It’s been an awkwardly stomach-churning day for any self-respecting Man U-hater with anything but the most robust of digestive systems. The output of Sky TV and BBC Radio Five Live in the wake of the Govan Guv’nor’s resignation as Supremo at the Theatre of Hollow Myths has been wall-to-wall, sickly sweet revisionist nonsense. It was perhaps predictable – Man U seem to attract this kind of attention quite regularly. They hypocritically call Liverpool the “City of Pity” and “Shrine Worshipers”, and yet there was the cloying sentimentality of the Lone Piper at Old Trafford when Busby died, and of course there is the nauseatingly poorly-written “Flowers of Manchester” doggerel recycled every February 6th when the Man U Marketing Machine gears itself up for the annual “Let’s Make More Money Out of Munich” event. The treatment of Man U in the media has a lot in common with the ingestion of a copious draught of heavily-salted water. Both are pretty much guaranteed to make you sick.
For some of us, it’s only been a couple of short weeks recovery time since the last bilious attack brought on by an onslaught of gushing praise for a much-hated public figure. To listen to the BBC’s output in the wake of Maggie Thatcher’s death, you’d think she was universally acknowledged as a saint who personally saved our country from the hordes of infidel savagery, instead of a humourless and uncaring woman who presided over the decimation of manufacturing industry and created an underclass of unemployed dole fodder.
Ironically, that assessment of Thatcher – the realistic one, not the BBC’s rose-tinted, soft-focus blarney – would almost certainly strike a chord with Ferguson, a man who has always made much of his Socialist roots. And yet the fulsomely worshipful bilge poured all over her death and funeral has been rivalled today both in flavour and quantity as various media outlets have sought to paint a picture of “Fergie the Greatest”, conveniently ignoring the essential character of the man, which is that of a coarse bully and a ruthlessly competitive control-freak who would brook no opposition and practiced suppression of dissenting voices on a grand scale as well as nepotism, intimidation and other deeply unattractive tactics. Ferguson and Thatcher operated in vastly different spheres, and pursued their objectives in vastly different ways, although the objectionable single-mindedness and refusal to acknowledge any other point of view was common to both.
It is arguable too that both shared a similarly dislikeable personal character and yet that both represented vested interests which have caused a complaisant media and establishment to bend over backwards in their efforts to hide these unfortunate facts. However difficult they both were to handle at different times – Ferguson famously “banned” the BBC from his personal airspace for an extended period, claiming in a juvenile fit of petulance that the Corporation was “pro-Liverpool”, and objecting to their focus on the activities of his shady agent son Jason – the media still fall over themselves to praise both to the skies. Powerful interests are at work here, rigid agendas are being pursued.
Ferguson will not relish any comparison with the Iron Lady, and yet such comparisons are irresistible. Nepotism, for instance. Thatcher was accused in many quarters of using her influence to smooth the path to riches of her not-outstandingly-bright son Mark, a man who would seem to have difficulty finding his way out of an open box. Ferguson allegedly pushed the services of Agent Jason on young players at Man U and reacted with fury if the lad in question went elsewhere. When his fledgling manager son Darren was sacked by his employers after his latest relegation, Fergie senior reacted by recalling two young Man U players who had been at that club on loan. The similarities in modus operandi for Fergie and Thatch abound.
It is for the gross and over-the-top way in which both have been virtually canonised by the media in the wake of their exit from the stage that really sticks in the throat, however. The tasteless extent of it, the gushing, nauseatingly deferential tone of the ubiquitous tributes, strike a remarkably similar tone in either instance. In Thatcher’s case, the masses thus appeased were the blue-rinse brigade and their Colonel Blimp husbands, Tories to their last cell, and voraciously hungry for any news coverage to confirm their view that la Thatch was the greatest since Churchill, the greatest peacetime leader ever. The claims of Clement Attlee, the authentic greatest PM ever, were callously overlooked, as was the fact that his funeral in 1967 was a quiet and dignified affair. In the case of Ferguson, the masses are of course the legions of Man U fans all over the world and in Torquay and Milton Keynes in particular, who have been fed the myth of Man U being the greatest club in the world (Arf!) and who now wish to hear Fergie being called the greatest, against the claims of true greats like Busby, Revie, Shankly and the rest, proper managers who had to do it all on a level playing field and not the Sky-weighted Man U-centric environment we have now.
Radio Five Live are still at it, as I listen. We go “back to Old Trafford” on a regular basis, to listen to the hushed tones of a reverential reporter, laying it on thick for the benefit of the thick. It’s all so remarkably similar to the nonsense we all suffered in the wake of Thatcher’s passing. Perhaps, for Ferguson, that is the unkindest cut of all.