Alexander Chapman Ferguson was born in Govan, a tough neighbourhood in Glasgow on December 31st 1941. After leaving school, he started an engineering apprenticeship on the Clyde shipyards.
His Playing Days
During those apprenticeship years, he was a regular in both the Queens Park and St Johnston clubs; part-time, part-amateur teams as most Scottish teams were at that time. He was a centre forward renowned for his tough play and heading abilities. He scored 16 goals in 31 appearances of Queens Park before moving to St Johnstone. In 1964, St Johnstone famously beat Glasgow Rangers with the young Ferguson scoring a hat trick. Not surprisingly, he turned professional when signed by Dunfermline following that performance. In 1965, Dunfermline reach the Scottish cup final but following a bad performance in a league match Ferguson was dropped for the final which Dunfermline lost 3-2 to Glasgow Celtic. In 1967, Alex signed for his boyhood club Glasgow Rangers, in a then Scottish record deal of £65,000. In 1969, he was blamed for a goal the team conceded in the Scottish cup final and despite the win was demoted to the reserves. It was reported that that upset the young Ferguson so much he threw his winners medal away. Thereafter he was not a regular starter in the Rangers team and in the 1969/70 season he had moved to Falkirk and finally to Ayr United in 1973.
In 1974, he retired from playing and took up the post of manager of East Stirling. His managerial skills were quickly recognized and he moved to St Mirren whom he managed until 1978 when he was dismissed after a public argument with the chairman.
Aberdeen offered Alex the position of Manager. The first step that created the "Fergie Legend". Aberdeen were an average Scottish premier league club which was dominated by the big two Glasgow clubs. Both Rangers and Celtic were perennial winners of league and Scottish cups. Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen broke the mould and the Glasgow stranglehold on silverware and eclipsed by his 1983 success in the European Cup Winners Cup with a final win over Real Madrid.
Such success on limited resources and the style of play that Alex introduced at Aberdeen soon attracted the attention of Europe's bigger clubs. Glasgow Rangers, Barcelona, Arsenal and Tottenham all courted the new man on the block. However, when the offer came from Manchester United the opportunity was too much to resist. On November 6th 1986, United annouced a new manger.
The club Alex Ferguson inherited from Ron Atkinson was in turmoil. The club had a reputation as a drinking club and despite a buying policy that attracted big names in British football languished mid table of the English top league. Manchester United were glamorous but were bridesmaids to dominant teams like Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and a remerging Arsenal. United had failed to win the league championship in 20 years and were known as a cup team having appeared in 6 FA cup finals during those years. Despite playing attractive football under Tommy Docherty and later Ron Atkinson the club's league position had been for the past 10 seasons only in the top half of the table. The club had finished 4th for the past 4 seasons but by October 1986 were languishing near the foot of the table.
His first goal was to stabilise the club and in his first season, the club finished in 12th place. Many saw that as a failure after his successes in Scotland and there were many that feared failure in the coming season.
In his first full season (1987/88), United climbed back and finished second to Liverpool in the league, narrowly lost to Arsenal in the 5th round of the FA Cup and reached the quarter finals of the League Cup
Signs looked good but the underlining problems that were inbred inside the bridesmaid club remained. Optimism did not achieve results however and the club finished 11th in Alex's second full season (1988/89). Was the writing on the wall? It is reported that Sir Matt Busby, President of the club, argued that Alex was the right man for the job and that he should be given more time.
United had been, during the Sexton and Atkinson years, a buying club and during the past 5 seasons had gradually reduced the youth systems. Alex quickly re-established the United youth doctrine, founded by Sir Matt, and launched a massive nationwide search for youth talent and invested in the clubs youth training facilities.
Alex's next major task was to weed out and replace the drinking culture within the club. Under the champagne-charlie lifestyle of Ron Atkinson, many players had reputations as hard drinkers. Club captain Bryan Robson and stars Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside were the leaders of the pack. Alex first move was to stamp down hard by introducing tougher club policy on personal lifestyles and those that did not heed the new line was ousted. Paul and Norman were the first casualties and were sold to Aston Villa and Everton respectfully. Gordon Strachan soon followed.
New players were introduced in a short term buying policy with Mark Hughes returning to the club, after being sold by Atkinson, and established star names like Gary Pallister and Paul Ince and lesser-known talents like Steve Bruce and Brian McClair joining the club.
The sudden in and outflux of players disrupted the team and team moral and the following season (1989/90) saw United results all too familiar to the United faithful. The "hard work first" ethos also saw United playing at times unattractive football the fans were not happy. The rebellion took voice in January of 1990 following a humiliating defeat to rivals Manchester City. A protest after the 5-1 defeat rang to chants of "Fergie Out!"
By March of 1990 rumours were abound that Alex's job was on a knife-edge. United had no hope in the league, languishing mid table, and only success in the FA cup would save Alex's job. The turning point came from one of Alex first youth players a diminutive striker called Mark Robbins. United had met some big names, beating Forest in the 3rd round and Newcastle in a thrilling 5th round game but had also struggled in the competition narrowly beating lowly Hereford in the 4th round by one goal to nil and needing a replay in the Semi final to overcome Oldham Atheltic. In that replay Robbins scored the most important goal of Alex's career and United's future. Although chairman, Martin Edwards, later denied it, there was strong speculation that if Alex had lost that semi final he would have been sacked. We didn't lose, Alex wasn't sacked and United went on to claim Alex's first triumph for United despite needing yet another reply in the final against Crystal Palace. In the league we finished 13th, only 5 points above the relegated teams.
The rest as they say is history. The following season United claimed only our second European cup win played in a marvellous final in the Cup Winners Cup against Barcelona. In the league, United finished 6th.
In the final season of the old Football League, United narrowly lost to Leeds United after looking favorites to secure our first championship for 25 years. That season we won the League Cup but in the 6 league games after that Wembly success United only picked up 7 points from 18 to finished 4 points behind the Yorkshire club.
The out chants were long gone, the club were beginning to see blossoming talents coming through the youth ranks with players like Ryan Giggs emerging and the youth team, including future greats like Gary and Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt succesful in the youth league. The club was on the right track... the difficult job of not only managing but turning around a great club seemed to be just one step away... it needed just one small step to complete the transformation... one small step for Cantona... one giant leap for United.
....to be continued....
© UNITEDLOUNGE.COM Reproducing this material either in whole or in part, without the permission of unitedlounge.com is strictly prohibited