Manchester United legend Martin Buchan reflects on John Motson's famous '39 steps' FA Cup final line

Manchester United legend Martin Buchan reflects on John Motson's famous '39 steps' FA Cup final line

Manchester United’s FA Cup-winning captain Martin Buchan was widely mentioned in tributes to legendary commentator John Motson when he died last month.

Motty delivered one of his best lines: “How fitting that a man called Buchan should be the first to climb the 39 steps” in the 1977 final when United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley.

Not only did the winning skipper understand the reference, John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps being the exact distance he walked to receive the trophy, he was also proud to be with the revered BBC broadcaster.

‘Only John Motson could think of that. He’s the best advertisement for football we’ve ever had because he loves the game so much,’ Buchan says fondly.

‘One or two friends of mine mentioned the quote when he died and I’ve known John for a long time, all the players respected him.

Martin Buchan reflects on John Motson's famous commentary accompanying the 1977 FA Cup win

Martin Buchan reflects on John Motson’s famous commentary accompanying the 1977 FA Cup win

Buchan said commentary was Motson's 'dream job' because of his knowledge of the game

Buchan said commentary was Motson’s ‘dream job’ because of his knowledge of the game

‘I remember an interview we did after I scored a breakthrough goal against Everton in 1978. I teased him that I had taken Arie Haan’s shooting lessons at the World Cup in Argentina. John did a kind of double-take, he can be serious, so I’m not sure if he knew I was joking or not!

‘I have never met anyone so interested and knowledgeable about the game. This is really his dream job.’

Although Buchan won the Scottish Cup with hometown club Aberdeen, played in two World Cups for Scotland – marking Jarzinho out of the game against Brazil in 1974 – and spent a decade at Old Trafford, the 1977 final against Liverpool was the highlight of the career.

‘We went to Wembley last year and lost to Southampton. Too many of our team got carried away and thought they were going to be millionaires,’ he recalls.

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‘Nine times out of 10 we would have beaten them but there was still a reception at Manchester Town Hall afterwards and so many United fans came, you couldn’t see the pavement. Our manager Tommy Docherty promised them “We’ll be back and we’ll win next year” and that’s stuck with us.

‘I remember going up the stairs after Liverpool, though I didn’t count them! The Duchess of Kent passed me the cup and leaned forward to say something. I was so excited to show off to the fans, I grabbed the trophy, spun around and held it up – while the poor girl was in mid-sentence.

‘Then when I realized, I thought I was a bit rude! I was just caught up in the moment.

‘We had a big parade in Manchester and when it was over, I still had the cup with me. I asked Doc what I should do with it, he told me to take it home and bring it back in the morning.

Buchan, pictured with Arthur Albiston in 1977, called lifting the trophy that year a highlight.

Buchan, pictured with Arthur Albiston in 1977, called lifting the trophy that year a highlight.

Buchan, 74, keeps in touch with football and still goes to a gym in Warrington to keep fit

Buchan, 74, keeps in touch with football and still goes to a gym in Warrington to keep fit

‘Can you imagine that happening now? You are not allowed to touch the cup wearing white gloves!

‘So I finished the cup at my local, The Wheatsheaf. Defeating Liverpool stopped them from winning the Treble, I’ve been tossing and turning for a week.’

Buchan is now 74 and still goes to the gym near his Warrington home. He keeps in touch with the game watching on TV and chatting with friends in his local.

Buchan, who played for United between 1972 and 1983, hopes Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes can climb the now-107 steps at the new Wembley to lift the FA Cup in May, adding to the Carabao Cup.

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He was impressed with how Erik ten Hag was handling things after the death of Sir Alex Ferguson.

‘It’s good to see that there’s a manager in charge of the players now,’ he admitted. ‘I’m disappointed with some of the big names, it’s more about them than the club. I’m talking about Pogba and Cristiano.

‘I think he has ruined his legacy, Ronaldo, by his behaviour. Rude attitude, you know. It’s a shame because when I think about it, it was the United players, Gary Neville, who went to Fergie and said you have to sign this kid from Sporting Lisbon.

‘He was a wonderful player but it turned sour at the end. I’m 74, I’d still play if I could, but father time forgives no man. It comes to all of us. The secret is knowing when to go.’

Buchan says he felt Cristiano Ronaldo showed 'disgusting behaviour' in his Man United exit

He felt Paul Pogba was acting bigger than the club before he left Old Trafford

Buchan criticized Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba for acting bigger than Manchester United

United have historically had great captains like Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Buchan himself. The current situation is more complicated with Maguire sidelined and Bruno filling in.

‘Some of these guys you see playing now, they’re doing things with the ball that I’ve only dreamed about,’ Buchan said admiringly.

‘But it’s not an ideal situation to have two captains. I’m sure when the dust settles on this season the manager will be thinking something. It may be Bruno but he can also be petulant which detracts from his performance.

‘There are only three games left in the FA Cup so why shouldn’t United go out and win it.

‘The Liverpool game was a bit of a hammer blow but I remember one time losing 6-0 at Ipswich. I said afterwards that it wasn’t the best of performances but at the end of the day, it was just two points.

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‘There are still one or two weak hearts in the current dressing-room but I trust the manager. I’m sure when I sit here in two years time, I will be happy with what he did.

Buchan has always been a natural leader. Well educated, he learned Latin at school. Aberdeen convinced him to pursue a career in football. His debut against Dunfermline saw him come up against Alex Ferguson. At 21, he became the youngest captain to lift the Scottish Cup defeating Celtic in the 1970 final.

Even at United, he was skipper on his home debut when Bobby Charlton was injured, later became full-time captain and led the team three times at Wembley in the 1970s before Ron Atkinson handed Ray Wilkins the armband.

Buchan said it was 'an honour' to be handed the armband full-time at Manchester United

Buchan said it was ‘an honour’ to be handed the armband full-time at Manchester United

‘I’ve always looked at it as an honour, rather than dreading the responsibility,’ he revealed. ‘My first chance was against Everton on Wednesday afternoon because there was a miners’ strike and we couldn’t use the floodlights.

‘Bobby wasn’t available so Frank O’Farrell said, “bring the boys out”. I won’t deny it but I don’t think one or two people were happy when I walked in the door.

‘Captains are different. Some lead by example, like Robbo who is all action. I’m in the back four so I can see the game in front of me and pull people into position.

‘I am lucky to have football in my life. I went straight from school at 17 to Aberdeen and graduated from Oldham at 35. I had a short spell in management at Burnley, worked at Puma for 13 years and the PFA at 17. I never needed to get a proper job. .’ Fitting, and rewarding, for a man called Buchan.

News/Image Sources: Daily Mail