Manchester United

Man Utd legend Sir Alex Ferguson turns 80

Jamie Spencer
Sir Alex Ferguson has turned 80 years of age
Sir Alex Ferguson has turned 80 years of age / Alex Livesey/GettyImages
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Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson is celebrating his 80th birthday on New Year’s Eve.

The Scot, who is among the greatest managers of all time, watched his former team in action at Old Trafford the day before his milestone birthday and was able to see a giant banner in his honour unfurled in the Stretford End.

Ferguson was honoured with a Stretford End banner
Ferguson was honoured with a Stretford End banner / OLI SCARFF/GettyImages

Born on 31 December 1941, Fergie grew up in humble surroundings in the Govan area of Glasgow. His father worked in the city’s famous shipyards and he himself combined an apprenticeship to follow in those footsteps with a blossoming part-time football career.

Ferguson was frustrated with his life at that stage, unable to make the breakthrough as a footballer, and at one stage was close to emigrating to Canada for a fresh start. But a hat-trick for St Johnstone in a shock victory over Scottish giants Rangers in December 1963 changed everything.

A few months later, he signed a first professional contract with Dunfermline at the age of 22, before later going on to join Rangers in 1967. His time at his boyhood club was only brief, later admitting he ‘assumed’ he was the victim of sectarian discrimination at Ibrox after marrying a Catholic woman.

Spells at Falkirk and Ayr United followed, before hanging up his boots in summer 1974 aged 32. He had been capped four times for Scotland during an overseas tour in 1967.

Ferguson moved immediately into management, being offered a job at East Stirlingshire. He started making his name during four years at St Mirren, leading the club from the third tier into the top flight, although they are the only side ever to have sacked him. At the time, he claimed wrongful dismissal and took St Mirren to a tribunal – many years later chairman Willie Todd revealed the main reason was due to a breach of contract over agreeing to join Aberdeen.

Prior to Fergie’s arrival at Aberdeen, the club hadn’t won any silverware in over 20 years. But over the next eight years, he transformed them into regular Scottish title winners and the only Scottish club of the last 49 years to win a European trophy.

Ferguson delivered 10 trophies to Aberdeen between 1978 and 1986, accounting for more than half of the club’s silverware in 118 years of overall history. That included three Scottish titles – no club other than Celtic or Rangers have been crowned champions since – and at one stage they lifted the Scottish Cup four times in just five seasons. The crowning glory was perhaps victory over Real Madrid in 1983 to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

His success in Scotland resulted in Fergie being the man appointed to replace Ron Atkinson at Manchester United in November 1986, the sixth attempt from the club to successfully fill the enormous shoes of Sir Matt Busby.

Ferguson famously struggled in Manchester in those early years, initially inheriting a side that was only four points off the bottom of the table and caught in a period of never-ending stale transition. He did enough to steer the club away from relegation, finishing 11th, and even oversaw a second-place finish in his first full season in charge, before slumping to 11th and then 13th by 1990.

Frustratingly yet to prove himself in England in difficult circumstances, an infamous fan banner at the time read: “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap…ta ra Fergie.”

But hugely important work was going on behind the scenes that was yet to come to fruition. Ferguson set about overseeing an overhaul of United’s youth operations, once the lifeblood of the club’s success in the 1950s and 1960s, while he shipped out almost all of the first-team squad to reset the culture and completely rebuild a new team – only Bryan Robson survived the cull.

What eventually followed hardly needs repeating. FA Cup glory in 1990 bought him some more time and, after a near miss in 1991/92, he finally got the ball rolling with the inaugural Premier League title in 1992/93 – United’s first in 26 years of trying since 1967.

When he retired 20 years later, Ferguson had delivered 13 league titles in total, putting United ahead of Liverpool’s as England’s most decorated club. There were five FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions League titles – and two other finals, an Intercontinental Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and countless records, as well as individual accolades.

Ferguson was knighted for services to football in 1999 a few months after United completed an historic treble. He came close to retiring in 2002 at the age of just 60, but decided against it to extend his career and enjoy arguably his most concentrated period of success after that.

Fergie eventually did retire in 2013 upon winning his 38th and final trophy with United – his 48th overall of a managerial career that spanned 39 years from start to finish.

He continues to serve United as a director on the football club board, while he overcame a health scare in 2018 when he required emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage. That episode and his life as a whole is covered in the moving 2021 documentary Alex Ferguson: Never Give In.


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