For those of you who are new to our “Proper United Legends” series, these interviews are usually with United supporters rather than ex-players.
But every now and again we’ll sit down with former playing legends and share the conversations here, as it wouldn’t feel right to put them anywhere else to be honest.
On this occasion, we were given the opportunity to sit down with Scotsman Lou Macari at the Macari Centre in Stoke – an empty factory-turned-homeless shelter that Lou’s been running since 2016. Our roaming reporter for the day was one of the lads – Baker – who jumped at the opportunity to meet a childhood hero. Enjoy!
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We started our chat with Lou by re-living a story that’s worth listening to over and over again: How he ended up signing for Manchester United.
It’s a story that’s been told before, but one that highlights just how much respect United demand as a club, even in less successful times (a point some of our own internal critics could do with having drilled into them!)
Lou grew up a Celtic supporter and spent his early playing days at his boyhood club under the legendary Jock Stein.
“When I signed for Jock, you could see everything centred around him,” says Lou. “He ran the place and was more than the manager. Jock brought in Sir Alex as his number two when he was in charge of Scotland, and I can remember seeing Sir Alex at the Cliff when he later became the manager. All I could see was a mirror image of Jock. Sir Alex had learnt so much from him. Discipline and no-nonsense being a huge part of that.”
Lou was earning £45.00 a week after breaking into the Celtic first team, and after about three-and-a-half years under Jock, the club offered him an extra £5.00 a week.
“After just losing my father and now needing to support my mother,” Lou says. “As well as being newly married with a kid on the way, the wages Celtic were offering me simply weren’t enough. I told Jock I needed to leave. Where I was going or who wanted me, I had no clue.”
About 3 weeks later, Lou got the call from Jock;
“Be ready in the morning,” he said. “You’re going to England.”
“I didn’t even ask him where I was going as I was terrified of him,” Lou laughs. “Like every player was.”
And with that, Lou was on his way south of the border, without a clue what to expect.
“We drove past Carlisle (to my relief); then Preston, then Blackburn, then Blackpool, before turning off the motorway at Southport. I thought ‘Is there even a team here?”
“Thankfully, it was just a pit stop, and eventually we arrived in Liverpool… at Anfield.”
“I’d just spent 5/6 years with Jock Stein who absolutely terrified me,” laughs Lou. “And Bill Shankly was of the same ilk. So when I realised I was going to meet Bill, I’d already decided I’d be saying ‘yes’ to just about anything he said.”
Liverpool had been watching Lou for a while and Shankly told him he’d want to sign him if he ever left Celtic.
“He also told me I’d be getting £180 a week,” Lou emphasises. “Nobody would have refused that at the time.”
Liverpool invited Lou to sit in the Director’s box for their next home game against Burnley in an FA Cup replay. It was here that a chance meeting with another United legend changed the course of his career (and life) forever.
“To my right was an empty seat,” Lou remembers. “The only one nobody had taken. Straight after kick off, late as usual, Paddy Crerand (who was assistant manager at United at the time) shows up.”
“Now If anyone knows Paddy,” laughs Lou. “You’ll know he can be a bit of a nosey so and so, and he starts asking me what I’m doing there.”
“Straight away Paddy tells me not to sign for Liverpool, but instead join him at United.”
“I had to quickly remind Paddy that he wasn’t the manager, but he goes away and speaks to Tommy Docherty who was – and the message was clear: United wanted me.”
“It was a no brainer to join United even though Liverpool were flying.” Lou proudly tells us. “Even though results were poor at the time, the club still had Best, Law and Charlton, so as soon as I knew they were interested, I wanted to sign.”
Lou signed for United in the days after he met Paddy Crerand at Anfield, then scored on his debut at the Stretford End against West Ham in a 2-2 draw the following weekend.
“That was me, a Manchester United player,” he says. “And looking forward to it!”
Lou went on to play 401 games in 12 memorable years at Old Trafford, scoring 97 goals in a career that saw him lift the Second Division Championship and an FA Cup.
God bless Agent Paddy!
Keep reading for our Q&A with Lou below.
What was the relationship with the United fans like back when you played Lou?
