IN the days after Sir Alex Ferguson
suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2010
son, Jason, remembered his father
holding his head in his hands and voicing
one of his deepest fears.
“I hope there’s nothing wrong with my
memory,” Sir Alex said, as he tried to
come to terms with what had befallen
him. “There better be nothing wrong with
In the brilliant, moving documentary
about Ferguson’s life, Never Give In, which
was released earlier this year, the former
Manchester United manager is seen
poring over a piece of paper which looks
like the title page to a book of
crosswords. In the early days of his
convalescence, he had scrawled a
collection of words on it. One is repeated
time after time: “Remember.”
Remember, he urges himself. Remember
all the details of a life in football so right
achievement that he became the greatest
manager British football has ever
produced. If it is in your power, guard
those memories jealously and never let
them go. Never forget them because a
man is forged by his hinterland and a man
is made by his history and without the
memories, life’s anchor is gone.
Ferguson will turn 80 this week and the
milestone means the memories will come
flooding back for the rest of us, too,
because for those of us whose time spent
working in English football roughly
coincided with his reign at Old Trafford,
and for those who immersed themselves
in the English game in the 1990s and the
first decade of this century, he was the
most influential, fascinating, intimidating,
compelling, character in our sporting
Ferguson was the dominant figure in
English football for a quarter of a century.
At the heart of his legend was rebuilding
United into the most powerful team in
England and in Europe after a fallow
period of not winning the top flight in
England for 26 years.
More emotive than that was the struggle
to win the European Cup for the first time
since Sir Matt Busby and the team led by
Bobby Charlton and George Best had
done it in 1968.
The quest for the European Cup was
destined to have a special place in the
hearts of United fans from the day when
so many of the great Busby Babes team
of the 1950s died in the Munich Air
Disaster during their attempt to become
the first British team to win the trophy in
Ferguson felt that mystique and knew he
would not be fulfilled as a United
manager until he won the Champions
United laid those ghosts to rest when they
beat Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp in
Barcelona in 1999 in the most dramatic
finish to a match most of us had ever
Ferguson acknowledged it as his
crowning achievement, despite everything
else he went on to win later in his career.
The emotions unleashed by the narrative
arc of that triumph will be hard to equal,
however long the game is played.
There was something mystical about it.
That might sound impressionable but it
was the greatest night in club football I
have witnessed. That’s what Ferguson will
be remembered for the most.
That night in Barcelona and the gift it
gave to all of us who were there, all who
were watching anywhere. Winning so
dramatically, never giving in, completing
the Treble, winning with a team hewn
from youth and the Class of 92, Ferguson
saying “football, bloody hell”. Thinking
football was a magical thing.
“Think he put into his players and his staff
a commitment to the cause that was
beyond going to work or playing football,”
Gary Neville, one of the heroes of that
night in Barcelona, said last week
“It was something far stronger. It was a
siege mentality. It was like we were on an
island and if you weren’t on the island, it
was choppy waters around the island and
it wasn’t easy to get to us and if anybody
came near us that wasn’t a friendly, they
would get seen off.
“I had to get out towards the end because
I felt I was protected in such a bubble that
I needed to get off the island because it is
ingrained into you. It has taken me ten to
twelve years of understanding what the
rest of life is like without Sir Alex
Ferguson, what normal life is like.
into a dressing room as manager and –
realised that not everything is the san
as it was under Sir Alex was a challenge.
Or you face a challenge in your
businesses or your projects and you
recognise the job that he did.
For every player who played under him, he
has the ability to inform every day of your
“You have always got this reference point.
What would Sir Alex do? He wouldn’t give
in, he would keep on working, he would
demonstrate persistence, he would give
young people belief and a chance, he
would make sure he protected his team
with his life and all these things that
influence you every day of your life are