he first tasted a league defeat in his 17th league game for the Lilywhites.
He had superseded Ray Evans who in turn had taken over from Willie Forbes. One serious episode in his life came about in that first season at Deepdale when he suffered a nose bleed.
Nothing serious about that, usually, but Frank’s would not stop and he had a two-week stay in Preston Royal Infirmary before it was controlled. This severe nose bleed kept him out of action for a month.
Eventually, after over 100 games for the club and two more international caps, he too was dropped down the pecking order, with Jimmy Smith and John Wylie being preferred in that left-sided wing half position.
When the club were relegated in 1961, 17 players were released including Frank who left to join Southern League outfit Weymouth as player/manager. This was the start of his managerial career which took him to Leicester City, Manchester United and the Iran national team.
The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Frank's family and friends at this sad time.
Honorary Club Historian