Sir Alex Ferguson loved to chat football just like any other fan

Ferguson was intensely focused when it came to Manchester United but hugely passionate about the wider game too, recalls Ed Bearryman

For all the tributes, the respect and the admiration, those who are not Man United supporters can be forgiven for having walked to work with a little spring in their step this morning.

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The headline news of Sir Alex Ferguson’s impending retirement is tinged with sadness, of course, but there is a hint of relief that the competitive field in English football has been levelled a little.

The man who accumulated trophies like a schoolboy collecting stickers has departed, and thus the veneer of invincibility at Old Trafford may just be starting to crack.

That ought to bring at least a smile to all those non-United fans who grew up in the long shadow of Ferguson’s 90s, when at times the repetition of the club’s success could feel like a never-ending slap in the face.

In that decade alone, Ferguson won half of the championships on offer, finishing outside the top two only once.

That regularity became synonymous with the United manager and helped cast him as a robotic, inhuman, figure.

It was as if, in order to understand his heightened single-mindedness, we ascribed to him the qualities of some sort of Iron Man. A humble human being, we thought, wasn’t capable of such achievements.

This explains the fascination with the man behind the myth in recent years. An interview with, of all people, DJ Spoony, was remarkable for its portrayal of Fergie as the ordinary bloke, the playful grandfather, the raconteur, the Spotify enthusiast.

And it reveals why the stream of eulogies written this week have featured many a yarn of the compassionate side, which lurked behind the iron will.

Since it seems a week for sharing personal encounters with Ferguson, this writer might as well dive in.

A couple of years ago, covering a youth football tournament at United’s Carrington training complex, I was granted access, along with a New Zealand sports writer I’d been travelling with, to the manager’s weekly press conference.

While I quietly observed, partially paralysed by the enormity of the occasion, my Kiwi friend piped up with a question – much to the consternation and disgust of a press pack not accustomed to having their line of enquiry interrupted – about a meeting between Scotland and New Zealand at the 1986 World Cup.

After the session ended, a jovial Ferguson sought out my friend and invited him into his office for a private audience, as the rest of us gawped on in envy.

Behind all the bravado and steely muscularity, Ferguson loves to chat football just like any other fan.

But enough of the man, how will the myth live on? How can his footballing legacy be measured?

Well, for the man who marked out his career by important numbers, how about the statistic that nearly a quarter of all young football fans now support Manchester United: the club Sir Alex built.

Ed Bearryman is features editor at Match of the Day magazine

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