Football serves an odd function – and if you are reading this there’s a good chance that you really care about it. I am endlessly fascinated by what football represents to those of us who become so invested in the outcome of a few men kicking a ball around that it is transformed into drama, beauty, frustration, sadness, joy, love, hate (more’s the pity), escape, togetherness. Family.
Manchester United are often called a family club – a massive global enterprise, at the centre of which, administratively at least, are a bunch of the same people that have been around long enough to remember the first Sir Alex Ferguson title win.
[Of course, United are literally a family club, in the worst possible way, given that the club is run by a family of financial parasites, leeching millions away to line their own nest eggs, where presumably they nest their next generation who will grow up to do a leveraged buyout of a club in a developing market somewhere.]
Like all football clubs, United are also something families share, passed down from mother or father to son or daughter, from your uncle who cares about football when your dad doesn’t, or your best friend’s dad’s wife, since this is the modern age. Football has long been regarded as a place where it is acceptable for men to show emotion, letting out the tears that are borne of a deeper loss, but that manifest in the delight or devastation you experience because of the good or not-so-good kicking of a ball.
Somewhere in this mix, where the human unconscious is given an escape valve for emotions that can’t be expressed elsewhere, profound attachments form. And there can’t be many sporting attachments greater than that between United fans and Alex.
Forget the Sir, not just because it’s a weird relic of the feudal age, but also because it’s a latter day addition, it’s a millennial thing, arriving in time to make a handy three letter acronym for the internet age. Before he was Sir Alex, he was Fergie or Alec, and he represented something to me, to us. He was our family club’s dad.
It started straight away. Alex came in and replaced ‘Big Ron’, an avuncular, friendly figure (how little we knew…), and he was quite scary. I was nine, so I didn’t have a drinking culture, but United did and Ferguson put a stop to it, making the club professional, hitting some stumbling blocks, but building, always building.
I never lost faith in him, but I was only 12 when there were “three years of excuses” and living exiled in Zimbabwe, climbing rocks and preoccupied with working out if I could design a hoverboard. By the time I really really cared about football, he became the best dad ever, buying Eric Cantona and winning the league in the year I started sixth form college.
Ferguson brought through a whole generation of kids, and the surrogate father bit was given a whole new dimension. Those of the class of 1992 who became the heart of Ferguson’s team must surely be the players with the deepest relationship with him – David became the black sheep, Ryan, Paul and Gary stayed loyal. Little brother Philip was sent to live up the road with Uncle David so he could come back a few years later and tell us it would all be ok.
Then came the knighthood, and with it the passage to grand-parenthood. Cristiano Ronaldo certainly needed a father figure, and another generation removed, Sir Alex became one. We all watched on, as Fergie became an elder statesman, this great manager becoming the greatest of all time in front of our grateful eyes.
Like all families, there was betrayal and tragedy. He sided with the Glazers rather than the supporters, perhaps because he felt it was in the fans’ best interests to act as a buffer between them and us. Perhaps for less noble reasons. Fergie said that if we didn’t like it we could go and support Chelsea. (Or – we could go to our rooms without any supper, as it were).
Like all dads he embarrassed us, not with his bad dancing – the fist pumped goal celebrations were joyous, not cringeworthy – but his ruthlessness could grate on those with a more sensitive bearing. Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, the weird goalkeeping blind spot. But as you grow up you learn that your parents aren’t perfect, and nor is your football manager.
I’m in my 30s now, and I try to keep the level of emotional investment in men, with a certain colour top, who kick a football, to a manageable level. But Fergie pre-dates my attempts to do that.
I’m so sad that he’s not United’s manager any more, even though I’m happy he gets to retire. I didn’t cry at the montages or the announcement, but I did cry when I recorded Rant Cast and I tried to list all his positive qualities as a human being. A day later, I realise why that was the trigger for me
It’s because it’s complicated. Fergie has been ruthless, and leaves our club registered in the Cayman Islands. He hurt a lot of people. But that’s not the full story.
There has been so much human goodness – the generosity to those in need, the support to other managers in hard times. He is a trade union man, after all. The thousands of letters of condolence and congratulations, done without fanfare.
And whilst there have been times of apparent obstinacy, and masses of footballing frustration, Sir Alex has brought joy to those of us lucky enough to be United fans that no other club anywhere in the land has been even nearly slightly close to experiencing.
I love my dad, even though he is not perfect, and I love Ferguson, even though he is not either. So, thank you, Alex, for dedicating your life to doing something which has made the fans so happy, so often. It’s been absolutely amazing and I honestly cannot believe that it is over.