“When I first joined, it amazed me how big the club was worldwide. One of my first memories was a pre-season tour in the early 70’s. I forget where it was but it was somewhere where you’d think not many people would have heard of Manchester United. But thousands were waiting for us. They were obsessed with Bobby Charlton, even more so than George Best.
The support we had at the time during the games would just support us. They were right behind us throughout the 90 minutes. It’s changed a bit nowadays. People get disappointed when we’re not winning or if we go behind. We never had that problem and we got a lot of good results because of the fans. If we went behind they’d cheer us on. There were never on our backs. Just supporting us right until the end.
One of my favourite parts of a match-day was parking my car opposite the megastore, walking from there, down the tunnel, meeting all the fans.
I remember the season in the second division playing Leyton Orient in our first game. It certainly wasn’t a major attraction, but we got down to the team hotel in London and the place was packed. People were fighting to get tickets, everyone wanted to be there for the first game of the season. There was as many people outside as there was inside. We thought it was because it was the first game but it wasn’t, everywhere we went thousands would follow us all over the country.
The way our current manager is treated by some of our own fans on social media is horrendous at times Lou. Whether the criticism is justified or not, how much of an impact do you think this negativity has?
“Unfortunately it does get out of hand at times. Supporters today have their favourite players and expect success. If they don’t like a decision they’re quick to react (quite rightly most of the time.)
There was never any individual criticism of the manager or players thought when I played. It was always about the team. I don’t think the criticism helps anyone in the modern game but that’s how it is. Things are definitely different, but we were all a bit tougher!
It’s also 100 times more difficult now than it was back then. Take agents for example turning up at the training ground. Jock Stein would have thrown them out. Sir Alex would have thrown them most of them out. But it’s different now, there are so many more people involved. Players have an entourage backing them up.
The only opinions that used to matter was the manager’s. That’s why Sir Alex was clever, he knew when to get out as he could see the change and got out before it got too much. I can understand that, and it’s this change that’s made it difficult for any manager since.
Lou, moving onto a more positive note, we want to take you back to that goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final in 1977 – the one that stopped them lot (Liverpool) winning The Treble.
“Everyone wrote us off against Liverpool. It was ‘their’ trophy and was supposed to be the second leg of their Treble.
We’d got to Wembley three times in four years, which at the time we didn’t think was such a big deal. We went there against Southampton in 1976 and lost thanks to a late goal as some will remember. Tommy Docherty told us we’d be back the next year and we thought he was mad, but he was right.
Wembley has a habit of making you need a bit of luck on the day, which we definitely had. I hit a shot that came off Jimmy Greenhoff and before we knew it we’re 2-1 in front and lifting the FA Cup.
I had no idea what happened for the goal. I shouted to Jimmy to leave it as I shot and didn’t see it hit him on the way in. I honestly had no idea it even hit him until he walked in the changing rooms with the golden boot. I thought he was going to hand it to me and when he didn’t, I had to ask someone outside the changing rooms what happened!
But the fact we’d won was all that counted anyway. We proved everyone wrong and spoilt Liverpool’s Treble, which we didn’t think was such a big thing at the time but obviously now we know it is.”
In our eyes Lou, it will always be your goal!
Finally Lou, tell us a bit about where we’re sat now; The Macari Centre in Stoke.
“I’ve been running the Macari Centre now since 2016. It’s a homeless shelter for (at the time of this interview in December 2020) about 46 homeless people.
I’ve been involved with football throughout my career and still am, but I just thought ‘Is there anything I could do for anybody who’s fallen short?’
Being a Manchester United player helped me a lot to be honest. I just called on people that I know and asked them for a building to put a roof over people’s heads, then went to the town centre one night and invited about 12 homeless people to join us. It was just a mad moment that I had and 4 years later I’m still doing it.
We’re now in a massive warehouse with little pods so everyone has an address, which helps with job applications. They’ve got little TV’s inside as well which make a huge difference.
We feed the residents. We keep them safe. We get plenty of support from the people and businesses of Stoke too. There’s definitely been a slight change in the people that stay with us. We’d like to see more, but it’s not that simple.
Lou, keep up the amazing work and thanks for a top interview