Fairytales do come true. Take Sir Alex Ferguson for example. From shipyard apprentice in Scotland to one of the most respected football coaches of all time.
Born at his grandmother’s home on Shieldhall Road, Govan, on December 31, 1941, Sir Alex Ferguson learned early that life is all about effort.
He lived in a tenement house without its own bathroom and spent his free time on the streets with his friends. ‘Get out there and get some fresh air’ his mother would say to him.
Fighting with the gangs in the road and playing football was all he was able to suffer and enjoy, probably at the same time:
“It was a great upbringing,” he once said. “All we ever did was play football and fight. That’s what you did in these areas and we’d be out jumping dykes. “Some areas of Govan had great jumps, where you could jump from one to another”
His playing career began as an amateur with Scottish club Queen’s Park where he made his debut as a striker aged 16.
As Queen’s Park were an amateur team he also worked in the Clyde shipyards as an apprentice tool-worker. Despite scoring 20 goals in his 31 games for Queen’s Park, he could not command a regular place in the side.
In 1960 he moved to St. Johnstone and although he continued to score regularly he was still unable to command a regular place. He even considered emigrating to Canada but St. Johnstone’s failure to sign a forward led the manager to select Ferguson for a match against Rangers.
That day, he scored a hat trick in a surprise victory. In the summer of 1964, Dunfermline signed him making him a full-time professional footballer. The 1965–66 season saw Ferguson notch up 45 goals in 51 games for Dunfermline.
Along with Joe McBride of Celtic, he was the top goalscorer in the Scottish League with 31 goals.
He then joined Rangers for £65,000, then a record fee for a transfer between two Scottish clubs.
Later he was blamed for a goal that they conceded in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final, as he had been designated to mark Celtic captain, Billy McNeill.
Subsequently, he was forced to play for the club’s junior side instead of the first team. The following October he went to Falkirk where he was promoted to player-coach, but when John Prentice became manager he removed Ferguson’s coaching responsibilities.
Ferguson responded by requesting a transfer and moved to Ayr United where he finished his playing career in 1974.
Early managing career
In June 1974, Ferguson was appointed manager of East Stirlingshire at the comparatively young age of 32.
It was a part-time job that paid £40 per week and at the time, the club did not have a single goalkeeper.
Ferguson soon gained a reputation as a disciplinarian, with club forward Bobby McCulley later saying he had “never been afraid of anyone before but Ferguson was a frightening bastard from the start.”
The following October, Ferguson was invited to manage St. Mirren. He coached the club for four years. In 1977, he won his first title leading St. Mirren to First Division championship.
One year later, St. Mirren became the one and only club ever to sack Ferguson “for various breaches of contract”.
Aberdeen take off
In June 1978 he signed with Aberdeen. The club had not won the league title since 1955 but two years later in 1980 they were crowned champions.
It was the first time in fifteen years that the league had not been won by either Rangers or Celtic.
Two years after that in 1982 Aberdeen won the Scottish Cup. The following year was even more successful. After a 2-1 victory against Real Madrid in the final Ferguson’s players won the European Cup Winners’ Cup on May 11, 1983.
The 1983-84 found Aberdeen celebrating both the Scottish League as well as the Scottish Cup titles. They gained the league title in 1984-85 but the next season (1985-86) they finished fourth. It was time for Ferguson to search for his next challenge.
Scottish National Team spell
After Scotland’s manager Jock Stein collapsed and died on September 10, 1985 at the end of the game in which the team qualified from their group for a play-off against Australia for the 1986 World Cup, Ferguson agreed to take charge of the Scottish national side.
Under his guidance Scotland was able to beat the Australians and subsequently participate in the World Cup. However, after Scotland failed to progress past the group stages Ferguson stepped down as national team manager on June 15, 1986.
Red Devil era
Ferguson joined Manchester United after Ron Atkinson was sacked in November 1986. United finished the season in 11th place having been second from bottom in 21st place when he took over.
In the 1987-88 season United took second place, nine points behind champions Liverpool. Steve Bruce, Brian McClair, Viv Anderson and Jim Leighton joined the club.
These players featured the most in the team that a few years later would conquer English and European football.
The following season though was rather tough for the Red Devils. Despite Mark Hugues return after a two-year spell in Barcelona, they finished 11th in the league.
