One last swipe at Manchester City and then Sir Alex Ferguson was gone...
Fergie’s final pre-match press conference was a world away from his start at East Stirling
Saturday 18 May 2013
There was no tea or coffee at Manchester United's training ground but there was wine, served in plastic cups at nine in the morning.
At his previous press conference, Sir Alex Ferguson had poured champagne for the media to celebrate the club's 20th League title and then joked with that hard mafia-don smile that Greater Manchester Police would be waiting with their breathalyzers at the end of the single-track road that leads to the Carrington training complex. Naturally everybody laughed. These drinks were to celebrate his departure, the end of a 39-year career in management.
It had begun at Firs Park in Falkirk, a ground that boasted a single stand that held 297, although East Stirlingshire rarely got that many. "I began with eight players and no goalkeeper and now I have six goalkeepers and 100 players, if you count the academy," he said.
"I remember the old chairman; he was a great chain-smoker. I asked him for a list of players he had and he started to shake, his cigarette was going 100 miles an hour. He gave me a list of eight players with no goalkeeper. I said: 'You know it's advisable to start with a goalkeeper'." He bought a goalkeeper, a 15-stone lad, Tom Gourlay from Partick Thistle. The second signing, Billy Hulson, was paid £50 out of Ferguson's wallet.
It is a story Ferguson has often told but it has a serious point. "That was an education that," he said. "It was fantastic. Anyone starting in management should start that kind of way but I don't suppose it is that way now." His first game was the template for everything that followed. East Stirling, three down at half-time, fought back to draw 3-3. Tomorrow, at West Bromwich Albion, will be his 1500th and last match as a manager.
There were no press conferences in 1974, just the man from the Falkirk Reporter. Ferguson's press conferences are recorded, broadcast and tweeted from. In the old Soviet Union, which United under Ferguson sometimes resembled, they would say: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." Often, we would pretend to ask questions and he would pretend to answer them.
Sometimes he could be electric as when earlier in the season he eviscerated the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, ending with the slightly menacing: "I gave him a lot of help on the way up, you know." There might be a story from the vast, deep vaults of his memories. More usually, there would be bland answers to bland questions. There is, even at a club like United, only so much that happens in an average week.
He will not miss Friday at 9.30 and he will certainly not miss wearing the sponsored DHL training tracksuit he dons for his weekly audience. Ferguson is a good-looking man for a 71-year-old who has endured three decades of extreme pressure and whose wine collecting gives him access to almost unlimited quantities of alcohol. However, not even Bryan Ferry would manage to turn something that from a distance seems suspiciously like black Lycra into a fashion statement for the older gentleman.
Everything at United is sponsored, there is even an "official noodle partner" and, in his final press conference, Ferguson urged people to remember that they are first and foremost a football club. As for Wayne Rooney's future, it was no longer his concern. There was a final swipe at Manchester City who had just ensured that Roberto Mancini became their 15th manager to fail to outlast Old Trafford's great helmsman. Then he was done.
He was applauded into the room and given a bottle of wine and a cake, presented by The Sun's Manchester man on the grounds that he had been banned by Ferguson more times than anyone else. Neil Custis totted them up at seven.
Once when Paul Hince, who briefly played for City and became the chief sportswriter of the Manchester Evening News, wrote a piece predicting that United's manager would retire at 58, Ferguson told him "Not to phone me for a very long time". After a couple of weeks Hince called him to ask: "Is a long time over yet?" "No it f****** isn't," came the reply. It is now.
Ferguson phrases: Conference classics
"It's getting tickly. It is what I call squeaky bum time" From when the 2003 title race with Arsenal reached its climax. He actually said "squeeze-your-bum time" but it was misheard and the phrase stuck.
"I'm no getting into that" Accompanied by a glare that kills any supplementary question.
"I would not sell that mob a virus" Said as rumours grew in 2009 that United would sell Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. In fact, he has sold Real £128m-worth of players.
"Away and write your shite" Said to journalists at the end of a press conference.
Managing to survive: The long servants
Sir Alex Ferguson, 27 seasons Manchester United 1986-2013
Arsène Wenger, 17 seasons Arsenal 1996-
David Moyes, 11 seasons Everton 2002-2013
Tony Pulis, 7 Stoke 2006-
Paul Tisdale, 7 Exeter 2006-
Greg Abbott, 5 Carlisle 2008-
Chris Wilder, 5 Oxford 2008-
Nigel Clough, 4 Derby County 2009-
Roberto Martinez, 4 Wigan Athletic 2009-
Gus Poyet, 4 Brighton 2009-
Mark Yates, 4 Cheltenham 2009-
Russell Slade, 3 Leyton Orient 2010-
Karl Robinson, 3 MK Dons 2010-
Graham Turner, 3 Shrewsbury 2010-
Tony Mowbray, 3 Middlesbrough 2010-
Alan Pardew, 3 Newcastle United 2010-
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