Sport on TV: Spectre of Thatcher hangs over the governor of Govan
Sunday 12 May 2013
So Sir Alex Ferguson finally stopped all the clocks. Jon Snow took himself up to Chester racecourse, where the old nag was supposed to be, to cover the biggest story of the day for Channel 4 News. He was accused of downgrading the Queen's Speech and vilified with as much venom as the Prince of Darkness himself might have unleashed. Meanwhile Fergie had done a neat side-step, Cristiano-style, and was nowhere to be seen. From the other end of the sofa came the comment: "Bloody hell, it's not like the Queen's abdicated" – although as she tuned into the news, she might have considered it. Except that the one person who could run the country instead of her had just headed for the Highlands himself.
It was all a bit eerie, as if Ferguson had died and gone to meet the second greatest manager in the universe. Eamonn Holmes appeared on This Week (BBC1, Thursday) as a celebrity Manchester United fan and he had Michael Portillo comparing Fergie to that other love-hate product of the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher.
Andrew Neil opportunistically chimed in that, like Ferguson, "she was prepared to let her stars go", seeing off the likes of Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson in the same way that Ferguson let Beckham and Ronaldo leave Old Trafford. The comparison was spectacularly spurious and Sir Alex, an avowed socialist, must have been puce in the face to hear his leadership compared to that of Mrs T. It was enough to make you want to jack it all in.
On and on it went, like a leader who didn't know when to call it a day. Fergie Time – A Football Focus Special (BBC1, Wednesday) had kicked off with Dan Walker opining: "Shipbuilding on the Clyde was contracting. But 1986 was a year when a product of Govan was exported. It went into a single market in another industrial city. It was success on an industrial scale." The spectre of Thatcher was there again, though the Beeb man shied away from mentioning the T-word. Perhaps the Corporation feared another protracted silence from Ferguson just as he was becoming available for punditry duties.
Ferguson famously stopped talking to the BBC for seven years after they aired a documentary called Father and Son in 2004 which suggested that he had used his influence to further the career of his football-agent son Jason. "We know all about Sir Alex, he tells nobody nothing," said Dion Dublin, whom Ferguson signed for United. Given that Dublin broke his leg almost straightaway, it's not surprising that Fergie didn't talk to him.
Robbie Savage, whose career at United was even shorter than Dublin's, revealed he used to live next door to the Fergusons but never saw him – Mr F went out first thing in the morning and came back very late. But that might not have been dedication to the job so much as trying to avoid running into Savage. Best to keep your distance, that bloke is quite capable of breaking a few legs too.
Dublin said he was "the catalyst" for Fergie's success because when he broke his leg, the manager went out and bought Eric Cantona instead. "So you're the reason I got sacked at Manchester City," said Peter Reid, whose presence on the sofa was even more mystifying than that of the other two. No, Peter, it's because you were an awful manager. Perhaps that's why he was on the show – to give the other side of the story.
Reid recalled that when Sir Alex arrived at Old Trafford, "I was still playing for Everton". Yet while time has finally caught up with Fergie, Reid doesn't look a day older than he did in 1986 – i.e. he looked ancient even then. Fergie is starting to look more and more like Paul O'Grady. But at least he doesn't look like Lily Savage, or more to the point, Robbie Savage.
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