I understand that impermanence is the fundamental nature of the universe, but I sort of thought you’d be the exception. I am going to remember the joy you brought for the rest of my life, and the pain will fade.
Most of all I will try to remember a mantra I try to live by, something which gives perspective when that inevitable impermanence shows itself: don’t be sad that it is over, be glad that it happened.
43 thoughts on “Dear Sir Alex, Thanks”
Next season there will be no saf no Scholes no Rooney (probably) but i have to say sadness is slowly turning to excitement
Why Scholes on that list?
Beyond the obvious (-continuous, sustained, brilliant success-), the thing I’ll miss the most about Sir Alex – that part of his managerial persona to which I am most personally endeared – is his understated, irresistible (and sometimes just plain beautiful) wordplay.
This quote in particular, for so many reasons, always puts a lump in my throat whenever I read it;
(On Ryan Giggs)
“I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.”
I miss him already, when he answered a question he always seemed to give the answer that I least expected and back it up with perfect reasoning.
A lovely piece: emotionally spot on. I am do very glad he decided to go out on a high note: my feeling is that this season will be a huge battle for us for domestic dominance with (at least) Chelsea and City. My fear was that if he stayed there would be decline and (worse still) testy denial and refusal to acknowledge any decline, ultimately souring the legacy. But now the legacy is intact, and his position is secure for we shall never see his like again. For me there were two pinnacles: the early “brutal” team that first won the double (revolving around Cantona) and the team that won the Euro Champs League in Moscow (revolving around Ronaldo). On the other hand, I never forgave him for selling Kanchelskis to Everton shortly after he had single-handedly given City their worst ever derby hiding.
I think maybe it’s time for the football intellectual in AF to emerge again and for him to write big time about the game. That Moyes is coming in as his successor is not an upside to this as I see it: we needed someone with glamour and Euro wisdom if not Mourinho, then perhaps someone like Klopp. As with Liverpool and Sounness, sometimes you need a new revolution to take you forward, striving for continuity can be a recipe for stagnation and disaster.
SAF only retired to block Moyes from signing a contract with Schalke. This was the only way to get Moyes by offering him the job at United. Thats why all this went down all of a sudden. Right out of the blue, SAF retires and the day before SAF said he was going nowhere. The word is, Guardiola was the first choice, thats why he left Barcelona and took a year off from football because SAF was to retire last season but we gave the title away to Man City and SAF stayed on to win it back! SAF then announces he will stay on another few years so Guardiola took the job now at Bayern Munich. They never wanted Mourinho. Moyes was their number two, so they did not want to lose him, so bang SAF retired and Moyes is manager. Thats how it went down and this information is coming from the top. The sad thing though is, they had Ronaldo, SAF is gone and now Gill is in Madrid to meet with Ronaldo’s agent with a 60 millon deal but Ronaldo was only coming back to play under Fergie. Half of that 60 million is through sponsorship. I don’t think he will come with Moyes there, but you never know in football. Strange things happen.
Where, erm, where do you get this info? I can only conclude…
COACH HERBIE = DAVID GILL!!!
cheers for putting into words many of the thoughts we have had over the past
Wow… are we ever lucky to have you here.
What gets me about Herbie is… why does he bother? Like, he talks shit that never comes true, and carries on. God loves a trier apparently!
Really nice piece. Fergie’s been my surrogate Dad since the 89/90 season. Quite an emotional week!
Great article, really liked the angle you took. SAF really is responsible for so many happy moments in our lives
After reading this I’m quite relieved he has retired as it would have been virutally impossible to prise Moyes away from Schalke 04. What wopuld the club have done? We’ll never know I guess, oh wait, Herbie can tell us.
I think any right minded person can see why he has retired. He wants to carry on posting on here as Herbie, how else could someone have access to such high level bullshit. Maybe he couldn’t handle all the high profile leaks, so this mole has cost us all in the end.
In all honesty though if I was connected at Old Trafford I would spend my time posting on fan sites and be really annoyed when people didn’t believe me.
Congratulations anyway Herbie. You must have made a fortune betting on Fergie to leave and even more on Moyes to come in. You’ve probably got enough to buy a club now, unfortunately Birmingham isn’t going for £1 anymore.
tbf herbies story sounds plausible
i actually think the Moyes as number two choice is very very plausible…not sure of the rest. i’ve said before that this whole retirement feels very sudden, and this explanation gels…
Great job on the article btw…almost made me cry.,,
I have been in contact with coaches at the academy because like I said, one of my youngsters is going there on trial in the summer. I got my inside scope on this sudden retirement of SAF. Do you remember when SAF flew all the way to the USA to have a meeting with Guardiola? Guardiola was first choice to replace SAF, but SAF kept coming out in the media and saying he was staying on as long as he was in good health.
