Football aside – get well, Fergie: here’s hoping Sir Alex gets to enjoy the rest of his well deserved retirement
After decades of bringing joy to so many, the former Manchester United boss was enjoying his retirement with his family when he was struck down by illness
Not long after Jose Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford in 2016, he walked back to the team bus after a training session to be asked for permission to travel on it by none other than Alex Ferguson himself, who had not done so since his retirement in 2013.
“Don’t ask permission,” said Mourinho. “You can just come. Choose your seat. If you choose the seat where I am then I’ll go to another seat.”
Ferguson didn’t occupy the seat usually occupied by Mourinho, but instead sat behind him.
“I do not see ghosts,” said Mourinho. “I respect the past and I know he loves the club. We have good relations and I know this is his house. When he wants to come here, to the dressing room, to see the players train, he knows he is more than welcome.”
Mourinho knew Ferguson’s status in football as the most successful British manager, and didn’t feel threatened by it as he might have done had he taken over in 2013.
Ferguson has been a hero to United fans since 1990 when he won his first trophy for United after a three-and-a-half year struggle following his appointment in 1986. The majority of fans had lost faith in him after three years as he reorganised the club behind the scenes, but by 1991, when he’d won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, a second trophy in two years, those doubts had gone. By 1992, when he’d come agonisingly close to bringing the club their first title since 1967, he was seen as the man to lead United to a brighter future.
In the summer of 1992, I’d written to him and enclosed a copy of the United We Stand fanzine which I edited. Despite having heard that he didn’t like fanzines, I requested an interview, suggesting that we could do it on the pre-season tour of Norway, which I planned to attend.
Ferguson wrote back, confirmed that, indeed, he didn’t like fanzines but that he’d enjoyed United We Stand. He told me to make myself known to him outside the dressing room in Lillestrom, a small Norwegian town where United were due to play.
Twenty minutes after that friendly, I knocked on the dressing room door, which was opened to reveal a fog of steam and showering men, including Ferguson. He came to the door, shook my hand and asked if it would be possible to do the interview the following day in Trondheim, venue for United’s next game.
I duly went to the team hotel and took a mate along for, at the tender age of 18, I had little idea of journalism etiquette as I’d never interviewed anyone before. My friend wanted to meet Fergie and I saw no reason why he couldn’t.
United’s manager took it in his stride, though he was more perturbed when I placed a large red, tape to tape ghetto blaster on the table in order to record the interview. He was used to journalists making shorthand notes, but I was 18 months off starting shorthand.
He found much amusement in the situation, pointing out the unorthodox recording device to defender Steve Bruce, who’d just slid down the bannister into the foyer.
After an hour of talking, I told Ferguson that we had to go because I had to meet our mates. What a wasted opportunity. I interviewed him several times over the years and as I got older he wasn’t afraid to give me a piece of his mind if he disagreed with me, but you never forget your first time.
Because of him, Manchester United fans have had their lives enriched beyond their wildest dreams, watching their team become the best team in England time and again, Europe twice and the world twice.
Ferguson, 76, has enjoyed his retirement from management, five years ago this week, to the full.
He’s travelled, watched some of the world’s great sporting events, spent more time with his family, lectured, co-authored two books, attended the Oscars and he still watches Manchester United.
He’s allowed to have breakfast at 8am with his wife rather than say goodbye at 6am as he did for the best part of 30 years.
He remains loyal to those he worked with. He asks former players how they’re playing, how their families are.
Ferguson looked on form as he handed his long-time adversary Arsene Wenger an award from United in the Frenchman’s last visit to Manchester with Arsenal just over a week ago.
On Saturday, Ferguson underwent surgery for a brain haemorrhage, a procedure which went well. A statement released by Manchester United said: “He needs a period of intensive care to optimise his recovery”.
The world of football was shocked, but full of support. Rival Manchester City fans even unfurled a banner after their title winning celebration on Sunday declaring: ‘Football aside, get well Fergie’, a sentiment shared all over the world.