Brian Viner: Unexpected frictions follow Ferguson's fall

TheLast Word
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The Independent Online

Pretty much everyone in football seems to agree that Peterborough United's sacking of Darren Ferguson is an act of myopic foolishness. He led the Posh to back-to-back promotions, and a disappointing start to the club's season in the Championship seems like flimsy grounds for dismissing a man who, in terms of his ability to mould and motivate a team, has plainly proved himself to be a chip off the old block.

Sir Alex Ferguson's son told me a couple of years ago that he took the Peterborough job largely because in the course of a 90-minute interview, the chairman, Darragh MacAnthony, did not once mention the old man. But maybe MacAnthony should have considered the career of Ferguson senior a little more carefully before issuing junior with his P45. After all, where would Manchester United be now if the board had behaved as impetuously when Fergie was struggling in his early days at Old Trafford? Not level with Liverpool in terms of league titles won, that's for sure.

I can also report that the effects of Monday's board meeting at Peterborough rippled even into north Herefordshire, where I live. More than 150 people had paid to hear Barry Fry, Peterborough's director of football, speak that evening at the Rankin Club, a social club in the small town of Leominster. I was looking forward to going myself, because Fry has a colourful history in football, and some marvellous tales, not least on the subject of Stan Flashman, the self-styled king of the ticket touts, who was the chairman of Barnet when Fry was manager, and once threatened to break a misfiring centre-forward's legs with a cricket bat.

Anyway, at 5pm on Monday, Fry called the evening's organiser, John Beaman, to say that he was stuck in a board meeting and wouldn't be able to make it. Thanks to Sky Sports News, we soon knew why. But that didn't help John. He had all those punters coming, and no time to let them know that Fry had cancelled.

Happily, another man coming to hear Fry was Graham Turner, the owner, chairman, former manager and grand panjandrum of Hereford United. Turner agreed to step in, and treated the Rankin Club faithful to two hours of fascinating footballing insights and anecdotes. So nobody went home feeling short-changed as a consequence of the Peterborough board meeting, except possibly Darren Ferguson.

And just to bring one more ruthless football club chairman into this tale of a Monday night in Middle England, Turner told us some great stories about "Deadly" Doug Ellis, whom he served as Aston Villa manager in the mid-1980s. Never happier than when scouting an obscure and potentially cheap player, Ellis used to insist on accompanying Turner to games in Scotland, taking sandwiches for both of them so they wouldn't have to pay service-station prices, and invariably offering to drive the return-leg of the journey if Turner would drive up. "But then after the game he'd always ask me to do the driving just to get us out of Glasgow," Turner said, "and by the time we got out of Glasgow he was always sound asleep."

One Sunday morning in 1986 Ellis invited Turner to his home in Little Aston, suggested that they pop into the garden to smell the roses, and fired him. Turner's replacement was Billy McNeill, who knew the outskirts of Glasgow better than Turner, but had an even shorter managerial tenure before Ellis fired him, too. It's a dispiritingly familiar tale, an impulsive chairman undermining the stability of his own club with short-sighted firing and hiring. Darragh MacAnthony should take note.

Sea The Stars is a racing certainty in bookshops

Brough Scott, who knows a thing or two about horse racing, reckons unequivocally that Sea The Stars, winner of six successive Group One races this year, including the unique treble of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is the greatest racehorse ever foaled. He also reckons that Sea The Stars: The Story of a Perfect Racehorse, published this week by the Racing Post, amounts to the most complete record there has ever been, in book form, of a racehorse. It is not an unbiased assessment; Scott is a director of the Racing Post. But I have seen the book and it is indeed a splendid tome. Moreover, it has been galloped into the shops in impressive time, not with brutal use of the whip, but according to Scott, by no less brutally "putting a firecracker up the printer's nether regions". The poor chap will be sore in the saddle for weeks.

Life's a picnic for Sir Clive

If this weekend is as wet and windy as the forecasts say, the traditional post-match picnics in the West Car Park at Twickenham will be rather less enjoyable than they were last Saturday, when in balmy conditions following hapless England's emphatic defeat by Australia, I had the pleasure of chewing on a chicken leg in the convivial company of Brian Baister, the former chairman of the Rugby Football Union. Sir Clive Woodward was a couple of picnics along, both of them smiling and chuckling with the insouciance of men who no longer bear any responsibility for the performance of the England XV.