When confirmation arrived yesterday that David Beckham's eye injury was the result of a fit of pique by Sir Alex Ferguson, few would have been less surprised than Millwall's manager, Mark McGhee. The post-match rage that led to Ferguson kicking a stray boot that accidentally hit Beckham in the face has long been a feature of his management style. And even as a relative novice he could lash out with the best of them, as McGhee, who played under Ferguson at Aberdeen in the early 1980s, testified.
"After one reserve game at Forfar he was shouting and wagging a finger at one of the boys. In anger he kicked the laundry basket and these pants flew through the air and landed on another guy's head, like a hat. He didn't move, just sat there rigid. Fergie didn't even notice until he'd finished raging. Then he looked at the boy and said 'And you can take those f***ing pants off your head. What the hell do you think you're playing at?' "
Other spats have proved that Ferguson (aka The Hairdryer) does not just rail at youngsters. Jaap Stam recalled a half-time team talk in 1998 when Ferguson, "with thunder in his face", kicked a heavy treatment table so hard in his direction that he feared for his safety.
Peter Schmeichel also recalled a fiery encounter with Ferguson in 1994 after United had surrendered a 3-0 lead at Liverpool to draw 3-3. "He wasn't just livid, he was absolutely hysterical," the great Dane said. "He didn't just criticise my kicking, he more or less heaped derision on just about everything I had done in the entire game."
Schmeichel hit back with a tirade of his own. "I questioned his capabilities as a manager. I accused him of having a suspect personality. Ferguson did not keep anything back either and at one point he threatened to throw a cup of tea in my face."
Brian Clough was another manager who had serial tantrums, contributing as generously as Ferguson to the annals of management ire. After one reserve game in which a young Nigel Jemson had not performed to his manager's standards, Clough stood over the forlorn player and said: "Stand up." Jemson did so. "Have you ever been hit in the stomach?" Clough asked. "No," Jemson said. Clough punched him. "Now you have, son."
The former Nottingham Forest manager also punched Roy Keane in the face in 1991. Keane had underhit a back pass in a game with Crystal Palace and Clough was furious. "I was hurt and shocked, too shocked to do anything but nod my head in agreement [after being punched]," Keane recalled in his autobiography.
Clough would not limit the use of his fists to players, famously cuffing two supporters in 1989 for invading the pitch during a 5-2 win over Queen's Park Rangers in the League Cup. After that match, in which Lee Chapman scored four goals, he cornered Chapman and bellowed: "Oi, Chapman! When you score a hat-trick you run over to me, not the supporters. I'm the one who signed you."
Chapman escaped physical abuse, unlike Ivano Bonetti, who fell victim to a plate of chicken, thrown in his face while a player at Grimsby in 1996. His manager, Brian Laws, committed this fowl deed following a 3-2 defeat at Luton. Bonetti suffered a fractured cheekbone.
Another manager with "previous" is Graeme Souness. Arguably his most shameful rant came when he upended a tea urn at St Johnstone while the manager of Rangers in 1990. "Would you leave your home like that?" a shocked Aggie Moffat, the St Johnstone tea lady, was moved to ask.
Even mild-mannered managers are not immune to outbursts. Following a dire 0-0 draw with Chelsea, Aston Villa's then manager, Ron Atkinson, followed the striker Dalian Atkinson into the showers and engaged him in combat. "It was all over in seconds," said Big Ron, who added that although no punches were landed he had accidentally hit his assistant, Jim Barron, and the midfielder Andy Townsend during the fracas. As he might say to David Beckham today: "Collateral damage, son, you can't avoid it."
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