One of United’s finest defenders whose talent deserved more

There was to be no repeat of the complacency that had occurred in the previous year’s final.

The game was an end to end affair and was settled in a mad five minutes spell early in the second half, Stuart Pearson latched on to a clever headed through ball from Jimmy Greenhoff (who had been signed from Stoke earlier in the season) and blasted the ball past Clements and into the Liverpool net.

The lead was short lived however, when Joey Jones pumped a high hopeful ball towards United’s 18 yard line, but Jimmy case took it superbly on his chest with his back to goal, swivelled, and fired a rocket of a shot past Alex Stepney. Almost immediately afterwards a high ball pumped in to the Liverpool half saw Lou Macari flick it on with his head and Jimmy Greenhoff grappled with Tommy Smith as they both went for the bouncing ball.

Macari had followed up and was able to volley the ball but it hit Greenhoff’s chest and looped over the despairing Ray Clemnts and beyond Phil Neale’s frantic attempt to clear off the line. 2-1 to united and they thwarted the Liverpool quest for the “double” and the “treble’. It was a happy Martin Buchan as he led his victorious young team up to receive the Cup.

He became the first Scotsman to captain both a Scottish and English FA Cup winning team.

Sadly, the elation over that win foundered on Tommy Docherty’s infidelity with the club’s physiotherapist, and Docherty was fired. United brought in Dave Sexton as manager and Tommy Cavanagh stayed on as first team coach. New manager and things changed so it wasn’t really surprising that results didn’t go as expected. Martin Buchan actually lost his place in the team for a long period during the second half of the season as Sexton tinkered with the team trying to find some consistency. He raided Leeds United for centre forward Joe Jordan and then went back for center back Gordon McQueen. It was inevitable that there would be a casualty and it was Buchan. Having won the FA Cup the previous season the team was into the European Cup Winner’s Cup but they only progressed as far as the second round before losing to Porto in a tie that was full of goals. United lost 4-0 in Porto but won the second leg 5-2. However in the league United finished tenth and the brand of football wasn’t exciting to watch.

The following season there was again lots of changes to United’s team and in the league that inconsistency cost them as it was a season in which they finished in ninth position. However, the centre back pairing was for once sorted out and Buchan partnered Gordon McQueen. The team had a great run in the FA Cup up to the semi final stage where they were paired with Liverpool and once again United were firm underdogs. In a pulsating game at Maine Road the teams drew 2-2, and in the replay at Goodison Park the Wednesday afterwards, Jimmy Greenhoff stole in to head the only goal of the game to put United through to Wembley for the third time in four years. In a final against Arsenal that will always be remembered for the last five minutes when United came back from an early 2-0 deficit to level the scores with just 90 seconds to go and make extra time imminent, they lost to an Alan Sunderland goal in the final seconds of normal time. It was a bitter pill for them to swallow and it was a crestfallen Martin Buchan that led his team up the steps to the Royal Box for a third time to collect their medals, the second time as a loser.

By the time the 1979/80 season began Buchan was approaching 32 years of age. It was a season that saw Manchester United once again make a concerted challenge for the league title. Their home form was the platform of their bid as they won 17 and drew 3 of their 21 league games at Old Trafford. It was their away form that cost them dearly as they only won 7 games, and drew 7 on their travels. There did seem to be some unrest in the camp as the type of football that was being played at that time was not attractive to watch. The following season was no different and despite the having a good run in to the end of the season, they once again finished a distant third to Liverpool. Martin Edwards decided to act and sacked Sexton and appointed Ron Atkinson in his place.

For Buchan, his time at United was fast coming to a close. Although he played frequently in Atkinson’s first season, by 1982/83, he had lost his place and was playing in the reserves. Age was catching up with him and although United were to reach Wembley that season and win the FA Cup after a replay with Brighton, Buchan played no part in either Wembley game. He decided it was time to move on and left United for Oldham Athletic. His time at Boundary Park was short and injuries blighted him. Being the person that Martin was, he wasn’t content to just sit and draw a wage packet, and so he told Oldham to tear up his contract. His playing career was over.

Buchan ventured into management for a short while with Burnley but he didn’t settle as he thought that the club’s ambitions didn’t match his own and that they had reneged on certain promises regarding expenditure that had been made to him.

Buchan will always be remembered as a terrific player and captain who was around during one of Manchester United’s less than spectacular periods. Articulate, well groomed, and one who never suffered fools gladly. A lot of his great games for United are lost in the sands of time, but he will always be remembered for the day that he clipped winger Gordon Hill around the ear in a First Division match for not obeying Buchan’s instructions to him when marking up at a free kick. He had a very dry sense of humour and my favourite story about him was about a day when he was leaving Old Trafford after a match, As he emerged from United’s dressing room, a prominent reporter from one of the national daily’s was heard to ask him; “Martin. Can I have a quick word?” To which the answer was priceless:

“Yes. Velocity!”

With that he turned on his heel and was gone.

Martin Buchan was a great player who in my opinion, was as good as any centre back who has ever played for Manchester United and better than the majority.

This is the last in Tom Clare’s ‘Captains’ series but be sure to vote in our poll as to who was the best captain of those chronicled (best captain not best player!)

Tom Clare who will be hosting his annual United dinner on May 7th at Novotel Manchester West. The dinner will be held in aid of The Stroke Association and Lee Sharpe will be attending as a guest speaker. If you are interested in attending drop me a line at and I will pass on any enquiries to Tom.

2 responses to “One of United’s finest defenders whose talent deserved more”

  1. Zabberdast says:

    Excellent read, thank you!
    Being a fan since the 1978-79 season, I certainly remember Martin Buchan as our captain, but it was nice to clarify some of my hazy memories from those first few seasons.

  2. Diablo says:

    Martin was a fine player and I saw him play,but Jaap Stam was better and I rate Jaap as the best Ive ever seen.Martin was cool under pressure and was a good Captain,Jaap was the Ultimate defender and THE Best in my humble opinion.