“The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work.”Sir Alex Ferguson
“In ’77 it was a Docherty, Atkinson will make it Eighty-Three”
These famous lines from Manchester United anthem ‘Glory Glory Man United’ indicate the club’s shambolic relegation from English Football League in 1977 and how new manager Ron Atkinson steadied the ship and got them promoted in 1983. But Manchester United football club was never meant for ‘Participation Certificate Holders’ for English League and with all the glory days Under Sir Matt Busby two decades ago seemed to be long gone, they parted ways with Atkinson and in 1986, appointed a Scott manager named Alex Ferguson for his recent success with Scottish League outfit Aberdeen.
Rest followed, is what we can call history or a folklore or a fairytale and a story of how a Manchester club became the most successful club in the country and one of those in the World. We’ll look back on how an ordinary Scott-man Alex Ferguson became Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson, CBE and regarded as one of the best managers the game has ever seen if not the best.
Alexander Chapman Ferguson was born at his grandmother’s home on Shieldhall Road in Govan, a suburb of Glasgow, on 31 December 1941, but grew up in a tenement at 667 Govan Road (which has since been demolished), where he lived with his parents and his younger brother Martin. His father was Alexander Beaton Ferguson, a plater’s helper in the shipbuilding industry, and his mother was Elizabeth.
Ferguson attended Broomloan Road Primary School and later Govan High School. He began his football career with Harmony Row Boys Club in Govan, before progressing to Drumchapel Amateurs, a youth club with a strong reputation for producing senior footballers. He also took an apprenticeship as a toolmaker at a factory in Hillington, being appointed a union shop steward.
Before stepping into management Ferguson started as a professional football player and played for several clubs in his country Scotland including Scottish giants Rangers FC. Ferguson’s playing career began as an amateur with Queen’s Park, where he made his debut as a striker, aged 16. He described his first match as a “nightmare” but scored Queen’s Park’s goal in a 2–1 defeat against Stranraer. Perhaps his most notable game for Queen’s Park was the 7–1 defeat away to Queen of the South on Boxing Day 1959 when ex-England international Ivor Broadis scored four of the Queen of the South goals. Ferguson was the solitary Queen’s Park goalscorer.
Despite scoring 20 goals in his 31 games for Queen’s Park, he could not command a regular place in the side and moved to St Johnstone in 1960. Although he continued to score regularly at St Johnstone, he was still unable to command a regular place and regularly requested transfers. Ferguson was out of favour at the club and he even considered moving to Canada, however, St Johnstone’s failure to sign a forward led the manager to select Ferguson for a match against Rangers, in which he scored a hat-trick in a surprise victory. Dunfermline signed him the following summer (1964), and Ferguson became a full-time professional footballer.
The following season (1964–65), Dunfermline were strong challengers for the Scottish League and reached the Scottish Cup Final, but Ferguson was dropped for the final after a poor performance in a league game against St Johnstone. Dunfermline lost the final 3–2 to Celtic, then failed to win the League by one point. The 1965–66 season saw Ferguson notch up 45 goals in 51 games for Dunfermline. Along with Joe McBride of Celtic, he was the top goalscorer in the Scottish league with 31 goals.
He then signed for Scottish giants Rangers for £65,000, then a record fee for a transfer between two Scottish clubs. He performed well in Europe during his two seasons with the club, scoring six goals in nine appearances in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup including two against 1.FC Köln in the 1967–68 competition, and an important strike against Athletic Bilbao in the 1968–69 edition which helped Rangers into the semi-finals, but on both occasions, they were knocked out by English opposition.
He was blamed for a goal conceded in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final, in a match in which he was designated to mark Celtic captain, Billy McNeill, and was subsequently forced to play for the club’s junior side instead of for the first team. According to his brother, Ferguson was so upset by the experience that he threw his losers’ medal away. There have been claims that he suffered discrimination at Rangers after his marriage to a Catholic, Cathy Holding, but Ferguson himself makes it clear in his autobiography that Rangers knew of his wife’s religion when he joined the club and that he left the club very reluctantly, due to the fall-out from his alleged cup final mistake.
