“Lou, Lou skip to my Lou ; Skip to my Lou Macari” This was a really popular song amongst Manchester United fans in the 1970s and early 1980s for United star Lou Macari. It can also still be heard sung at some away games in this country and in Europe. This is because Macari remains a popular person to United fans for what he did for the club and also for his fantastic personality both on and off the pitch too.
Visitors to Old Trafford will also recognise his name from the Lou Macari Chippy on Chester Road, close to the stadium, which Lou bought many years ago for his family. Those fans who subscribe to MUTV will recognise Macari well too, as he regularly appears on many of the Live shows on there. Looking at the story of Lou’s footballing life, not just at Old Trafford, it is a very eventful one with many ups and downs, especially during his managerial career.
Macari was born in Edinburgh in 1949 and both his parents were Scottish. The Italian surname must have come from more distant relatives. The Macari family then moved to London for 9 years before moving back to Largs in Scotland. It was back in Scotland where Macari began his love affair with football. A Catholic boy, when he was not playing football himself, Macari was a Celtic fan, so it was a dream come true for him when he joined Celtic at 16. At the time, Celtic were managed by the legendary Jock Stein, the perfect teacher for Macari and his team mates of the time like Kenny Dalglish and Danny McGrain. 1970 was the real breakthrough year for Macari at Celtic, as he began to feature regularly in the squad. He would then go on to win several Scottish League titles and cups with Celtic, making it a brilliant start to his playing career.
Back in the early 1970s, wages at Celtic were not the greatest, especially in comparison to the biggest clubs in England. This was especially the case for the young Macari who had come up through the ranks at Celtic, rather than being a big money signing for the club. Macari made it known to Stein that he was not happy with the latest contract at the club and so in January 1973, he was to be allowed to leave. Macari travelled down to Liverpool to talk to their manager Bill Shankly. The meeting took place before Liverpool’s League Cup match at Anfield against Burnley. In the meeting it was agreed that Macari would sign for Liverpool. Macari then went to Liverpool’s match that night. As he took up his seat in the stands at Anfield, Macari found himself sat next to Manchester United Assistant Manager Paddy Crerand. The two of them got chatting and Macari told Crerand he was there to sign for Liverpool. Crerand, unaware that Macari was even on the market, acted quickly and at half time went to see Manchester United Manager Tommy Docherty who was also in the stadium but not sat with Crerand. After a quick chat with Docherty, Crerand returned to Macari with the offer to join United, which Macari immediately accepted. To Macari, there was no other club he would rather have signed for than Manchester United. Macari did not even know what wages he would be on at United. This remarkable change of events would turn out to be very similar to Roy Keane changing his mind from signing for Blackburn Rovers in 1993, to joining Manchester United instead, once he knew how seriously United wanted him. Liverpool manager Bill Shankly’s reaction to Macari telling him of his decision to turn Liverpool down was a lot calmer and understanding that Blackburn manager Kenny Dalglish 20 years later with Roy Keane. Macari became a United player with the club paying Celtic £200,000 for him and it should always be remembered the way Macari wanted to play for United .
At the time, things were not going well for a United team which had been in decline since winning the European Cup in 1968. However, Macari got off to a great start, scoring at Old Trafford on his United debut against West Ham United, playing alongside United legends Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. Tommy Docherty, United’s manager, had not been in the job long and he knew he had a big rebuilding job ahead of him. Charlton and Law would leave the club at the end of that 1972-73 season and George Best would leave part way through the following season. United narrowly avoided relegation that year, finishing in 18th position in the league. Things got worse the following season though, with United really struggling throughout the season and ended up finishing 21st and being relegated. Although this was seen as a complete disaster at the time, especially as United found out they were relegated on the same day they lost 1-0 at home to Manchester City with Denis Law scoring a late winner for them.Relegation, instead, turned out to be the big turning point that was needed for the club.
The 1974-75 with Manchester United in Division 2 turned out to be a classic season for the team and especially Macari whose United career really took off. The club had stuck with Docherty who set about rebuilding the team, giving chances to great young players like Steve Coppell, Jim Holton, Gerry Daly, Gordon Hill, and Stuart Pearson. Manchester United’s supporters really got behind the team that season and average crowds at Old Trafford were the biggest in the country. Away from home, United fans took over every away ground in the country. This support was exactly what the team needed at the time and helped the club bounce straight back to Division 1 at the end of that season. Macari was joint top scorer that season, alongside Stuart Pearson, with 18 goals in all competitions and a firm crowd favourite.
The following season, United were back in contention in both the League and the FA Cup. United’s suppporters were rewarded for their loyal support with fantastic attacking football, especially with the exciting wingers Coppell and Hil. United finished 3rd in the League and had a very memorable FA Cup run too. The FA Cup Semi Final, at Hillsborough, was probably the stand out game of that season That day, United’s supporters taking over the stadium and on the pitch United beat Derby 2-0 with Gordon Hill getting both goals. Towards the end of that season, United started to run out of steam and this was reflected in the FA Cup Final against Southampton. United lost this match 1-0, and it was a frustrating end to the season which promised so much to Macari and United. Macari also finished the season as top scorer in all competitions at United with 15 goals.
