It would be wrong for us not to acknowledge events at Old Trafford.
What can we say that hasn’t been said already?
All the testimonies and tributes have been extolled and recited by voices carrying far more weight than our whimpering nasal twang. Players, coaches, managers and a raft of commentators, observers and media types are this week spouting a gushing flow of heartfelt messages and sincerest congratulations, put far more eloquently than we, with our grubby street urchin noses pressed against the window, ever could. But we don’t really want this week to pass without at least offering an approving nod in the direction of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Recollections of fearsome contests are everywhere right now and there aren’t many that have not been slain at the feet of Manchester United over the last two decades.
Thirty seven, yes, THIRTY SEVEN trophies have been magnetically lured since a tall Scotsman in a beige suit turned up at some football ground in the Salford area in 1986. Alex Ferguson remains, unbowed. Thirty seven and counting.
Having already interested Arsenal, Spurs and a debt laden Wolves in the early eighties, the distinguished young manager of Aberdeen had attracted attention across Europe for his exploits in unseating Scotland’s big two. Upon arriving at Old Trafford, Ferguson was disappointed to discover a group of well established and extremely talented footballers operating at fitness levels well below those he had overseen in his players at Aberdeen. He also uncovered a dilapidated youth recruitment and coaching set up which occupied his attention just as much as getting Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath into peak condition. This was no small job.
It must be difficult for younger viewers (and for younger we can just about include anyone under the age of 30) to comprehend what Manchester United were at the tail end of the 1980’s and early nineties. This was a big club, but a flawed club, mercilessly sneered at by a dominant Merseyside. Old Trafford was not a theatre of dreams, but an auditorium of nightmares for a succession of talented players unable to avoid regular bouts of footballing impotence, freezing on the big stage. So many voices. So many frustrated voices. A reputation as a striker’s graveyard was not granted without good reason.
Even as things began to gradually improve, the nagging sense of ‘will it ever happen?’ shrouded United; a shadow from those dark satanic mills. Leeds had ruined the party in 1992 and it seemed to be happening again with Aston Villa as 1993 approached. So much expectation. Manchester: so much to answer for.
But where did it all go right (Mr Best)? Mark Robins? Ryan Giggs? The inquiry into Lee Chapman’s availability that resulted in an offer for a certain Frenchman? Those extra, extra, extra minutes against Sheffield Wednesday which engraved Steve Bruce’s name into United folklore? Who knows? Who cares? It happened and it happened on his watch (pun intended).
Under Alex Ferguson’s guidance, Manchester United have transformed from a bloated and wheezy relic, akin to those buildings captured so beautifully by Lowry, weighed down by the burden of 1968 and the legacy of the Busby babes, into the planet rogering empire that we know today. Fundamentally it is still just a football club, but it is Alex Ferguson’s football club, and he’s been pretty good at running it.
The IBWM homage to Sir Alex does not involve a showreel of greatest hits and corporate glazed Champions League reflections from twenty five years at United. We reckon you’ll get that elsewhere. Instead, we look back at Ferguson in the twenty five….ok, maybe twenty two…. years before, and just after, that trip south from the UK’s own version of Dallas to the home of Coronation Street.
We’ve set up, with the help of Colorpsort, a gallery of photographs featuring Alex Ferguson the player, the manager at Aberdeen, and those early days at Manchester United. As ever, the pictures are available to buy directly from Colosport as high resolution images, mounted on canvass and framed or printed onto the side of a mug if you prefer.
Congratulations Sir Alex, see you in 2036.