Tag Archives: autobiography

Loyalty Is a One-Way Street in Alex Ferguson’s World – by Rob Atkinson

Taggart:  Why I Was Always Right, by the waaaaaaaayy.

Taggart: Why I Was Always Right, by the waaaaaaaayy

After nearly half a season of relative silence from their much-missed guru, hero, source of inspiration and occasional bête-noire, the media breathed a collective sigh of relief last week. The Ego Had Landed. Fergie was back, at least in print, and those fangs were still bared and ready. The latest autobiography of Alex Ferguson has shown the old curmudgeon has lost none of his ability to dispense vitriol, none of his elephantine memory for anyone who has ever annoyed him – and certainly none of his oddly unilateral approach to the issue of loyalty.

Apparently, during Fergie’s tenure, loyalty was a word much bandied-about behind the scenes at the Theatre of Hollow Myths. That it was evidently used to specify the absolute need for a slavish adherence to the Govan Guv’nor’s every wish goes almost without saying. This requirement extended beyond the confines of Man U. Should a rival manager ever have the brass neck and utter nerve to question or criticise the great man, a familiar growl would issue from his lair along the lines of “After all I’ve done fae him…”

Fergie was not a man to be crossed, not by subordinates, not by rivals, not even by his nominal superiors. Criticism was not to be tolerated. Resistance was futile. His was as near to an absolute rule as existed at any football club anywhere, certainly in the 21st century. Fergie’s Man U was the last autocracy in the professional game – a factor upon which, extending as it did to terrified administrators and wary match officials, was founded their unprecedented success.

The latest in a series of literary self-portraits has, in the august opinion of respected sportswriter Patrick Barclay, little new to offer in terms of revelation – the longed-for “blowing the lid off” the game, or portions thereof. What we do get is a series of little packages of poison as Alexander the Great reviews the vast canvas of his career and delivers his venom to those he believes were found wanting. The loyalty so prized by SAF in his managerial career is evidently a currency he does not feel it necessary to repay. This will come as no surprise to the likes of Brian Kidd, now the Manchester City assistant boss, or Gordon Strachan, now manager of Scotland. Each of them have had both barrels between the shoulder blades in the past, and to their credit they’ve largely maintained a dignified silence. But Fergie was in his Man U job then, and there were certain perceived perils associated with biting back at a figure who had managed to create for himself a tyrannical position whereby he held sway over most of football. Will he benefit from such forbearance after this latest raft of assassinations?

In this latest addition to the former manager’s stable of autobiographies (the whole possibly to be known as “Why I Was Always Right, Vols. 1-5”), the less-than-likeable Alex has turned his baleful gaze on, among others: David Beckham (the football boot in the eye incident, marrying a pop star and wanting to move to a bigger club); Arsene Wenger (Pizzagate and being offensively intelligent); Roberto Mancini (failing to sell Tevez when Fergie thought he should and then going on to win the Title with malice aforethought and a 6-1 tonking of Man U on their own manor); Rafa Benitez (for having the sheer bad taste to tell it like it was and also, with no evident irony, for being a “control freak”); then, last but not least here, the Rio Ferdinand drug-testers whose fault it apparently was that the former defender “forgot” to provide a sample when required. It’s an impressive list, but not exhaustive.

At least one other target, casually denigrated in the course of this epic litany of nasties, wants to have a word in Fergie’s ear. Ex-goalkeeper Marc Bosnich, described as a “terrible professional” by the man who nevertheless signed him twice, is putting a fairly stoical face on it, but appears not to be best-pleased and has hinted that he’d appreciate a frank discussion face to face.

The over-riding impression, delivered with all the subtlety of a Royston Keane tackle, is that anyone in his club who fancied himself bigger than the boss would have to either learn the error of his ways and that right swiftly – or get out. Keane himself is one who was moved on, in some haste, after “disagreements” with Ferguson. Keane it is now who remarks that his ex-manager, for all his preaching about loyalty, doesn’t know the meaning of the word, a sentiment which will be echoed by many of the men who served Ferguson well and have now been left bullet-riddled by the former chief’s paranoid rhetoric. The latest proof of this anomaly runs to many thousands of words, is available from this week, imaginatively titled “My Autobiography” and will cost you a decidedly prettier penny if you want your copy signed by lifelong socialist and latter day profiteer Sir Fergie himself.

It seems likely that the Ferguson Factor is what is missing from this season’s pallid Man U; the fear that gave them that edge seemingly gone with the wind. But on this most recent evidence of the choleric and treacherous nature of the man, who – other than the many millions of Man U fans from Torquay to Jakarta and back again, plus a few sensation-staved tabloid hacks – just who will really miss him now he’s gone?

21 Years On, Ferguson is Still Bitter About The Last Champions – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

The 1991-92 Football League Championship title was an historic accolade, marking the end of a very long era.  From the next season, a breakaway elite would compete for “the FA Premier League”, with a Sky TV deal bankrolling the game at top level, new rules ensuring that income and wealth would trickle upwards to feather the nests of the better-off instead of down to nourish the grassroots of the game.  The increased pool of money would lure foreign players to dive into it, in hitherto unprecedented numbers.  Wealth and commercial interests, foreign syndication and new markets, these were the factors that would influence the game from now on.  The traditional purity of competition on a level playing field would henceforth be a thing of the past.  The winners of the 1992 League Title would be, in a very real sense, the Last Champions.