At the beginning of the 1989-90 season, Ferguson signed midfielders Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince, as well as defender Gary Pallister and winger Danny Wallace. The season started excellently but what followed was described by Ferguson himself as “the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game”.
United beat defending champions Arsenal 4-1 in the opening game of the season but by December they were placed just outside the relegations zone, mainly due to injuries to several key players.
Nevertheless, they managed to win an FA Cup title after beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in the final of the competition.
In the season 1990-91, United finished 6th in the league table. In early March 1991, 17-year-old hot prospect Ryan Giggs debuted for the Red Devils at a 2-0 home loss to Everton. Even though the title did not arrive at Old Trafford, United were able to win European Cup Winners’ Cup beating Barcelona 2-1 in the final.
In the 1991-92 season, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Parker, Lee Sharp and Anrdei Kanchelskis joined the club but again the Red Devils lost the league title, this time to Leeds United.
Finally, United’s 26-year wait came to an end in the season 1992-93. The purchase of French striker Eric Cantona from Leeds United for the current equivalent of more than 1.4 million euro brightened the future of the team.
Aston Villa’s 1–0 defeat at Oldham on May 2, 1993 gave United the title with a 10-point margin.
They were the first ever Premier League Champions and Ferguson was voted Manager of the Year by the League Managers’ Association.
The following season United continued on the same successful road leading the league table virtually from start to finish to add a second consecutive title. At the same time, Ferguson enriched his club by signing Nottingham Forest’s 22-year-old midfielder Roy Keane for a British record fee of 4.5 million euros equivalent, as a long term replacement for Bryan Robson, who was nearing the end of his career.
In the 1994-95 season the club finished 2nd losing the title on the final day after a 1-1 draw against West Ham United.
Three key players were sold at the meantime. Paul Ince moved to Italian club Internazionale for 8.9 million euros, long serving striker Mark Hughes was suddenly sold to Chelsea in a 1.8 million euro deal, and Andrei Kanchelskis was signed by Everton. On the other hand, United paid a British record fee of 8.3 million euros for Newcastle’s prolific striker Andy Cole.
With a series of youngsters, who would be known as “Fergie’s Fledglings”, including Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, United went on to win the 1995-96 season title, despite being 10 points behind Newcastle at the beginning of the season.
They also won the FA Cup beating Liverpool 1-0 in the final.
The next season saw Ferguson guide Manchester United to their fourth Premier League title in five seasons. Norwegians Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ronny Johnsen arrived at Old Trafford. After the end of the season, Eric Cantona suddenly announced his decision to retire aged just 31.
Two new arrivals bolstered United at the beginning of the 1996-97 season. Striker Teddy Sheringham and defender Henning Berg joined the Red Devils but at the end of the season Arsenal was the one to be crowned champion.
The summer of 1998 saw striker Dwight Yorke, Dutch defender Jaap Stam and Swedish winger Jesper Blomqvist join Manchester United for an impressive combined total of nearly 36 million euros.
The team celebrated an unprecedented treble of the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League. The season was characterised by highly dramatic matches.
In the Champions League semi-final second leg, United conceded two early goals away to Juventus but, inspired by Roy Keane who would later miss the final because of a suspension, United came back to beat Juventus 3–2 and reach their first European Cup final since 1968.
In the final, with 90 minutes on the clock, they were 1–0 down to Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, following a Mario Basler free kick, but in three minutes of injury time Teddy Sheringham, a substitute, equalised and with just seconds left on the clock, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, also a late substitution, scored the winning goal and history was made.
In the FA Cup semi-final, United faced close rivals Arsenal and appeared to be heading for defeat when Keane was sent off and Arsenal were awarded a last-minute penalty. Peter Schmeichel saved the penalty, and in extra time Ryan Giggs ran the length of the pitch to score perhaps the most memorable goal of his career to win the match.
They then defeated Newcastle United 2–0 in the FA Cup Final at the Wembley Stadium, thanks to goals from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes. On 12 June 1999, Ferguson received a knighthood in recognition of his services to the game.
Manchester United’s reigning era was now at its peak. In the 1999–2000 season they were declared champions with just three Premier League defeats. 28-year-old French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was signed from Monaco for 9.2 million euros making him the most expensive goalkeeper to be signed by a British club.