Guardiola wanted the job but he was not going to stay out of the game two or three years waiting for SAF to retire so he took the job at Bayern. Moyes was the front runner before Guardiola showed interest.
If Moyes would have gone to Schalke, can you guys tell me who out there of any quality would be the new manager? All the top managers are got jobs already. You would have ended up with Martin O’Neill and we really would have been in trouble. Don’t doubt what I’m saying, I know whats going on.
I’m a coach and Iam in contact with these people trying to move my youngsters to the academy. These are youngsters of world class quality. If you have Facebook, you can talk to any player or manager in the world. You can get all the information you want to know. I can go on Facebook now and chat with Rooney if I wanted to.
My own personal view is that Sir Alex is the greatest manager in sports. He’s been able to stay at United for a quarter century and re-invent the team successfully time and time again.
He will be missed, but his involvement as director will still be important.
Cool… next time you talk to him, ask him if he reads Rant… would you do that for us?… good lad.
*makes detour to benders name thread*
Take Herbie with you.
What a weapons grade cunt you are herbie
his first post in this topic sounds about right tbf, obviously everyone hes said there hes made up, but can see it still being spot on tbf
I’m less than certain that the claims made in the media that Moyes was a “safe choice” have much support. I would have thought that a bright young thing like, say, Antonio Conte or Jurgen Klopp would actually have been a “safer choice” – those guys have won things.
Obviously, SAF chose to go out on a high – winning # 20 by a huge margin and taking back the title from the noisy neighbours with what is often described as a lacklustre team has been a huge achievement. But, he’s left his successor with some real problems;
who is going to partner MC16 in midfield ?
what going on with TheWayneBoy ?
where will MrJones play ?
who will play on the wings because, as we witnessed this past season, AV7, Nani, and AshleyBloodyYoung were all awful – each “in his own special way” ?
will Chicharito be happy playing second fiddle ? ditto for KagawaBunga ?
will TheLegend and/or Rio be able to command more game-time than they “deserve” ?
can CaptainVidic and/or NinjaEvra continue to be key contributors or are they (both ?) on the down-side of their illustrious careers ?
will LittleRedRafa and DDG continue to mature into real “world class” professionals ?
Considering this litany of questions – not all of them fanciful – it is instructive to compare the situation Moyes inherits to the one that Pep walks into at Bayern Munich:
best midfield in the world (Schweini and Javi Martinez) ;
two best young #10s in Germany (Goetze and Kroos) ;
three professional strikers (Mandzukic, Gomez, and Pizzaro with Lewandowski in the wings);
three outstanding wingers (Robben, Ribery, and Muller);
fantastic full-backs (Lahm and Alaba); and,
a monster-keeper (Neuer).
I’m not saying that Moyes has been given a poisoned chalice but he does have a tough job ahead – and it’s tough job keeping a winning team on its winning ways (13/21 EPL trophies). Can he do it ? only time will tell or, as CR7 liked to say, “only God knows” and she’s not telling !
Ffs, there is a transfer wankfest thread for you nerds to play fantasy manager on. Every thread gets ruined by you guys.
Why don’t you, marlon, Ron and b-man have a bath a spot the submarine on your own thread. Alf and Sid already gay up on their own communist blog.
Just leave is alone, ffs.
Yeah, leave this alone, and head over to the “all hail St. steve” thread, and have a big weep with Dannii…
he must have all those nicknames written down somewehrre tbf
Denton, you can’t just call him Moyes ffs you need to come up with a ridiculous name
That’s ace, Sheesh
LOL… I reckon he’d been hard at the Dewars there.
Sidney @ 3:10: “Denton, you can’t just call him Moyes ffs you need to come up with a ridiculous name”
If you don’t like it then you and Pikey McScum can get together and call me a “cunt”. Alf might join you for a three-way.
What would be a good nickname for that then? cuntdent? Davecunt? Dentedcunt?
To be clear At the risk of encouraging you which i absolutely dont want to do i actually dont mind all the ridicilous nicknames…
Nicknames aside Denton probably speaks more sense than most on here
Who the fuck are you!?
He’s the other account Denton owns… Bit like Cap and “Knobhead” lol
Ince on Fergie:
When have I ever called you a cunt?
Me and knobhead are not the same, yet our heart beats as one