Alex Ferguson is one of the most successful managers in British football with successes
both north and south of the border. Born in Govan, Glasgow on New Year's Eve 1941,
he represented Govan High School, Glasgow Schools, Scotland Schools, Harmony Row Boys Club
and Drumchapel Amateurs before joining Queen's Park F.C., Glasgow as an amateur in 1957.
He went on to play for both Scotland Youth and Scotland Amateurs. His League debut came in
November 1957 away at Stranraer in the Scottish Second Division.
Three years later he joined St. Johnstone on a part-time basis whilst he completed his
apprenticeship as a toolmaker with the typewriter manufacturer, Remington Rand.
Whilst serving his apprenticeship Ferguson organised an illegal strike in support of
striking apprentices throughout Britain. He led his fellow apprentices out on strike
after a narrow majority had voted in favour of strike action. This was despite strike
action needing a two-thirds majority.
Alex Ferguson made his debut for the Saints against Falkirk in the League Cup in September
1960, scoring in an emphatic 7-1 victory. Alex Ferguson admits to having had a 'horrid'
time at the Perth Club as the pressures of both football training and a full-time job took
their toll. He still managed to score 19 goals in his 37 League appearances before an
exchange deal took him to Dunfermline Athletic as a full-time professional in 1964.
It was during his three year spell with the Fife Club that he gained his first taste of
European football as Dunfermline reached the quarter-finals of the Fairs Cup in 1965-66.
Ferguson was playing the best football of his career as Dunfermline took on the Old Firm
giants. Scottish League Representative honours, against the Football League, came his way
in 1967, recognition of his contribution to Dunfermline's success.
Born and raised in Govan, like many young boys his dream was to play for Rangers. In August
1967 his dream came true when he moved to Rangers for £55,000. Whilst at Ibrox he won his
second Scottish League Cap, versus the Irish League in 1968. He stayed at Ibrox for two and
a half years before moving on to Falkirk after finding himself sidelined and publicly
criticised by the Ibrox Club after a 0-4 defeat against Celtic in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final.
This bitter experience lead to a valuable managerial lesson being learned, he made sure
that he would never make the same mistake. Years later he said: "My job is not to criticise
my players publicly. When a manager makes a public criticism, he's affecting the emotional
stability of a player and that cannot be the professional thing to do. It is more about
loyalty than protection". (Quoted in Goal, October 1996)
Whilst with Falkirk Alex Ferguson continued scoring goals, hitting the net 37 times in 94
appearances. Falkirk's record signing at £20,000 scored on his League debut against Berwick
Rangers and added a further 13 goals that season to help Falkirk towards the Second Division
Championship. Ferguson was Falkirk's top scorer in both 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons hitting
14 and 9 goals respectively. In 1970 he was also elected Chairman of the Scottish
Professional Footballers Association.
Towards the end of his time with Falkirk he added coaching to his playing duties, his
first step on the managerial ladder. The final move in his playing career was in September
1973 when he joined Ayr United as a part-timer. This was to allow him to spend some time
with his business interest, a Public House called 'Fergie's Bar' in Glasgow.
His first managerial appointment was with lowly East Stirlingshire in July 1974, but his
stay at poverty stricken Firs Park was brief. By October 1974 he had taken over at St. Mirren,
guiding the Paisley Club to the First Division Championship in 1976-77. About his managerial
style, ex-St. Mirren player, Tony Fitzpatrick, recalled: "Alex arrived at a Club in shambles.
We used to get crowds of only 1,000. Within 18 months of his arrival that figure was ten-fold.
He used to drive around the streets of Paisley before matches, lean out of the passenger
window and bellow through a megaphone to let people know there was a game!....There were fund
raising bingo nights, when Fergie would be in there ticking his numbers off and shouting
'Bingo' with the rest of them. It was impossible not to be carried along by his enthusiasm"
(Quoted in Professional Football'97).
His continuing success with St. Mirren soon led to offers from Scotland's bigger Clubs and
in 1978 he moved north to join Aberdeen. It was here that Alex Ferguson really made a name
for himself. In his eight seasons at Pittodrie he guided 'the Dons' to three Premier League
titles, four Scottish Cup victories and one League Cup win to break the 'Old Firm' trophy
stranglehold. His greatest achievement was in Europe where Aberdeen defeated the favourites
Real Madrid to lift the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1983. A former Aberdeen star, Alex
McLeish recalled his managerial style: "A combination of bullying and jollying.
He has the ruthlessness of a man who must have success, no matter whose toes he stands on
to achieve it. In a way we all benefited from that [his temper]. It made you realise what
the game could mean to someone." (Quoted in Goal, October 1996).
Alex Ferguson's success at Aberdeen led to him becoming a Director at Aberdeen and
being awarded the O.B.E. for his services to football. All this success was achieved on
a 'shoestring' budget with his biggest transfer buy being £225,000 plus a player for St.
Mirren's Peter Weir.
