IT is remarkable to think that, given the special place afforded to East Stirlingshire as Sir Alex Ferguson's first port of call as a manager, he was only actually there for four months.

But the voices and memories of that time back in the 1974/75 season provide insights into the great manger to be.

There are still a few old Shire players knocking around from that time who are happy to offer us their Fergie testimonies. One of them is Bobby Stein, the older brother of Colin Stein, who for seven years was a rock at the heart of the East Stirlingshire defence in the 1970s.

Having hung up his boots, it was Ally MacLeod, one of Ferguson's last managers, who urged the keen young coach to take on the unsung challenge of becoming manager at Firs Park. When Willie Muirhead, the old East Stirling chairman, waved a few quid in Ferguson's face as a lure, the then 32-year-old decided to throw himself into the job.

"Fergie arrived like a whirlwind at the Shire," says Stein. "He was a breath of fresh air. I remember his very first words to us in the dressing room. He sat us all down in front of him – he was a bit nervous about it – and said: 'I'm ambitious and I want you to be ambitious, too.'

"He was totally different to all the other managers we had at the time. We had another boss, Jimmy Rowan, who liked us to play good football, but he had none of Fergie's drive or determination. Ian Ure, a great lad, became Shire manager after Fergie left, but he was hopeless by comparison. Ian was good friends with the players but he did none of Fergie's homework on the opposition. Alex was set apart."

The story of Ferguson and the Stein brothers is a bit of a saga in itself. Ferguson, playing for Rangers, had exchanged blows with Colin, then at Hibs, in a match in 1969 when both got sent off. A year later, with Ferguson about to be tossed out of Rangers, Colin Stein arrived at Ibrox as Scotland's first £100,000 signing, effectively to replace Ferguson.

Three years later, whom should Ferguson spot the first time he walked into the East Stirling dressing room, but Bobby, the older brother of his rival striker. "Colin and Alex had previous, but it didn't really affect me," says Bobby. "He was a fiery player, Colin. He wasn't a bad lad but there was a bit of retaliation in him. In fact, there was one game in which I actually played against him – I was at Raith Rovers at the time, playing against Hibs – when Colin got sent off for getting involved in something. 'Stupid idiot,' I said to him as he walked past me.

"Then there was that punch-up between Fergie and Colin shortly before Colin went to Rangers. They were both fiery types and I think Colin took a swing at Alex during a match. 'Did he hit you?' I later asked Alex. 'Aye, he hit me,' he said. They were both sent off.

"But there were no grudges when Alex came to the Shire, with me as one of his players. He was very young at time: just 32. Here was me – one of his players – who was actually older than him. I think he found that a wee bit strange. 'I mean . . . you're bloody older than me,' he kept saying."

Looking back, Stein marvels at the way Ferguson went about his business as a young manager. East Stirling back then were not very different to the club of mythical folklore today – viewed as pretty hopeless and the butt of many a joke but Ferguson brought knowledge and passion and determination to the club.

"I arrived at Firs Park to play at the age of 31 and I was 38 by the time I finished," says Stein. "My highlight remains the day Alex Ferguson walked in the door.

"He changed the whole attitude at East Stirling. Back then, it was a great wee club to play for, though we were hardly ever chasing for promotion. Well, Alex sorted that. We were second in the old second division when he left for St Mirren [in October 1974] and it was obvious he wouldn't be at Firs Park for long.

"He knew exactly what he was doing. He always did his homework, he always knew about the opposition players and how they'd play. He was phenomenal in that regard.

"I remember before one game against Falkirk he sat us down and told us everything about the Falkirk team and what they would be about. He spoke for ages. Tam Donnelly – Simon Donnelly's dad – was a Shire team-mate at the time and he turned to me and said: 'That lasted an hour, that talk.'"

In his autobiography, Managing My Life, Ferguson specifically recalls that match, when his appetite had been fairly whetted at the prospect of facing local rivals. "My old club, Falkirk, had been relegated the previous season so now our town rivals were in direct opposition," Ferguson wrote with relish. "This was a match I was particularly keen to win and I spent weeks building my players up for it. I told my players, 'there is not one thing I don't know about this mob. I can tell you which side of the bed they lie on.'" Ferguson's men defeated Falkirk 2-0.

From the day he entered the Firs Park premises and utterly galvanised the place, only four months would elapse, before Ferguson left to take over at St Mirren. Even then, he had hesitated about leaving Firs Park, feeling it a betrayal to East Stirling, before a phone call to Jock Stein made up his mind.

"Go and sit in the stand at Love Street and look around, and then do the same at Firs Park – then you'll know what to do," Stein told him. Ferguson duly left for Paisley and further hints of his future greatness.

Stein can still recall clearly his feelings about those first, early glimpses of the Ferguson magic. "I looked upon him as a decent young bloke who knew his own mind," he said. "He was determined and he went with his ideas. As I said, we had other managers, but none of them had what Fergie had. It was perfectly obvious he was destined for bigger things.

"Fergie did everything with a purpose. His training was hard but thoughtful: it was designed to make us better players. Alex knew what he was about, and what he wanted. He was very clear about all that. It was a great strength of his."