MAN UTD, GEORGE BEST, SIR ALEX & ME – MEMORIES OF A BELFAST BOY – Part 1

Taken from Kicking Through the Troubles by John White (empire-uk.com) – Buy your copy now

Introduction

There are places I remember, All my life, though some have changed, Some forever not for better, Some have gone and some remain, All these places have their moments, With lovers and friends I still can recall, Some are dead and some are living In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers, There is no one compares with you, And these memories lose their meaning, When I think of love as something new, Though I know I’ll never lose affection, For people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them, In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection, For people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them, In my life I love you more, In my life I love you more

The above lines are the lyrics from “In My Life” by The Beatles but in many ways sum up my life. I am a Belfast boy who grew up during the Troubles and in my life I have experienced many changes, some good and some bad, but apart from the love of my family I have always had one constant in my life: Manchester United. And over the course of my life I am extremely proud to say that I have got to know Sir Alex Ferguson – a man I still call Boss – on a personal basis and I will forever cherish those truly memorable moments I have had in his company. I would like to share my love affair with Manchester United with you and tell you about how I got to know the Boss.

I was 24 years old when Alex Ferguson became the manager of Manchester United, the seventh manager of my club since I was born. But who really knew that when Alex Ferguson left the industrial, granite city of Aberdeen on 6 November 1986 to take over the helm of an unsteady ship at Manchester United, he would go on to lead a sleeping giant to success on an unprecedented scale and have his own image carved in the form of a statue now proudly sited in front of a stand named in his honour at Old Trafford? Manchester United was his home and his life for 26½ years and even though he has now made way for others, Manchester United will always be a part of his life. I suppose it is easy to look back through Lancashire rose-tinted glasses and appreciate that in the Boss we were observing a legend in genesis but let’s not forget that it took him almost four seasons before United placed a foot on what proved to be a never ending ladder of success. His longevity in charge of an English club is unsurpassed and only two fellow Scots occupied their British thrones for a longer period: Bill Struth’s 34 years at the helm of Glasgow Rangers (1920-54) and Struth’s Old Firm adversary, Willie Maley, who managed Glasgow Celtic for 43 years from 1897-1940. But unlike the two Old Firm giants, the Boss operated in a football environment where managers were culled without remorse by success-hungry Chairmen up and down the length and breadth of England. However, in the words of Tammy Wynette, the Manchester United board stood by their man and placed their faith in continuity rather than installing a revolving door on the manager’s office at The Theatre of Dreams.

Alex Ferguson was fully aware of the illustrious history of Manchester United on his first day in office. There was no escaping it. Constantly reminded of the club’s glory days as he walked past the numerous framed photos of Sir Matt Busby’s trophy winning teams from his fellow Scot’s legendary 1950’s Busby Babes to the iconic images of his 1960’s superstars which included the famous Triumvirate, the hallowed Holy Trinity of Law, Best and Charlton each adorning the walls of the corridors of power at Old Trafford. Little did the Boss know it at the time but many of these framed black and white historic reminders of past glory days would have to make way for an endless stream of new and colourful images of the teams he built and the 38 trophies those teams won under his reign. It is fair to say that the Boss built five great United sides that all had the necessary attributes to succeed: aggression, consistency, determination, power, skill and their own manager’s refusal to accept defeat without learning a valuable lesson from the pain this angst brought with it. Perhaps the Boss’s humble working-class roots growing up in the tenements of Govan, the son of a shipbuilder at the once vibrant but now silent Clyde Shipyards, gave him his unquenchable thirst for success. But whatever it was, the boy from Govan never forgot his roots. Of his father, he once said: “The Clyde made the man and that man made me.” A sign could be seen on the wall of his office at Carrington which read simply: “AHCUMFIGOVIN.” He was and remains a proud and passionate Glaswegian.

The Boss was once depicted in a painting as Julius Caesar, the Roman General who in 47 BC wrote Veni, Vidi, Vici (I Came, I Saw, I Conquered) and who through his conquest of Gaul expanded the Roman Empire. However, whereas Caesar conquered Gaul (the modern day Belgium and France) the Boss conquered all of Europe and did it twice – in 1999 and again in 2008, and expanded Manchester United’s global empire by winning the Inter-Continental Cup in 1999 and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2008. Just as Julius Caesar played a pivotal role in the demise of the Roman Republic to create the Roman Empire, the Boss knocked Liverpool right off their perch and took Manchester United from obscurity to prominence on a global scale. Julius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire from October 49 BC – 15 March 44 BC (as dictator and consul), the Boss commanded his football Empire for nearly three decades.

