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Everywhere you go in football, mention of the name ‘Roy McFarland’ will bring out delighted, broad smiles, and the memories will come tumbling out.

Not only did Roy have a brilliant playing career at the highest level; not only did he bring success to clubs he managed, among which we are lucky to count Cambridge United; not only did he aspire to and reach the highest possible standards in his work; he did all these things with the utmost honesty, sincerity and kindness.

There never was and there probably never will be a top-class sports performer to whom the description ‘a true gentleman’ could be better applied.

United supporters are immensely grateful that Roy brought these attributes to the Abbey in 1996 and stayed here for five years, winning promotion to Division Two along the way. Yet for a long time it didn’t look as if his stellar career would bring him anywhere near our little corner of East Anglia.

As a centre half of rare composure, sublime ball-playing ability and luminescent leadership skills, notably with Derby County, he mixed with the elite. Twenty-eight England caps came his way, although it should have been many more – injury deprived him of a bigger role on the international stage.

No less an authority than Brian Clough – and he should know, having snatched the young man from under Liverpool’s noses when he signed him from Tranmere – described Roy as ‘the best England centre half in the post-war years’, and it’s hard to argue.

When injuries cut short his playing days he turned to management and took Bradford City to promotion in his first season. There followed spells back at the Baseball Ground with Derby and at Bolton Wanderers, and then, from 1996, at Cambridge United.

U’s supporters remember Roy’s teams as lovely to watch, full of style, energy and commitment – precisely the qualities he had displayed on the pitch himself – and he achieved everything despite being under almost constant financial pressure.

A fitting measure of the man came in 1998 when United were awarded the PFA Bobby Moore Fair Play Trophy for the best disciplinary record in the top four English divisions. There were more accolades and trophies to come.

In 1998/99 Roy presided over a thrilling run in the League Cup that culminated in an unforgettable night at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, when the U’s came back from three down to take the game to penalties.

By the end of the season Roy had been named Division Three Manager of the Year, United had won the Fair Play award again and, most importantly, the club had been promoted to the third tier.

There were low points in his time at the Abbey – of course there were. But when the time came for a parting of the ways, Roy left the stadium with his head held high, thanking every single member of staff for their help as he went.

His reputation as one of football’s gentlemen was intact.

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