The following October, Nottingham Forest wanted to sign Ferguson, but his wife was not keen on moving to England at that time so he went to Falkirk instead. He remained at Brockville for four years gaining more league appearances than he had elsewhere; in light of his experience he was promoted to player-coach, but when John Prentice became manager he removed Ferguson’s coaching responsibilities. Ferguson’s time at Falkirk was soured by this and he responded by requesting a transfer and moved to Ayr United, where he finished his playing career in 1974.
In June 1974, Ferguson started his managerial journey at East Stirlingshire, at the comparatively young age of 32. It was a part-time job that paid £40 per week, and the club did not have a single goalkeeper at the time. He gained a reputation as a disciplinarian, with club forward Bobby McCulley later saying he had “never been afraid of anyone before but Ferguson was a frightening b#stard from the start.”
The following October, Ferguson was invited to manage St Mirren. While they were below East Stirlingshire in the league, they were a bigger club and although Ferguson felt a degree of loyalty towards East Stirlingshire, he decided to join St Mirren after taking advice from Jock Stein.
Ferguson was manager of St Mirren from 1974 until 1978, producing a remarkable transformation of a team in the lower half of the old Second Division watched by crowds of just over 1,000, to First Division champions in 1977, discovering talent like Billy Stark, Tony Fitzpatrick, Lex Richardson, Frank McGarvey, Bobby Reid, and Peter Weir while playing superb attacking football. The average age of the league winning team was 19 and the captain, Fitzpatrick, was 20. St. Mirren has the distinction of being the only club ever to sack Ferguson as well as this is the club where he won his first-ever First Division League title as manager.
In 1977, Ferguson turned down the manager’s job at Aberdeen. The role went to Billy McNeill, who returned to Celtic after only a year, leaving the role available for Ferguson once again. He finally joined Aberdeen in June 1978. Although Aberdeen were one of Scotland’s major clubs they had won the league only once, in 1955 under Dave Halliday. The team had been playing well, however, and had not lost a league match since the previous December, having finished second in the league the previous season.
Ferguson had now been a manager for four years, but was still not much older than some of the players and had trouble winning the respect of some of the older ones such as Joe Harper. The season did not go especially well, with Aberdeen reaching the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup Final, but losing both matches and finishing fourth in the league.
Aberdeen lost the 1979–80 Scottish League Cup Final, this time to Dundee United after a replay. Ferguson took the blame for the defeat, saying he should have made changes to the team for the replay. Aberdeen had started the following season poorly but their form improved dramatically in the new year and they won the Scottish league that season with a 5–0 win on the final day. It was the first time in 15 years that the league had not been won by either Rangers or Celtic.
Ferguson now felt that he had the respect of his players, later saying “That was the achievement which united us. I finally had the players believing in me”. The team continued their success with a Scottish Cup win in 1982. Ferguson was offered the manager’s job at Wolverhampton Wanderers but turned it down as he felt that Wolves were in trouble and his “ambitions at Aberdeen were not even half fulfilled”.
Ferguson led Aberdeen to even greater success the following season, 1982–83. They had qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup as a result of winning the Scottish Cup the previous season, and impressively knocked out Bayern Munich, who had beaten Tottenham Hotspur 4–1 in the previous round.
According to Willie Miller, this gave them the confidence to believe that they could go on to win the competition, which they did, with a 2–1 victory over Real Madrid in the final on 11 May 1983. Aberdeen became only the third Scottish team to win a European trophy and Ferguson now felt that “he’d done something worthwhile with his life”. This was followed up with victory in the European Super Cup in December 1983, when Hamburger SV, the reigning European Cup champions, were beaten 2–0 over two legs. Aberdeen had also performed well in the league that season and retained the Scottish Cup with a 1–0 victory over Rangers.
After a sub-standard start to the 1983–84 season, Aberdeen’s form improved and the team won the Scottish league and retained the Scottish Cup. Ferguson was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1985 New Year Honours and was offered the managers’ jobs at Rangers and Arsenal during the season which he turned down. Aberdeen retained their league title in the 1984–85 season, but had a disappointing season in 1985–86, finishing fourth in the league, although they did win both domestic cups.