The Boss was an inspirational leader, which may explain his fascination with the life of the former US President John F. Kennedy. His players willingly obeyed his commands as he waged his famous “It’s us against them” siege mentality against United’s foes. Alexander the Great was the King of Macedonia from 336–323 BC and during his reign he set his sights on reaching the ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea in search of gold, spices and silk. Alexander Chapman Ferguson’s reign at the world’s greatest football club, a kingdom of modern day football, lasted 26½ years and in that time he was the King of Kings as his players plundered all before them to overfill the Old Trafford trophy cabinet. The Boss was staunchly loyal to his players and expected the same from each and every single one of them; no half-measures would be tolerated. Like a Red Indian tribe there was only room at United for one Chieftain and if any player got too big for the Old Trafford tent then it wasn’t too long before he was forced to pack up his things and seek solace on a new reservation. In the eyes of the Boss, the overall well-being of the tribe had to stand shoulders high above the interests of any one individual – regardless of how important that individual was to his continuous road map for success.

Alex Ferguson joined United at a time of great adversity – a time when an albatross had hung around the necks of his predecessors, McGuinness, O’Farrell, Docherty, Sexton and Atkinson. These five men had failed to make Manchester United the Champions of England once again for the first time since Sir Matt guided the club to its seventh, and his fifth title, in 1966-67. It was a mountain none of them could climb. However, it wasn’t long before the Boss brought unity to the club and by the time he decided it was time to let a new man take over from him with his blessing, David Moyes, he had made Manchester United the most feared club in the land. But much more importantly: the most successful. His predecessors post the Busby dynasty all looked up at the mountain top but the Boss stood proudly on its summit 13 times planting the flag of the English League Champions.Welcome to Alex Ferguson’s Red & White Army.

But in many ways perhaps a Latin phrase best describes the Boss’s tenure as our manager: “Omni Potens” which when translated to English means Omnipotence, the definition of which is “All Powerful.” Alexander Chapman Ferguson was born in Govan on 31 December 1941 and for almost three decades he was the most feared man in European football. I have often referred to the Boss as being some kind of a Wizard but Wizards are the stuff dreams are made of. The Boss was the Dreammaker.

Without the Boss at the helm for the first time since 1986, Manchester United went into season 2013-14 as the rulers of English football, the most revered club in the land. Many clubs aspire to be Champions, and in the 25-year history of the Premier League only a handful of them have earned the right to wear the gold logos of the Premier League Champions on the arms of their shirts. At the start of every new Premier League campaign the eyes of England are upon Manchester United. Indeed, the eyes of the world are permanently fixed upon Old Trafford; such is the appeal of our club and the Premier League. How United perform on the pitch generates consequences and also opportunities. Every game is the key to United winning the title but we must also accept that as the Kings of English football every game is a cup final for our opponents. It is no coincidence when a team which is struggling to find form inevitably produce their performance of the season against us. It is a fact and a challenge placed before us which we must meet 38 times each season in the Premier League.

In his 1,500th and last pre-match press conference the Boss paid tribute to Sir Matt saying: “Sir Matt created Manchester United, he was the origin of what we are today, there’s no doubt about that. He had the vision to take the club into Europe, he put the emphasis on younger players, we owe all that to him. I have just tried to carry it on. Now I am in the same situation he faced 40 odd years ago. I’ve got a good record but the past is the past. The future now lies with a new manager who will get all the support he needs. This is not the end of Manchester United as far as winning titles is concerned. I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue this success.” A journalist reminded the Boss how Bill Shankly found it difficult to sever his ties with Liverpool when he left his role as manager in 1974. Shanks was appointed the manager of Liverpool in December 1959 and transformed a mediocre English Second Division side into the finest team of its generation. However, not long after he was succeeded by Bob Paisley, Shankly was banned from Liverpool’s Melwood training ground resulting in him crossing over Stanley Park to watch Everton at their training ground. He was always a welcome visitor at Everton training sessions. The Boss said: “Shankly used to come over here once a week to see Sir Matt. It’s difficult to know what to do for the best, and that’s where the club should offer some support, but I certainly have no plans to start hanging around City’s training ground. I gave up council housing a long time ago.” Brilliant!

I loved the late, great Malcolm Brodie’s quote about the Boss. Malcolm Brodie was a legendary sports journalist for the Belfast Telegraph, a fellow Scot and a close personal friend of the Boss, and he summed the Boss up as follows: “His penchant for football and Manchester United is supreme. Success is paramount and he will always contemplate on how United can be the best. He is the greatest manager in the history of football.” Beautifully put by a wonderful man and literary Genius. So the Godfather of Old Trafford may have stepped down in 2013, but he will forever occupy a very special place in my heart and in the hearts of my fellow Reds. Following United for 26½ years under the Boss was a dream that has already come true because he made the Impossible Dream, Possible.

Thank you so very much Boss. We still miss you, but we shall never forget you.

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

9 comments

  1. Very good book about a real fans supporting Manchester United threw the trouble years a very good read 👏👏

  2. Great perspective of a Man Utd fan during the troubles in Northern Ireland. During the glorious 26 year reign of Sir Alex was escapism during turbulent years growing up in Belfast. Great read well done.. 👏👏👏

  3. very good read and well put together. A knowledgable insight into johns early days in belfast and his love of manchester United.There is no greater person on this planet that has done more for Manchester United than sir Alex.Johns acknowldgement of that and his love for Utd stands out in extraxt from his book. cant wait to read the book itself.

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