United won the title again becoming only the fourth side in history to win the English league title three seasons in succession. They also matched Liverpool’s record (set in 1991) of 10 successive top two finishes.
During the 2001 close season Ruud van Nistelrooy joined from PSV Eindhoven, and soon after Manchester United again broke the British transfer record this time paying Lazio 33.3million euros for Argentine attacking midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón.
In the 2001-02 season, Dutch central defender Jaap Stam was sold to Lazio in a 18.9 million euro deal. Ferguson replaced Stam with Internazionale’s 36-year-old central defender Laurent Blanc. Arsenal won the title and United finished 3rd in Premier League table.
The rebuilding of the team was now an eminent target for Ferguson. The close season saw Manchester United break the British transfer record yet again when they paid Leeds United 35.6 million euros for 24-year-old central defender Rio Ferdinand and the Red Devils did come back right away.
In the 2002-03 season Manchester United won their eighth Premier League title.
In the 2003-04 season they won the FA Cup and signed Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo. At the beginning of the 2004–05 season, striker Wayne Rooney, the world’s most expensive teenager at more than 23.7 million euro and Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze joined United but still the team needed time to improve. They finished third in the league.
Transition was on the way for the Red Devils. For the 2004-205 season, United signed Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar from Fulham and Korean star Park Ji-Sung from PSV.
On November 18 Roy Keane officially left the club, his contract ended by mutual consent. In the January transfer window Serbian defender Nemanja Vidić and French full-back Patrice Evra were signed, and the side finished in second place in the league, behind runaway leaders Chelsea.
Winning the League Cup was a consolation prize.
Manchester United won their ninth Premier League in the 2005-06 season but failed to qualify for the Champions League final after a 3-0 defeat at the San Siro to Milan even though they won the first-leg 3-2.
For the 2007–08 season, Ferguson made notable signings to reinforce United’s team. Owen Hargreaves joined from Bayern Munich, young Portuguese winger Nani and Brazilian playmaker Anderson followed and the last summer signing was West Ham United and Argentina striker Carlos Tévez after a complex and protracted transfer saga.
On May 11, 2008, Ferguson led Manchester United to a tenth Premier League title, exactly 25 years to the day after he led Aberdeen to European glory against Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Ten days later Ferguson won his second European Cup with Manchester United as they beat Chelsea 6–5 on penalties in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The game ended one all after extra time in the first ever all-English UEFA Champions League Final.
A penalty miss from Cristiano Ronaldo meant that John Terry’s spot-kick would have given the trophy to Chelsea if successfully converted. Terry blew his chance of glory and in the end it was Edwin van der Sar’s blocking of a Nicolas Anelka penalty which gave the trophy to Manchester United for the second time under Ferguson and for the third time overall.
The team started slowly in the 2008–09 season but in the end they managed to win the Premier League, making Ferguson the first manager in the history of English football to win the Premier League three times consecutively, on two separate occasions.
Also, the Red Devils contested the 2009 Champions League final against FC Barcelona on May 27, 2009, but lost 2–0.
In 2009–10 Ferguson added another Football League Cup to his honours list as United defeated Aston Villa 2–1 in the Wembley final on 28 February 2010.
However, his hopes of another league title were ended on the last day of the season when Chelsea beat them to the Premier League title, crushing Wigan Athletic 8–0 and rendering United’s 4–0 win over Stoke City meaningless.
On August 8, 2010, Ferguson added another FA Community Shield to his honours list as United defeated Chelsea 3–1 in the final in Wembley.
On December 19, 2010, Ferguson became Manchester United’s longest serving manager ever, overtaking Matt Busby’s record of 24 years, 1 month and 13 days in charge of the club.
Manchester United faced Barcelona again on May 28, 2011 in the UEFA Champions League Final, their third in four years, but were again defeated 3–1.
With Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes all retiring in 2011, Ferguson spent big by signing defender Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers and winger Ashley Young from Aston Villa for around 20 million euros each, and goalkeeper David de Gea from Atlético Madrid for around 23 million euros.
On September 2, 2012, Ferguson managed his 1000th league game with United against Southampton.
Two weeks later, he won his 100th game in the Champions League with a 1–0 win over Galatasaray at Old Trafford.