Ferguson had been appointed to the club’s board of directors early in 1986, but that April he told Dick Donald, their chairman, that he intended to leave that summer. He left the Scottish club in summer 1986 winning 3 Scottish league titles, 2 European trophies and numerous domestic cups for them and being one of the Greatest managers Aberdeen have ever had.
Ferguson had been part of coaching staff for the Scottish national side during qualifying for the 1986 World Cup, but manager Jock Stein had collapsed and died on 10 September 1985 – at the end of the game in which Scotland qualified from their group for a play-off against Australia. Ferguson promptly agreed to take charge of the Scottish national side against the Australians and subsequently at the World Cup. To allow him to fulfil his international duties he appointed Archie Knox as his co-manager at Aberdeen. However, after Scotland failed to progress past the group stages of the World Cup, Ferguson stepped down as national team manager on 15 June 1986.
Taking Charge of Manchester United
Ferguson was appointed manager at Old Trafford on 6 November 1986 after the departure of Ron Atkinson. He was initially worried that many of the star players, such as Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath, and Bryan Robson were drinking too much and was “depressed” by their level of fitness, but he managed to increase the players’ discipline and United climbed up the Premier League table to finish the season in 11th place, having been 21st (one place above relegation zone) when he took over.
His first game in charge was a 2–0 defeat at Oxford United on 8 November, followed seven days later by a goalless draw at newly-promoted Norwich City, and then his first win came on 22 November, a 1–0 win against Queens Park Rangers. Results steadily improved as the season went on and by the time they recorded what would be their only away win of the league campaign at title challengers and deadly rivals Liverpool on Boxing Day, that result clearly indicated that United were on the road to recovery.
1987 began on a high note with a 4–1 victory over Newcastle United and United gradually pulled together in the second half of the season, with relatively occasional defeats on the way, and finished 11th in the final table. Ferguson’s mother Elizabeth died of lung cancer, aged 64, three weeks after his appointment. Ferguson hired Archie Knox, his assistant at Aberdeen, in the same role at Manchester United in 1986.
In the 1987–88 season, Ferguson made several major first-team signings, including Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson, Brian McClair, and Jim Leighton. The new players made a great contribution to a United team who finished in second place, nine points behind Liverpool. Liverpool’s points lead, however, had been in double digits for most of the season and while United had lost only five league games all season, they drew 12 games and there was clearly still some way to go before United could be a match for their northwestern rivals.
During the season, United played two friendly matches in Bermuda against the Bermuda national team and the Somerset Cricket Club. Interestingly, in the match against Somerset, both Ferguson himself and his assistant Archie Knox took to the field, with Knox even getting on the scoresheet. The match was Ferguson’s only appearance for the Manchester United first team.
United were expected to do well when Mark Hughes returned to the club two years after leaving for Barcelona, but the 1988–89 season was a disappointment for them, finishing 11th in the league and losing 1–0 at home to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup sixth round. They had begun the season slowly, going on a nine-match winless run throughout October and November (with one defeat and eight draws) before a run of generally good results took them to third place and the mix of the title challenge by mid-February. However, another run of disappointing results in the final quarter of the season saw them fall down to mid-table.
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. The season began well with a 4–1 win over defending champions Arsenal on the season-opener, but United’s league form quickly turned sour.
In September, United suffered a humiliating 5–1 away defeat against fierce rivals Manchester City. Following this and an early-season run of six defeats and two draws in eight games, a banner declaring, “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap … ta-ra Fergie.” was displayed at Old Trafford, and many journalists and supporters called for Ferguson to be sacked. Ferguson later described December 1989 as “the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game”, as United ended the decade just outside the relegation zone.
Following a run of seven games without a win, Manchester United were drawn away to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup. Forest was performing well that season and was in the process of winning the League Cup for the second season running, and it was expected that United would lose the match and Ferguson would consequently be sacked, but United won the game 1–0 due to a Mark Robins goal and eventually reached the final.
