Sam Wallace: Why Fergie fell out with BBC over a load of old news

 

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The Independent Online

Like so many long-running feuds, Sir Alex Ferguson's boycott of the BBC, which came to an end yesterday after more than seven years, had been going on for so long, and been through so many failed attempts to broker peace, that many people had forgotten how it started in the first place.

The details of Ferguson's (right) conversation with the BBC director-general Mark Thompson that led to yesterday's rapprochement are unlikely ever to be made public, with both parties having agreed not to comment.

But arguably the most curious aspect is that Ferguson himself has never gone into specifics as to what exactly it was he objected to in the BBC documentary Fergie and Son that was broadcast on 27 May 2004 on BBC 3 and was the sole reason for his boycott. The only time Ferguson has spoken at any length about the BBC was in September 2007, in a question-and-answer session in Glasgow. Complaining that the BBC would "never apologise" he said: "They did a story about my son [Jason] that was a whole lot of nonsense. It was all made-up stuff and 'brown paper bags' and all that kind of carry-on. It was a horrible attack on my son's honour and he should never have been accused of that."

The documentary was produced by Alex Millar, an investigative reporter who had worked as chief researcher on Michael Crick's acclaimed unauthorised Ferguson biography The Boss.

Millar based his material on Jason, and Jason's involvement with the Elite Sports agency, on the chapter he and Crick had written in The Boss entitled "Jason and the Larger Noughts". Millar went back to the Crick revelations that L'Attitude [the agents Jason worked for before founding Elite] had been paid £25,000 for their involvement in the transfer of goalkeeper Massimo Taibi to Reggina in 2000. Both the Italian club's president and the player's agent were on record saying they played no role in the deal.

However, by 2004, these revelations were being overtaken by Ferguson's dispute with the club's then majority shareholders J P McManus and John Magnier.

In January 2004, McManus and Magnier had posed 99 questions about the club's financial propriety to the board. In response the club announced a review of transfer dealings from January 2001 to January 2004. Then, two days before the broadcast of Fergie and Son, United unexpectedly went public with the details of the transfer review in a move that looked designed to spike the BBC's guns.

Of all the United board's conclusions, the one that made the headlines was that Jason and Elite would never again be permitted to "act for the club", although United admitted they could not stop him representing United players who were existing clients.

The transfer review was back-page news. The producers of Fergie and Son were forced into a hasty editing of their material to include this latest development. That is the unusual part of the story. By the time Fergie and Son was broadcast it had made small advances from Crick's book and was overshadowed by the review.

So why did Ferguson turn against the BBC when the story had effectively already broken? The theory is that he felt victimised. His attack on them in Glasgow has clues to his feelings and those who influenced his thinking.

"I think the BBC is the kind of company that never apologise," Ferguson said then. "They are arrogant beyond belief. I read Alastair Campbell's [a friend of Ferguson] diaries recently and he's written a fantastic piece explaining the arrogance and their inability to apologise."

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