During his time at Aberdeen Alex Ferguson became involved with the Scottish national side
as assistant to Jock Stein. The untimely death of Stein in 1986 as Scotland qualified for
the 1986 World Cup in Mexico saw Ferguson being named as his nation's Manager on a temporary
basis for the duration of the World Cup Finals. Ferguson declined a permanent appointment as
Scotland Manager as well as declining many other lucrative offers from Clubs both north and
south of the border although he realised that he needed a new challenge after his successes
at Aberdeen. The chance to work at Old Trafford was too much of a temptation, especially as
he remembered that the great Celtic Manager, Jock Stein, had always regretted turning down
England's biggest Club.
Alex Ferguson succeeded Ron Atkinson on 6th November 1986. In the 13 League matches up to
Alex Ferguson's arrival at Old Trafford United had only won 3 and had lost 6. United had
also been knocked out of the Littlewoods Cup after suffering a 1-4 defeat at Southampton.
Looking back it is easy to see why United's position was so dire: "Ferguson inherited a
dispirited team of underachievers who had consistently, to their supporters' foaming
discontent, failed to break Liverpool's domination. The team sheet drawn up by the new man
for his first match says it all: Turner, Duxbury, Albiston, McGrath (Olsen), Moran, Hogg,
Blackmore, Stapleton, Moses, Davenport, Barnes. The team lost 0-2 to Oxford United."
(Jim White quoted in Total Sport, May 1997).
Alex Ferguson "When I came here I thought it was all going to happen the next day....
This Club had not won the League for 20 years and I thought it was going to be dead easy.
Well not exactly that, but I thought I was going to be successful just because of the name
Manchester United. It was only when I started analysing why they hadn't won the League for
20 years that I realised history's no good to you." (Quoted in Professional Football '97).
Stuck in the bottom four of the Division One table, Ferguson immediately set about attempting
to stave off the very real threat of relegation. Without resorting to the transfer market
Ferguson guided United up the table to finish in eleventh place. By now it was apparent to
Fergie that it was a major job to turn the Club around. United were an entertaining side
but one that seemed unable to cope with the more physical aspects of League football.
Crucially for the future, there seemed to be few players coming through the youth system
to challenge the established stars.
In his first full season he guided United to a League Runners-Up position as new signings
Viv Anderson, Steve Bruce and Brian McClair made their mark. This was followed by eleventh
position in 1988-89 and, after a further threat of relegation, thirteenth position in 1989-90.
The fans were not convinced by Alex Ferguson and on his third anniversary as Manager of
Manchester United a banner was unfurled in the scoreboard end saying: "Three years of excuses;
Ta-ra Fergie". Ferguson remembers the period as 'Black December': "It was, without question,
the lowest most desperate point ever in all my years in management." (Alex Ferguson, Just
Many years later both Martin Edwards and Director Bobby Charlton claimed that Alex Ferguson's
position as Manager of Manchester United was never in question. They knew that the entire Club
was being restructured from the bottom up, starting with the scouting policy and the youth
teams. This would take time and since 1988 money had been made available to purchase players
as Ferguson cleared out some of the established stars. Inevitably some of these purchases
have been regarded as failures but some, such as McClair, Bruce, Ince and Pallister, have
gone on to have great success at Old Trafford.
United's poor League form continued but at least the fans were able to cheer a Cup run and
on 17th May 1990, for the first time in five years, the fans tasted success when United
won the F.A. Cup defeating Crystal Palace 1-0 after a replay. United have since gone from
strength to strength. In 1991 Ferguson's team were League Cup Runners-Up but went on to
defeat Barcelona 2-1 in the European Cup-Winners' Cup Final.
However it was the League Championship that the Old Trafford faithful were demanding.
United again came close in 1991-92 when Leeds United pipped them to the title after United
had looked the stronger for most of the season. Some silverware did return to Old Trafford
this season as Nottingham Forest were defeated 1-0 in the League Cup Final and Red Star
Belgrade were defeated by the same score line in the European Super Cup Final.
Finally United's time had come, despite a strong challenge from Aston Villa, Ferguson's
team became the inaugural Champions of the breakaway F.A. Premier League in 1992-93.
The twenty-six year wait was over. "The Championship triumph, apart from ending 26 years of
collective cursing and frustration, was unquestionably the breaching of a barrier that had
defied so many talented people, world renowned players as well as Managers".
(Alex Ferguson, Just Champion). This Championship victory also won him the
'Manager of the Year' trophy, an award he won the following year as United retained
their hold on the Premier crown. His team went one better becoming only the sixth team
to win the League and F.A. Cup double. It was close to being an unprecedented treble
but Ron Atkinson's Aston Villa side won a hard fought League Cup Final 3-1.
His 1993 Premier League victory meant that Ferguson became the first Manager to win League
titles north and south of the border. He is also only the second Manager, after Johan Cruyff,
to win the European Cup-Winners' Cup with teams from different countries. At the start of 1995
things were looking rosy for Alex Ferguson, he'd just been awarded the C.B.E. in the New
Year honours list, United had landed Andy Cole for £7m, (from Newcastle United) and had just
beaten their title rivals Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in a hard fought battle at Old Trafford.
