Many, many Sir Alex tributes and accolades have been penned and spoken over the past week, all compiled with the intention of a providing a personal touch and a unique slant. Managers, ex players, journalists, fanzines, blogs, websites and even social networkers have offered testimony and appreciation for what this incredible person has achieved over a quarter of a century service for our great football club.
I reflected long and hard about what I could write about Sir Alex for the 7 Cantonas site. What could I offer that hadn’t already been written? What angle could I come from? I decided the best way to pay homage to the great man would be just speak from the heart and to offer some insight from the beginnings. That is, to put forward some thoughts, not from the here and now, but from the there and then. Why has he been so successful? Why can’t other people replicate what he’s done?
I first came into the contact of Alex Ferguson, around the Xmas of 1986. I had been invited down for a trial, and a part of the trial was to play a competitive game or two on the grass pitch at the Cliff and on the indoor Astroturf there. I had trained for a day or two and was informed there were to be some matches. I was extremely conscious of his presence, alongside Archie Knox and the youth coaches (Kiddo, Eric Harrison). One thing I can remember was that I noticed him observing, scrutinising, pondering, weighing you up in a way that only he could. He never took his blue piercing eyes out of your eyes when he spoke to you in those Glaswegian tones. You don’t forget these things. They get imprinted on your mind.
Fortunately, I had a really good trial and played very well. A week or two later, I was invited in to meet Sir Alex, sign schoolboy forms (see pic) and sign a two year apprenticeship. In those days, we used to train on a Monday and Thursday evening in the school of excellence and I was taken out of the training and guided up to his office by Joe Brown (youth development officer). My Mum and Dad were already sat in there and Sir Alex had made and was munching on tea and toast with them! I can recall him talking about Dundee with my Mum (she is Scottish too) and discussing (even back then) about the lack of pitches to play on and the lack of opportunities for young people. He weighed me up and down, asked to turn round and said I had good lines and shape to my legs. Bandy, I think you call it!!
He said to me that life is all about hard work, giving your absolute best in everything you do and that this signing was only a small step in a long journey. He wished me all the best in my opportunity and that was that. After this experience he always made time for you (mustn’t forget I was only 14/15 at the time) and would always ask if my Mum and Dad were ok and go out of his way to speak to them if they were at a junior or youth team game. In fact, he used to mingle with and talk to all the parents. He also sent a personal Xmas card that year (see pic). He didn’t have to do that? It made me feel special and wanted. Some managers wouldn’t have done it, or even thought about it?
Transporting ourselves 25 years on from this encounter, if someone was to ask me what has made Sir Alex Ferguson the greatest manager that ever lived, this is where (I believe) the main fundamentals and foundations of his success lay.
Sir Alex openly admits that three of the primary role models in his life were his Mother, his Father and Jock Stein and that this is where many of his great attributes were learned, replicated and re-enforced. He was absolutely massive on family values and the notions of behaving well. If you didn’t behave, you wouldn’t last long.
Over the years I knew him, he spoke often about the importance of unity, cohesion, the will to win, digging deep through adversity and probably most important of all, humility; all taken from the experiences of a tough upbringing on the streets of Govan. He was incredibly focused on time management, dress, standards, lifestyle, and diet and if you didn’t abide by these you would be punished! He hated anyone dropping below his astonishing measures and if you did drop below, even for one second, you would certainly feel his wrath. He could annihilate you in an instant, whether it was at the training ground or at Old Trafford after matches. He used to say “I’m only doing it for your own good.” This was the greatest thing I ever learned and took away from my “Sir Alex experience.”, to never ever fall below a quality standard.
I apply much of this today in my career as a lecturer. It may not have worked out in a football context, however, much of his teachings have been carried forward and used in many areas of my life. Thanks for this, gaffer.
To end this little reflective tribute, we can safely say Sir Alex falls into the genius category. In fact, Sir Bobby and many other great people have used this term over the past week to describe this absolute colossus of world football. I don’t think we’ll ever see the like again.
Why is he a genius? Well, for me, genius doesn’t play by the rules, genius makes their own rules. The tantrums, the explosive nature on occasions, the manipulation of the press, the “Fergie time” and the mind games! On the flip side, he has a warm, caring nature, very family driven, unified, humble, loves a song, loves quizzes, has time for everyone! It’s the paradox of success? Lots of areas fitted carefully to provide a constant, well oiled machine of titles, trophies and achievement. Incredible!
Congratulations Sir Alex, congratulations genius.