This cup win is often cited as the turning point of Ferguson’s Old Trafford career, even though it has since been stated that his job was never at risk. United went on to win the FA Cup, beating Crystal Palace 1–0 in the final replay after a 3–3 draw in the first match, giving Ferguson his first major trophy as Manchester United manager. United’s defensive frailties in the first match were unilaterally blamed on goalkeeper Jim Leighton, forcing Ferguson to drop his former Aberdeen player and bring in Les Sealey.
Although United’s league form improved greatly in 1990–91, they were still inconsistent and finished sixth. There were some excellent performances that season, including a 6–2 demolition of Arsenal at Highbury, but results like an early 2–1 loss at newly-promoted Sunderland, a 4–0 September hammering by Liverpool at Anfield, and a 2–0 home defeat by Everton in early March (the game where 17-year-old talented prospect Ryan Giggs made his senior debut) showed that United still had some way to go.
Even after the FA Cup victory in the previous season, some still had doubts about Ferguson’s ability to succeed where all the other managers since Matt Busby had failed – to win the league title. They were runners-up in the League Cup, losing 1–0 to Sheffield Wednesday. Ferguson won his first European trophy as United manager when they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating that season’s Spanish champions Barcelona 2–1. That victory further indicated that United were on the right path under Ferguson and it’ll be only a matter of time they win the league title.
English First Division Football League was renamed and rebranded as the Premier League in and from 92-93 season and that season saw Alex Ferguson’s side finally getting their hands on the most coveted League title after 26 long years. Captain and fellow defender Steve Bruce scored an injury-time winner against Sheffield Wednesday and United fans were jumping with the unbridled joy of redemption. That league title laid the foundation of what turned out to be one of the most successful decades of the club’s history.
Ferguson promoted a bunch of exciting young players from the academy in the names of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt to the first team which is considered the best achievement of the Club Academy to date. The above-mentioned names are coined in the history of Manchester United as the Class Of ’92. Ferguson signed Eric Cantona from arch-rivals Leeds and Cantona became an instant fan favourite. This team-building process earned him 6 Premier League titles throughout the 90s decade and he was rightfully named the Manager of the Decade(90s).
However, the best achievement of Ferguson’s career came in 1998-99 season when Manchester United went on to became the first English club to win a continental treble. After winning the Premier League and The FA Cup earlier, all eyes were on the UEFA Champions League Final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona. United conceded an early goal and was trailing throughout the regulation time. During injury time Ferguson’s two substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored two quick-fire goals in 91st and 93rd minute to earn United the treble. Ferguson was given Knighthood by the British Empire for that historic, unparalleled feat.
Football, bloody hell!!Sir Alex Ferguson’s post match reaction after United’s dramatic comeback in ’99 Champions League final
Starting from ’99 to ’01 United won the hat trick of Premier League trophies for the first time in their history and Sir Alex became the first manager to achieve that feat. But everything wasn’t rosy that time at United, the departure of goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel cut short their chances of retaining their dominance in Europe, and a series of unsuccessful goalkeeper signings and falling out with star player David Beckham affected the club heavily as they couldn’t win the Premier League for 3 straight seasons, the longest period since they first won the title in 92-93 season.
However, Sir Alex did some smart transfer business during that time from signing exciting youngsters like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to bolster the defence by signing highly-rated centre-back Nemanja Vidic and left-back Patrice Evra. Sir Alex Ferguson finally found the solution to the goalkeeping problem after signing well-established Dutch goalie Edwin van der Sar from Fulham in 2006. Sir Alex also had a fallout with club captain Roy Keane and he replaced him with highly-rated West Ham midfielder Micheal Carrick.
This series of smart transfer business impacted the club from 2006-07 season from when they won the hat trick of Premier League titles for the second time becoming the only club and manager to do so in the Premier League. 2006-07 season is also notable for the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo to the footballing world who’d rule the game for years to come.
