Written by John White for Manchester United Then & Now

I am very honoured to say that I got to know Sir Alex Ferguson very well when he was the manager of Manchester United. Indeed, I have fond memories of the Sports Dinners we attended together and the occasions when he visited my home in Carryduff, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Many Fellow Reds often ask me just what the Boss was really like away from the glare of the TV cameras and reporters.

Sir Alex Ferguson was a dictator, an ogre, a bully, aggressive, abrasive and a confrontational man who could let fly off the handle in an instant with a player or a journalist. But these were the words of people in the media who don’t really know the man I came to admire so much. In 1997, I was absolutely honoured when the Boss – yes I will always call him Boss – asked my good friend and I, John Dempsey, to become the Northern Ireland fundraisers and co-ordinators for a charity he had just established in memory of his late mother, Elizabeth Hardie Ferguson. The Boss was born in Govan but his Mum came from Northern Ireland and because of her Irish roots the Boss had a close affinity with the people of the province. Over the course of the next 17 years I enjoyed the pleasure of the Boss’s company many times including some memorable visits he made to my home in Carryduff. I found the man the press loved to berate a warm, fun loving, charming and down-to-earth person whose biggest attribute in my eyes was his generosity. No matter how many functions I attended with him he always made time for the fans and I never saw him once refuse to sign an autograph or pose for a photograph. For me his unselfish acts of generosity and numerous acts of personal kindness are legion, but very few people know of them. I recall a number of such moments where the Boss placed the interests of others before those of himself and I will tell you about them in this book.

But in order for me to tell my story about how I got to know the Boss and look back at his wonderful 26½ years as our manager, I must first explain how I came to fall head over heels in love with Manchester United Football Club. And along the way I will tell you a few stories about growing up in Belfast during the Troubles which all form part of my love affair with Manchester United. And if I know one thing in life, I know that it was Manchester United that got me through the Troubles and all the difficult times in my life when I was searching for my identity, attempting to work out who I was or what type of person I wanted to be. United stood by me then and I will always stand by them.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross).

I loved my childhood despite the adversity and trauma the Troubles brought into my life and the lives of the people of Northern Ireland and beyond. However, many others who grew up during the bloody conflict have been suppressed by their childhood fears. Too many people have been left with a wound, a mental scar that just won’t heal. Their pain is too real and there is quite simply just too much embedded in their memory that time will never erase. Each one of us has our own particular devil that sets out to torment us but we must meet this challenge or it will haunt us for the rest of our life. Dealing with adversity is part and parcel of life. None of us, no matter where we are born, can avoid adversity. Some adversities are individual but others are common to large numbers of people. Adversity will be a constant or occasional companion for each one of us throughout our lives. The only question is: how we will react to adversity? Will we allow our adversities to be stumbling blocks or use them as stepping stones to better things? Life was very hard during the Troubles and many families including my own suffered a great deal of hardship. But these hardships make or break people and the way I looked at it, I wasn’t the only one who was affected by the daily violence in my area or my place of birth. I suppose sooner or later there comes a moment of trial in the life of everyone. For me, my moment of trial was the Troubles during which I encountered many personal defeats but these defeats were necessary encounters because they helped me understand who I was and helped me rise from them. There was no point in me feeling sorry for myself when I was a kid because no matter what difficulties I endured there was always someone else who was worse off than me. Regardless of how mean you thought your life was you had to meet it and live it because that was the hand of life you had been dealt. Leonardo da Vinci once said: “I love those who can smile in trouble.”

My childhood was like being in a huge storm which somehow I made it through and managed to survive. But I came out of that storm a different person to the one who walked into it.

And in the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

My childhood was an enjoyable one which I wouldn’t change even if I could.

To be continued …………………………………………………………………………………………

Chalkie, a Belfast Boy


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