The 1976-77 Season will be remembered for that very memorable FA Cup campaign. At the same time, United finished 6th in the League, whilst reaching the 5th Round of the League Cup and the 2nd Round of the UEFA Cup. United did well in the FA Cup and again found themselves at Hillsborough for the Semi Finals against big rivals Leeds United. Again, United’s support took over Hillsborough, further proving that they were the best supporters in the country, which players like Macari were well aware of. United beat Leeds 2-1 and faced Liverpool in the Final. At the time Liverpool were going for the Treble, just like Manchester United were in 1999. United defeated Liverpool 2-1 to stop this Treble and it provided United with their 1st trophy since the 1968 European Cup and their only trophy of the 1970s. All the goals came in a dramatic 5 minute spell in the 2nd half. Stuart Pearson got the opener for United with Jimmy Case getting an immediate equaliser. A few minutes later a Macari shot at the Liverpool goal was deflected into the net by United’s Jimmy Greenhoff. There was a lot of debate about who should be credited with the goal with it eventually going to Jimmy Greenhoff. Macari’s decision to join United was rewarded with an FA Cup Final Winners’ medal.
That summer there would be dramatic changes at the club with United manager Tommy Docherty being sacked for an affair with the then wife of club physio Laurie Brown. This sacking was a huge blow to United, who at the time appeared to be on the verge of real greatness under Docherty. It is definitelya case of what might have been, had Docherty not been sacked. Docherty’s successor Dave Sexton was completely different to Docherty both as a personality and in his approach to football. He was certainly nowhere near as popular with United fans or the media. Allowing popular players like Gordon Hill to leave hardly endeared him to United fans either. The 1977-78 season under Sexton was a frustrating one, with only a 10th place finish in the League and early exits in both domestic cups and in Europe. The 1978-79 was another frustrating League season, with a 9th place finish. In the FA Cup though, it was another memorable campaign, defeating Liverpool in the Semi Final Replay at Maine Road, after a classic drawn match against them at Goodison Park. The FA Cup Final was another frustrating one for United. United were trailing Arsenal 2-0 with 5 minutes to go, when Sammy McIlroy got one back from United, followed by a Gordon McQueen equaliser a couple of minutes later. Unfortunately, Arsenal replied with awinner fro Alan Sunderland a minute later. It was a cruel end to the season for United and Macari.
Dave Sexton remained at United for 2 more seasons. The 1979-80 season was his best in the league with an impressive 2nd placed finish in the league, with the club being in contention right up until the end of the season. The following season United finished a disappointing 8th in the league. In both seasons United did not go far in the Cup competitions either. Macari was a regular in the United starting line up throughout Sexton’s time at United though and remained an important player. Time had run out for Sexton though and he was sacked at the end of the 1980-81 Season.
If you read or hear any memories of United players from the 1970s and early 1980s, in terms of team spirit and what went on off the pitch, there is one name that seems to keep cropping up all the time. That is Macari. Without any doubt, Macari was the biggest practical joker in the squad and the amount of tricks he did have become legendary amongst those who witnessed these. Macari was notorious for doing things like cutting up players socks and, as Ray Wilkins would find out, nailing shoes to the floor. Even team captain Martin Buchan didn’t escape this. Buchan was very strict with players’ bar passes after matches, limiting numbers in there. Macari found a way to overcome this and got a huge number of tickets and swamped the bar after one game, much to Buchan’s annoyance. The Wimbledon team of the late 1980s and early 1990s were known as the Crazy Gang for the things they used to do off the pitch, but Macari had already done a lot of that stuff, long before them. Having a great character like that would have been fantastic for the team spirit and bonding, especially when things did not always go right in matches.
In terms of his International career, Macari won 24 Caps for his country, scoring 5 goals. He made his debut for his country in 1972, but found himself in and out of the squad after that, not playing in the 1974 World Cup. Scotland qualified for every World Cup between 1974 and 1990, so back then Scotland had a much stronger side than they have done in the last 2 decades. Macari made up for missing out on the 1974 World Cup by going to the 1978 tournament in Argentina. Sadly for Macari, his mother had died a few months before this, but he showed bravery in deciding to still go to the tournament. Macari’s Scotland Manager, Ally McLeod, didn’t help himself or his squad by declaring that Scotland would win the World Cup there. Scotland lost their opening match to Peru, in a game featuring 2 of the greatest World Cup goals by Cubillas of Peru. Macari’s team mate Willie Johnstone was then sent home for failing a drugs test. In their next game Scotland drew with Iran, meaning they had to beat the extremely strong Holland in their final group game by 3 clear goals. Scotland did beat Holland, but only 3-2, with Archie Gemmill scoring a truly classic goal in the match. It meant Scotland were eliminated and it marked the end of Macari and Scotland.