How inevitable it was, then, that we would hear more and more of the usual suspects throughout TV land and the media as a whole, ruminating on the place in history up for grabs, donning their red-tinted spectacles, taking out an onion and dreaming, wistful and misty-eyed of how “fitting” it would be if the mighty Man U could take the prize.  There was even talk of the title coming “home” to the Theatre of Hollow Myths – home, mark you, to a club that had never won the Championship in the era of colour television, whose finest hours were recorded on grainy monochrome fuzzycam as the Pride of Devon were overtaken by thoroughbreds such as Liverpool, Leeds United, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest.  Against all sense and logic, the feeble of mind, the hacks, the sentimental hypocrites all ached for the last real title to go to Man U.  How bitterly disappointed they all were when Leeds United callously, magnificently pooped their party.

Bitterness is not an emotion to show in public in the first few stinging moments of disappointment in defeat.  So it was that Alex Ferguson, freshly beaten at Anfield to confirm Leeds as Champions by an eventual 4 points, gritted his teeth and declared that Leeds were indeed worthy victors.  Suffering as he was from the nightmare combination of losing to Liverpool and thereby surrendering the Title to Leeds – a scenario dredged from the very bowels of the average Man U fan’s own private hell – such a seemingly magnanimous verdict was reckoned to Ferguson’s credit.  This magnanimity, though, did not last long.  In a book published that summer, Ferguson backtracked: “Leeds didn’t win the title, we threw it away.”  This was the real Fergie starkly exposed, glisteningly visceral, a man who would always look for some hidden, unfair reason why his team would lose; one who could never credit the opposition for winning fair and square.  An early layer of the notorious Ferguson paranoia and bile-ridden self-righteousness was laid that summer of ’92.

mini fergie

Small Man, Small Book

Now, freshly retired and free of even the minor constraints that kept him relatively quiet – give or take the odd casual back-stabbing – when he was Man U manager, Ferguson feels able and willing to dish the dirt on all those horrible people who annoyed him during his rant-laden and tyrannical career.  One such target is Leeds United; he has neither forgotten nor forgiven those last champions of the game as we knew it.  In his latest autobiography – one would never be enough for a serial egomaniac like Ferguson – he labels the Leeds United team of 1992 as “one of the most average teams to win the title”.  It is not clear whether he counts the Man U team of last year, champions by default as all of their rivals self-destructed, among that “average” number, but then it wouldn’t be in his nature to make any such concession.

The fact of the matter is that the Leeds United champion team of the early nineties found the game changing around them at precisely the wrong time.  The new back-pass law unsettled a previously effective defence, the expensive arrival of David Rocastle was surplus to the best midfield four in the land and the loss of the marauding Sterland deprived them of much quality overlapping service from the right, fatally damaging their chances of mounting a defence of their title.  But the victorious 1991-92 campaign saw that group at their best, putting on sparkling displays at Villa Park (4-1 winners) and Hillsborough (6-1 winners against a Sheffield Wednesday side that finished third).

Much is made of Man U’s disastrous run-in, as if this had never happened to challengers before.  But again, Leeds had their own late-season wobble, losing at Oldham, Man City and QPR as well as dropping valuable home points to Villa and West Ham.  Just as it could have panned out closer than the eventual four point gap between Leeds and the runners-up – so that gap could easily have been much greater.  The proof of the pudding was in the final league table which saw Leeds with most wins, fewest defeats and a decisive four point margin.  That legendary chestnut “the league table doesn’t lie” carried much more weight in those egalitarian days than it does now when the Premier League table usually resembles more of a financial assets sheet.

The inescapable conclusion to all this is that the outcome of the 1991-92 Title race – that historic, landmark Championship struggle – still rankles bitterly with the elderly Glaswegian, and every now and then he feels the overpowering need to spit out that sour, ashen taste of defeat.  It was the title he obviously wanted to win above all others – the iconic Football League Championship, unattainable to Man U for a quarter of a century.  Instead, he had to settle for a succession of more plastic baubles, won on a skewed playing field with ever-present controversies over offside goals, penalties dived for, opposition penalties not given, opposition goals disallowed from a  foot over the line.  Ferguson was denied the real thing, and the ones he won are tainted by the feeling that Man U were media darlings with refs in their pockets and a plastic army of glory-hunting fans in armchairs everywhere.  No wonder the poor old man is bitter.

With all due respect to Ferguson – which quite frankly isn’t very much – his latest “tell-all” book has to be taken with an almighty pinch of salt.  It’s a litany of whinges about the people he feels have slighted him, personal attacks on those from whom he demanded loyalty but refused to repay in the same coin, wild swipes at figures respected by everyone in the game except the increasingly empurpled Fergie himself.  It’s a mish-mash of hatred, resentment, revisionism, self-justification and bitterness.  And like his laughable, transparently bitter and envious attack on the Last Champions – it’s something more to be pitied than, for instance, derided as a load of old bollocks – so there I shall leave it.  History, meanwhile, will always remember Wilko’s Warriors as worthy winners of the historic, final Championship of the old-style, much-loved and missed Football League.