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For Guys

Suffering the wrath of Alex Ferguson’s darker side

He won’t remember the moment because – judging by the vitriolic response to his recent memoirs – I’m not the only journalist to have incurred the wrath of Sir Alex Ferguson and suffer his reflex punishment.

For me, the darker side to his personality and unforgiving nature is an overwhelming setback when fond memories of such a legend should be a priority.

Personal experience, if disappointing, always overshadows wider public acclaim and that is why my recollections of the man  knighted for his genius in the UK’s national game have  been blunted for two decades.

It happened like this: I covered Manchester United for the Daily Mirror and, at the same time, wrote a regular weekly article with team skipper Bryan Robson.

Fergie, looking happy as ever

Shortly after Fergie had arrived at United from Aberdeen, in November 1986 and largely due to an admiring Bobby Charlton’s recommendation, I was motoring home on a winter’s night and passing the club’s training ground, The Cliff.

I noticed the lights were on even though the place was empty. I stopped off. It was Ferguson in his compact office overlooking the pitch and he warmly welcomed me to join him.

He was still in his ‘AF’ initialled training gear as he sat looking out across the darkened ground. He switched on the lights and illuminated the pitch and said dreamily: ‘I sit here, night after night, on my own, looking out there and seeing the ghosts and images of the true greats who have graced this club…

‘There’s nobody there… but I see magical players like Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law, Duncan Edwards, all genuine greats, and it’s magic.’

He was 20 years from winning 29 trophies and 13 top league titles with United who had suffered ups and downs until he cracked the whip. For instance, he was quick to hammer United heroes Robson, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath for their boozy habits.

But on our night together his mood was one of nostalgia and sheer verbosity. And I revelled in his hopes and dreams – and next day wrote about our revealing get-together.

His words were given a massive show for our five million Mirror readers – and the worldwide reaction to his upbeat ambition for such a famous club was massive.

A couple of days later, I was back at The Cliff, sitting over a coffee in the players’ lounge and  waiting for Robbo to finish training so we could set about our column.

Fergie came in, saw me and ordered me out of the lounge without saying why. And I was standing in the pouring rain outside the clubhouse when Robbo trotted off the pitch and invited me in. I told him what had happened. It was a mystery…

Robbo and I met up in a Manchester wine bar a few days later, and he revealed why Fergie had thrown me out and banned me.

I didn’t know it, but he’d apparently done a deal with the rival Sun newspaper for ‘My First Hundred Days at United’, and according to Robbo it was going to be a big scoop.

But my article, at no cost to the Daily Mirror, apparently wrecked the plan. The Sun abandoned their offer, and Ferguson was furious.

Shortly afterwards Fergie and I were lunching at the same posh hotel restaurant in Manchester and he walked by my table without a word. We have not spoken since and not even my deep and long-lasting friendship with Sir Bobby Charlton has helped put the issue to bed. Not that it has ever bothered me.

My affection for the club is unbounded and I am the first to hail Ferguson as a truly phenomenal Old Trafford success story.