In the summer of 1981, Ron Atkinson was appointed as Dave Sexton’s successor at United. Although Macari would remain at United for another 3 years, his role at the club changed and he went from being a regular in the first team to being a squad player. To his credit, Macari accepted this, similarly to what Brian McClair did in his final few years at the club in the 1990s, and still made his contribution to the team when called upon. Macari played as a substitute at Wembley in United’s defeat to Liverpool in the 1983 League Cup Final, but was not involved in the 1983 FA Cup Final or Replay match against Brighton. It meant that Macari’s only 2 honours at the club were the 2nd Division Championship in 1975 and the FA Cup in 1977. If ever a player deserved more honours for the club for what he gave, then it was Macari. He received a well deserved Testimonial match against Celtic, which gave him the perfect send off from the club he had served so well between 1973 and 1984.
In the summer of 1984, Macari moved to Swindon Town where he took up the role of Player Manager there. For the next two years there he combined his managerial role with playng for the first team as well. Macari adaped to management quickly and very successfully, with Swindon winning the old Division 4 title in 1985-86. Macari followed this up the following season with Swindon gaining back to back promotions in 1986-87, putting Swindon in the old Second Division. In 1988-89, under Macari, Swindon reached the Division 2 playoffs as well, taking them very close to the top flight of English football within the space of only a few seasons. This left Macari in great demand and in the summer of 1989 he took up the role of West Ham United Manager. Swindon would go on to win the 1989-90 season Play Offs and secure promotion to the old Division 1, the top flight of English football. Wthout any doubt, although he was no longer at the club, Macari deserves credit for this great achievement Swindon achieved. Sadly for the Swindon fans they would be denied promotion to the top flight, due to financial irregularities behind the scenes. Swindon eventually made it to the top flight, for one season, 1993-94.
Macari settled into his new managerial role well at West Ham, despite losing key player Paul Ince to Manchester United, early on. Macari’s West Ham even reached the Semi Finals of the League Cup. However, the news of those financial illegularities at Swindon would ending up involving Macari too, unfortunately. Behind the scenes at Swindon, players had apparently been receiving illegal payments from the clubs’ owners and a full scale investigation was called for. Macari, regretfully, was forced to make the difficult decision of resigning from the West Ham job while this took place. Macari remained out of football for nearly a year while this went on, before returning to management at Birmingham City in January 1991. Macari soon brought success to Birmingham, winning the Football League Trophy, or Leyland Daf Trophy as it was then known, within a few months. Macari decided to leave Birmingham soon after, as he could not work with the owners of Birmingham City.
The next managerial role Macari took up was as manager of then old Division 3 side Stoke City in the 1991-92 Season. Yet again, Macari did a fantastic job at Stoke, in his first season there he got them as far as the Play Offs and also won the Football League Trophy, the Autoglass Trophy as it was then known. The next season, Stoke won the league and were promoted. Macari’s Stoke also beat Manchester United in the 1st Leg of an early League Cup tie that season and were unlucky to be beaten and knocked out in the return leg at Old Trafford. Macari was in great demand as a Manager again and could not turn down the offer to be Celtic Manager in October of the 1993-94 seson. Sadly, Celtic were not in a good situation when Macari went there and he soon became aware of he deep lying problems there. Despite Macari’s best efforts, he was sacked by the club in the summer of 1994. Macari, feeling he had done the job to the best of his ability, took the club to court for unfair dismissal. Macari returned to Stoke City as manager again until 1997.
Macari then took a few years out of football after leaving Stoke in 1997. It was during this break that Macari suffered two immense blows. Firstly he lost the expensive court case for unfair dismissal by Celtic and the appeal, meaning he lost the majority of his life savings from his work in football. Then, much worse, he found out his youngest son Jonathan had committed suicide in 1999, after being released as a professional player at Nottingham Forest. The news of this suicide devastated Macari and his family. Macari admits that this has haunted him every day since then. Macari deserves a huge amount of credit for being able to continue with his life after what happened.
Macari’s final managerial role was at Huddersfield between 2000 and 2002. After that Macari did look at other managerial opportunities, but clearly the right one never came about. Macari certainly deserves the credit for what he acheved at clubs like Swindon Town and Stoke City as manager there. With clubs like West Ham and Celtic it was clearly a case of bad timing with off the field issues sadly interfering with his day to day managerial jobs. Under the right circumstances, Macari could clearly have done a decent job as a top flight manager. Since 2002, Macari has kept himself busy and maintains strong links with Manchester United appearing on MUTV a lot and working at Old Trafford on matchdays in the hospitality areas. Macari is still loved today by United fans for what he achieved for the club as a player and also, I’d expect by Swindon and Stoke fans, for what he achieved there as a manager. Lou Macari remains a true football man to this day.
Legend profile written by Daniel Burdett.