A third Premier League title looked destined for the trophy room at Old Trafford. However
on 25th January United's season took a cruel twist when Eric Cantona attacked an abusive
Crystal Palace fan after being sent off. Failure to win at West Ham on the last day of the
season and failure to beat Everton in the 1995 F.A. Cup Final meant that the trophy cabinet
at Old Trafford was empty for the first time in five years. Alex Ferguson still muses that
at least one trophy would have found it's way to Old Trafford had Eric Cantona not been
banned for nine months by the F.A.
When the 1995-6 season began it did so minus Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis
and Paul Ince. Players who had played such an important part in United's success. By the end
of the season memories of 1995 had been washed away as United's 'kids', led by a rejuvenated
Eric Cantona, won a historic double 'double'. No less that five players were under 21 and had
graduated from United's youth system. A testimony to Alex Ferguson's managerial ability,
which won him the Carling Premiership 'Manager of the Year' award yet again.
The following season expectations were high, Ferguson had made some shrewd buys during the
summer including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ronny Johnsen. In November 1996, Ferguson completed
ten years as Manager of Manchester United, the longest serving Manager since Sir Matt Busby
and the second longest serving Manager in the League behind Crewe's Dario Gradi. The season
ended with United picking up their fourth Premiership title and narrowly missing out on
reaching the European Cup Final, losing the semi-final to the eventual winners Borussia
Dortmund. Again Ferguson won the Carling Premiership 'Manager of the Year' award, confirming
his place amongst the great Managers to have graced the British football scene. Certainly the
most successful Manager of the 1990s, only the late great Sir Matt Busby can surpass the
number of trophies Alex Ferguson's teams have brought back to Old Trafford.
"With a Roll of Honour longer than the queue for season tickets at Old Trafford,
Alex Ferguson's managerial record speaks for itself. Uncomfortable with self-congratulation
and prolonged reflection on a successful career, he prefers instead to look to the future
and make sure that he continues to build on his past glory". (Alex Ferguson, Ten Glorious
With Arsenal winning the double in 1997/98 Manchester United's trophy cabinet was, for the first time in 3 years left empty. However this seemed to spur United on for the 98/99 season and along with the new signings of Jaap Stam, Jesper Blomqvist and Dwight Yorke, totalling £27.5million, United were placed as firm favourites to retain the Premiership Crown.
Manchester United also qualified for the Champions League and were pitted against the very best in Europe. United's group, quickly re-titled the "Group Of Death", would test United's European character as they were faced up against Spanish giants Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Danish side Brondby. 4 years ago Manchester United travelled to the Nou Camp to play Barcelona in the Champions League. They were trounced 4-0. In '99 they scored 3 and held Barca to a draw. A true reflection on how much Alex Ferguson had developed his side over the years.
Talk of the Treble was high by the end of April. United in the semi-finals of Europe and the Fa Cup and currently on top of the pile in the Premiership. After an epic encounter in the Fa Cup semi-final reply against Arsenal, which United won 2-1, Alex Ferguson's side travelled to Turin to play Juventus for a place in the final of the European Cup.
They couldn't have had a worst start as Inzaghi put Juventus 2-0 up with in 10 minutes. The score was 3-1 on aggregate. But Manchester United showed how strong a team they were by pulling 2 goals back before the break, one from Roy Keane, who many say had one of his best performances that night. With only 5 minutes to go, and Juventus needing a goal to turn the tie, Dwight Yorke skipped through the Juventus defence and Andy Cole pounced to put Manchester United 3-2 up away to Juventus.
The Treble was no longer a dream but a reality for Alex Ferguson as Manchester United beat Spurs at home to win the Premiership and then went on to beat Newcastle United 2-0 in the final of the Fa Cup to achieve a historic treble double. There was still more to come in the form of the Champions League Final and Bayern Munich.
Manchester United 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go and Alex Ferguson makes a tactical switch which changes the course of the game and of history. Teddy Sheringham & Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came off the bench to score two goals in the last 3 minutes of the game to seal a historic game, night, season and treble.
Alex Ferguson said later he was contemplating defeat as Manchester United were not able to breach the Bayern Munich rear guard.
Alex Ferguson will go down in the record books as being the only manager to lead a side to a Treble of the English Premiership, the Fa Cup and the European Champions League, a feat not even Sir Matt Busby could achieve.
"With a Roll of Honour longer than the queue for season tickets at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson's managerial record speaks for itself. Uncomfortable with self-congratulation and prolonged reflection on a successful career, he prefers instead to look to the future and make sure that he continues to build on his past glory". (Alex Ferguson, Ten Glorious Years 1986-1996).
•Sir Alex Ferguson was voted the 'Best Coach' in Europe at the 1999 UEFA Football Gala.
Appointed Manager: 6 November 1986
Born: Govan, Glasgow, 31/12/1941