I have been fortunate during my lifetime to have seen the greats in football, music and film. Today we are highlighting the career of the greatest football manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson.
I started to watch football in 1958. My father used to put me on a coach outside my house every Saturday morning and I would go to Manchester United, Old Trafford one week and Manchester City, Maine Road the next. I saw Duncan Edwards, possibly the best player this country has ever produced. I remember seeing grown men crying on the streets of my Hometown, Stockport and found that the team had been wiped out at the Munich disaster. I also remember how Sir Matt Busby rebuilt the team from the ashes and won the European Cup, later called the Champions League. Sir Matt retired after that but stayed on as a director. It was a disaster, as the ageing team was not renewed, managers were sacked and Sir Matt tried to come back and rescue the team. It ended in failure and United were relegated in 1975. After a procession of managers, some of whom had limited success; it fell to an unknown Scot to take over the reins in 1986.
Alex Ferguson was born in 1941 and christened Alexander Chapman Ferguson. His father was a shipbuilder and they lived in the Govan area of Glasgow. At the time this was a poor area of town and only the hardest of men survived. He attended Broomloan Road Primary School and later Govan High School, and supported Rangers.
Ferguson's playing career began as an amateur with Queen's Park, where he made his debut as a striker aged 16. Although he described it as a disaster, he scored the only goal. After a short spell at a number of clubs, he was signed by Rangers for £65000 in 1965-66 season. Eventually he moved to Ayr United and finished his career in 1974.
His early managerial career saw him at a number of provincial Scottish clubs. He started at East Stirlingshire in 1974, after a brief period of months; he left and went to manage St. Mirren, who he saw as a bigger club. He famously led the small unknown club to the first division league title in 1976-77 season, but was sacked the year after. The only time in his career that has happened to him. Ferguson left in 1978 and went to manage Aberdeen. In 1983 after a run of minor successes at the club, he led them to a Cup Winners Cup Final against Real Madrid, winning 2-1. Aberdeen then won consecutive league titles. In November 1986, Ron Atkinson was sacked as manager of Manchester United, and Ferguson was appointed manager.
Sir Alex had to endure 6 years of disappointing results whilst he tried to restructure the club. He brought in players like Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson, Brian McClair and Jim Leighton. They finished second to Liverpool in 1987-88. For the 1989–90 season, Ferguson further boosted his squad by paying large sums of money for midfielders Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince, as well as defender Gary Pallister and winger Danny Wallace. Incredibly, that season there were calls for him to be sacked after a run of poor results. The turning point came in a FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest; a match which United were expected to lose. The rumour was that should that happen, Ferguson would be sacked. This game was won 1-0 by United and the only goal was famously scored by Mark Robins. Popular myth is that it was the goal that saved Alex`s career at Manchester United.
Success in the hunt for the title eventually paid off when he signed Eric Cantona from Leeds United in 1992-3 season. Cantona immediately formed a good relationship with Mark Hughes and their goals steered United to their first title of the Premiership years. In 1993-94 season, United won the double; the Premier League Title and the FA Cup.
In the years following Sir Alex, as he became known after receiving a knighthood from the queen after the treble in 1999 season, won the following trophies:-
Premier League (13): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2012–13
FA Cup (5): 1989–90, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
League Cup (4): 1991–92, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10
FA Charity/Community Shield (10): 1990 (shared), 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011
UEFA Champions League (2): 1998–99, 2007–08
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1): 1990–91
UEFA Super Cup (1): 1991
He also won a number of important trophies for his early clubs:-
Scottish First Division (1): 1976–77
Scottish Premier Division (3): 1979–80, 1983–84, 1984–85
Scottish Cup (4): 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86
Scottish League Cup (1): 1985–86
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1): 1982–83
UEFA Super Cup (1): 1983
Perhaps the highlight of his career was the treble in the 1999 season, where Manchester United won the Premier League Title, The FA Cup and the Champions League. Sir Alex was knighted for his achievements. He also famously won the title by fielding a number of youth players. Alan Hansen, a well-known television pundit said that "You can never win anything with kids!" Those `kids` included Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, who would all go on to be important members of the team.
In 2008 United won the Champions League again, this time by beating Chelsea. It would also be the end for Cristiano Ronaldo, a player who Sir Alex had bought a few years earlier from Sporting in Portugal as a raw 18 year old. Who could have known that he would go on to be jointly the best player in the world along with Lionel Mess?
As far as his legacy I would merely point to the one recurring theme of Ferguson's management of Manchester United has been his view that no player is bigger than the club. He has consistently taken a "my way or the highway" approach in his dealings with players and the pressure of this management tactic has often been the cause of many notable players' departures. Over the years players such as Gordon Strachan, Paul McGrath, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gabriel Heinze have left the club after varying degrees of conflict with Ferguson. It is also suggested that one of the most inspirational players in the club's history, Roy Keane, was a victim of Ferguson's wrath following damning criticism of his teammates on the club's in-house television channel, MUTV. This disciplinary line that he takes with such highly paid, high-profile players has been cited as a reason for the ongoing success of Manchester United.
This is obviously an abbreviated biography of a great man. There are many stories and incidents which are too many to mention here. All I would add is that like Pele, Maradonna, George Best, Muhammed Ali, Rod Laver and Pavarotti to mention but a few, I have been lucky to have been around to watch them play and sing in the case of Pavarotti. These are the legends that will disappear into the history books of our grandchildren and their children.
We will never see again the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, so I say, "thanks for the memories, you were the greatest."