• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Getting on wrong side of Fergie was my big mistake

'IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' It is impossible to resist using the opening of A Tale of Two Cities as the most appropriate way to describe my relationship with Sir Alex.

New Firm: Sir Alex Ferguson made the most of his rivalry with Jim McLean, once fooling the Dundee United manager into scouting a non-existent player. Picture: SMG
New Firm: Sir Alex Ferguson made the most of his rivalry with Jim McLean, once fooling the Dundee United manager into scouting a non-existent player. Picture: SMG

Punctuated as it was by highlights that age shall not wither, it nevertheless was defined also by the worst moment in my career when the man I admired most decided I had let him down. The parting was not one of sweet sorrow but more of blinding rage by both of us, in mutually incomprehensible rants that had it been recorded would now be vetoed by YouTube as unfit for human consumption.

Before we got to that point we were both riding high. It was so different. Aberdeen used to be on the dark side of the moon for many of the Glaswegian media but Fergie's gravitational pull sucked many of us up there, some of whom would have required a tour guide to find Pittodrie.

He played the field. He had his favourites as all managers do. At that time, crucially, I was one of them. Of course, I relished this. But apart from that I could tell he was utterly different from anyone else on the scene. You could have a conversation which ranged from a scandalously indiscreet anecdote to the great merits of public-ownership of the commanding heights of the economy.

His story-telling was up there with the likes of Dave Allen. He was fond of sending up his Dundee United counterpart Jim McLean, for whom he had the highest regard but who was a manager Ferguson did not view as the gag merchant of Scottish football, generally showing him up to be the roundhead to his cavalier. Laughing as he would convulse, he once sat and told me of how he had fooled McLean into trying to find this potential young star called I. Lyon, only for a United scout to discover that I. Lyon's address was Calderpark Zoo!

Our relationship was bound together more strongly at Easter Road in 1980 as Aberdeen won the championship when, during the commentary, I described Fergie in almost heroic terms as he charged down the field towards his support. Another man of the people had arisen. We were now buddies, visiting each other and enjoying shared political views as well as a few glasses of wine. I was the first media man he hugged after coming off the field in Gothenburg; he invited me up to Aberdeen's Beach Pavilion specially, where the official supporters' association presented me with a crystal bowl in recognition of being, well, a Fergie favourite. I am sure some in the hall that night would rather have had me dumped in the North Sea. But if Fergie said so, then so it had to be.

But even from this favoured position I had heard stories, of course, of another, darker, or perhaps more explosive side. Stevie Archibald told me he was so incensed by having something thrown at him in the dressing room once, he took two footballs, went into Fergie's office and fired them at the manager over his desk. Archibald was not one of his favourite people. And that was it. If you were on the right side then there was no need to worry about any reaction. That was a big mistake on my part.

Our relationship foundered on Fergie's almost obsessive need to protect his players from criticism. It is clear that there was a subtext to all the chummy banter we indulged in, for I suspect something had been building within him as a result of some of the remarks I had made about certain individuals during various commentaries.

One night he drew me aside in the men's toilet at a charity dinner in Glasgow and in a low but earnest voice brought up something I had said during a game at Pittodrie a month previously. This was as clear a case of somebody "nursin' his wrath to keep it warm" as there could be, and I failed to see that.

During a commentary on a Republic of Ireland-Scotland international, only a month or so before he went south I blamed Aberdeen goalkeeper Jim Leighton for two of the goals conceded. I was at Easter Road the following Saturday and came across Fergie and Archie Knox. He turned on me.

As a kid I used to hide under the cinema seat when prehistoric beasts collided with each other on the screen. Now here I was acting out the same part. The closest we came to each other was in the mix of saliva spraying from mouths only an inch apart. I can recall a figure emerging from side-stage. It had a uniform and a cap and spoke with a voice like Moses chastising the wayward.

The terse command, that if we didn't stop the bawling he would take action, did bring about a semblance of order. To this day I have to wonder if he had stayed awake at night awaiting his revenge, for it is clear that he can harbour a grudge like it is a coiled spring.

I would have missed none of it, though, not even the crudest aspect of that parting. I would be a much poorer man had I not befriended and admired this complex man who took me on a trail around Europe which enriched my life. It is genuinely sad to see him go. And on balance, yes, I admit it now; together we saw the best of times.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

156775