So he’s off, if not quite into the sunset. A far funnier and more considerate customer than the bully of legend, one musical moment proffered by Alexander Chapman Ferguson as this reporter put together his testimonial programme will never be forgotten. Having listed his listening habits, he launched unsolicited into a complete version of Nat King Cole’s “It’s All In The Game”. Let’s just say I’m glad he left it until now to give up the day job.
1 On his greatest challenge: “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their ******* perch. And you can print that.” As printed by The Guardian.
2 On other teams: “West Ham’s effort was obscene”, along with “that’s what gets managers the sack” after a tight win over Leeds. These are the words not merely of a bad loser but the possessor of a protective instinct that extended beyond his players to the prospects of his fellow managers.
3 On high falutin theories about Cantona: “No, my relationship with Eric was not founded on falling out of love with our boyhood heroes. We are both very bad losers… simple as that.”
4 On his favourite goal: “Yes, Giggs in the FA Cup semi-final was great but it was Denis Irwin’s at Wimbledon for me… all those passes!”
5 On taking the industrial language out of professional football: “It’s getting tickly now… squeaky-bum time, I call it.” Related in this case to the 2002-03 title run-in with Arsenal, he also shared the sensation with Leeds, Blackburn, Chelsea and MCFC… Liverpool not so much.
6 On winning the Treble of Premier League, FA and European Cup, in 1999: “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.”
7 On the final challenge to his own perch, “noisy neighbours” Manchester City: “It’s City isn’t it? They are a small club with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United. They can’t get away from it. They think taking Tevez away from Manchester United is a triumph. It is poor stuff.”
8 On the mix-up registering Italian goalkeeper Massimio Taibi: “It’s the Alzheimers, it’s murder…”
9 On Scotland: “It’s too cold for me up there!”
10 On Real Madrid: “I wouldn’t sell them a virus…” This answer was put in perspective by the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo less than a year later.
11 On Archie Knox and Denis Wise, but strangely not of himself: “He could start a row in an empty house…” Ferguson pinched the expression off his own favourite school teacher.
12 On the idea of naming the day, in 2010, he said: “Retirement is for young people.”
13 On having taken one sip of champagne to mark his 13th title win to kick off his pre-Chelsea press conference on May 3, 2013 at Carrington: “Right, celebration over!”
While I did get a couple of gems out of the man I never once heard him utter the words “by the way” on record… a Govanism he is prone to lean on frequently in private. His blow-by-blow account of a junior game he refereed is still not a pesronal highlight, either. That has to be his reaction to a young Nicky Butt who’d just informed him he was going to represent England and not the country of his father’s birth: “That’s it Butt, you’re fined!”