2007-08 season saw one of the best sides of world football hammering opponents and winning everything, Manchester United became a formidable side with a rock-solid defence of Vidic-Ferdinand duo and the electric front three of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez. Though they missed the FA Cup, that season they won another UEFA Champions League title and Cristiano Ronaldo won his first FIFA Ballon d’Or title.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United appeared in the Champions League final 3 out of four times from 2008 to 2011 winning once and losing 2 times. The 2009 defeat against Barcelona raised questions about Sir Alex’s team selection and tactics when he left Paul Scholes in the bench and he took the blame on him. After Cristiano Ronaldo’ departure in 2009, many pundits thought it’ll end United’s domination in the Premier League but proving them wrong Sir Alex made them champions in 2 occasions out of four after Cristiano’s departure.
2012-13 season was Sir Alex Ferguson’s last with Manchester United as he was going to retire from football at the end of the season but of course he marked his final season with the club with another Premier League title to take United’s league tally to a record 20 and keeping his words of knocking out arch-rivals Liverpool from their perch.
On 8 May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson announced that he was to retire as manager at the end of the football season, but would remain at the club as a director and club ambassador. The Guardian announced it was the “end of an era”, while UEFA president Michel Platini said that Ferguson was “a true visionary”. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron described Sir Alex Ferguson as a “remarkable man in British football”. Former Manchester United players Paul Ince and Bryan Robson agreed that Ferguson would be “a hard act to follow”. Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer said, “His determination to succeed and dedication to the club have been truly remarkable.”
Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that he had in fact decided that he was going to retire back in December 2012 and that it had been very difficult not to reveal his plans. Ferguson’s decision to retire saw United shares fall 5% on the New York Stock Exchange. Manchester United fans from every corner of the world bed a teary farewell to the Most successful manager in the Club’s history and he made a heartfelt speech after his final game at Old Trafford against Swansea City in May 2013.
Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United as their most successful manager with 13 Premier Leagues, 2 Champions Leagues, 5 FA Cups, 1 FIFA Club World Cup and many other trophies which takes the tally to THIRTY-EIGHT.
‘Fergie-time’ a phrase that has been embedded in English football as Sir Alex Ferguson’s United came from behind to win games a handful of times under him starting from that league-winning Steve Bruce goal to Champions League comeback in Barcelona ’99. However, opposition fans and managers often claimed that Sir Alex Ferguson intimidated the referees to give more injury minutes than expected, resulting in so-called “Fergie Time”: which was often added in those matches where Manchester United were behind.
Another phrase used by Sir Alex “squeaky-bum time” in reference to the tense final stages of a league competition has been included in the Collins English Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.
Almost every player that played under him regarded him as the best they have played under. Starting from Billy Starc, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce to Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo often described him as his footballing father and described him as the Godfather of his first son Cristiano Ronaldo Jr.
Ferguson is a maestro. For me, he was my father in football. He was crucial in my career and, outside football, was a great human being with me. Talent isn’t everything. You can have it from the cradle, but it is necessary to learn the trade to be the best. When I arrived in England I was an 18-year-old kid and had established stars by my side. Ferguson taught me to clean up my faults, to know to give the pass at the last moment, to take the right decision in the area.Ronaldo on Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson has been awarded multiple times and by multiple organizations as the Greatest Manager of All Time and his most recent acknowledgement came from France Football when they announced Sir Alex Ferguson as the manager of France Football Ballon d’Or dream team.
A bronze statue of Sir Alex Ferguson, designed by Scottish sculptor Philip Jackson, was unveiled outside Old Trafford on 23 November 2012. On 14 October 2013, Ferguson attended a ceremony where a road near Old Trafford was renamed from Water’s Reach to Sir Alex Ferguson Way.
Ferguson married his wife, Cathy in 1966 and the couple have three sons: Mark (born 1968); and twins Darren (born 1972), who was also a professional footballer and is currently the manager of English League One(third tier) side Peterborough United, and Jason, who runs an events management company. He lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire and despite being in his late seventies, Sir Alex attends almost every Manchester United game home and away, this proves his affinity, loyalty towards the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson has become a synonym of Manchester United and rightfully so, even current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who played under Sir Alex said multiple times that Sir Alex has been his mentor and inspiration to come to Football Management.
We wish such a Godfather of one of the Biggest clubs in the world best of luck for his personal life ahead.
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