Why, several readers have asked,
haven’t I bothered this week to write a single word about Sir Alex Ferguson?
They presume to know the reason. I’m
ignoring the achievements of a great man – perhaps one of the great men in
British history – because I don’t like football. History is being made, and I’m deliberately turning
a Nelsonian blind eye to it. My prejudice,
one friend has ventured, is both unworthy and childish.
Well, I suppose I have to plead
guilty on all counts.
Those prosecuting the case simply
can’t understand this lack of interest. Fergie
– as we must call him, now that he’s a lovable old pensioner – is a
phenomenon. Has he not, over 27 dedicated
years as manager of Manchester United, guided the club from strength to strength,
and finally to greatness? Has he not so
filled the trophy cabinet at Old Trafford that several cabinets, an entire treasure-house
of cabinets, are now required to house the glittering collection of prizes? Has he not been an inspiration to an entire
generation of football players and fans?
Has he not, over the years, represented the very best in British sport?
Arguably, Fergie has achieved all
those things. Undeniably, he has achieved
some of them. Good for him, I say.
But his achievements are in a
field in which I haven’t for 40 years had the remotest interest and which, in
my view, has more often than not heaped opprobrium on the country that once
prided itself on its qualities of decency, common sense and a sense of fair
play. Fergie himself has occasionally
through spiteful but always calculated utterances brought the game into
What surprised me most this week
about the Fergie retirement was the hysterically uncritical media coverage, an
excessive outpouring that in my normally sensible newspaper included a 16-page
souvenir supplement. I’m sure it sold
more than a few papers.
Long and often have I have railed
against the shameful and demeaning excesses of football. So long and so often that, whenever the
subject comes up in conversation, my football-loving friends anticipate my
responses with an exasperated roll of the eyes.
The unspoken words are: “Well, we know what you think, so don’t bother
to say it”. Well, this week I didn’t bother
saying anything, and I’m in the doghouse for it. One can’t win.
If some consider the end of the
Fergie era a seminal event for the nation, all I can say is, I don’t.
Actually, if I were inclined to
take the time to form an impression of Fergie it would not be that of a nice man
who adorned his sport with grace and dignity but of a clever, ruthless tyrant. His frequent tirades against those whom he
perceived had crossed him were often in bad taste, reflecting poorly on the
man, his club and his profession.
Ah, but he was successful, I’m constantly
reminded. That is undeniable – and let
those who admire success at all cost praise him to the heavens. I’d be tempted to add predictable – given
Manchester United’s powerful backers and limitless funds, not to mention a
brand-name recognized throughout the world.
But now I’m being churlish. You win.
The man‘s a genius.
Fergie’s socialist convictions
have led some to suggest that he might consider, post-football, transferring
his genius to politics. Come to think of
it, he might be able to put some oomph into Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
On second thoughts, though, I
think his talents are probably best suited to football. He’d find politics far too sedate.