Man Utd legend Lou Macari proving to be just as much a hero off the pitch as he was on it
With 401 appearances and 97 goals, Lou Macari is a bona fide Manchester United legend.
But for the 46 residents of the Macari Centre, the former United midfielder has achieved legendary status for what he has done away from the football pitch.
For the past four years, Macari, 71, has run the centre in Stoke, where he was twice manager and still lives, providing food, shelter and a safe haven for the homeless.
After watching a TV news report about the spiralling homeless problem in the city, Macari felt compelled to do something and jumped in his car to see the situation first-hand.
“It was pouring with rain, blowing a gale, but I went out to see how bad it was,” recalled Macari.
“As soon as I'd parked my car, I found 11 homeless people sleeping in doorways.
“I saw another half a dozen around the corner and realised the homeless numbers were a lot bigger than the figures talked about.
“The next morning I went to the local council, to see if they could get me a property to help get these people off the streets.
“We got a building, started off with eight people, then 20-odd and when we left there five months ago to move to the new base, we had 42.”
The original base was too cramped and, when Covid-19 hit, the dormitory set-up had to change, so a new property was found just down the road.
All the residents now have individual 'pods', a private space where they sleep, watch TV and, crucially, have a number over their door so all of them have an address.
The TVs were donated by the League Managers Association, while food is supplied by local firms and supermarkets, all keen to help such a vital cause.
“The help from all the local companies has been more than we could have hoped for,” said Macari. “We've been successful because of that support.
“People come and go, some want to stay, everyone is different.
“I've made sure it's not a case of me being Lou Macari, ex-United, Celtic and Scotland player, forget about all that, I'm just here to help you, that's it.”
Addictions to drink and drugs have led many residents to the centre, while unemployment and family breakdowns have blighted others.
One resident, Tommy, 61, said: "A lot of the young people are taking drugs, which is sad. We've all got a weakness and theirs is drugs. But Lou has been amazing, with what he's done here."
Macari is realistic about how much he can do for those with addictions. “I've realised that, no matter what I do, the drugs are in control,” he said.
“The drugs are more powerful than my voice, which is sad, but we can only do so much.”
With United and Liverpool meeting in the FA Cup on Sunday, Macari recalls winning the 1977 final, to deny their arch rivals the Treble.
United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley, Macari's shot deflecting off Jimmy Greenhoff for the winner.
“As I hit it, I shouted 'Get out of the way Jim',” recalled Macari. “It hit him on the shoulder and spun into the net.
“It started off as my goal, then it was credited to him, but I wasn't bothered.
“We'd just beaten Liverpool to stop them doing the Treble, and to win the FA Cup was a magical feeling.”
Macari, like many from his era, has been dismayed at the demise of the FA Cup, which still has huge significance for him.
“What's happened to the FA Cup now is a disgrace,” said Macari. "Winning it was a magical feeling.
“It used to be the showpiece of English football, but it's been allowed to diminish in value. It's a great shame.”
One thing that has not diminished is Macari's desire to help those who have fallen on hard times, his altruism and compassion truly humbling to see.