Sport | An evening with Sir Alex

Much has been made of Sir Alex’s new autobiography, that was a given even before it was published.  Coincidentally, yet unsurprisingly, it is the quickest selling autobiography ever. Everyone in the footballing world seemed to feel the need to voice their opinion, we’ll leave the simple irony that there is no-one around in football with more top level experience, or success, than Sir Alex, leaving most of the dissenting views irrelevant.

Last Monday, Sir Alex spoke at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester discussing some of the issues of the book and his career more broadly. The event sold out in less than 4 minutes. I appreciate you probably had to be a United fan to have enjoyed the event as this was a proper United love in. Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law were in attendance amongst other United legends, Albert the Kitman drew the biggest cheer. David Moyes too was greeted warmly.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation, the Courteener’s ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ unashamedly playing as if to remind anyone who wasn’t aware – they were in Manchester. The city that played host to the greatest manager ever, and one of the greatest figures in the history of all sport.

Prior to the talk I was apprehensive, that old saying of never encountering your hero’s running through my mind. I’ve never seen Sir Alex in person before, discounting watching him in the dugout. I was struck by how much older he seemed since his retirement, although this was most likely due to the different environment to what I grew up seeing. Talking to nearly 2000 fans, this was a piece of cake compared to his old day job in front of 75,000 odd supporters.

Out he came to a rapturous standing ovation. Here he was in a very relaxed mood, reeling off stories, cracking jokes, his elephantine memory as sharp as ever. “Of course” he remembers every single one of his 1500 games in charge, he also recalls which players were injured or suspended for that game, whose goals were disallowed, who was booked etc.

Dan Walker, the host, did admirably striking a very relaxed rapport. The only grind was how obviously the questions had been vetted beforehand. There was no mention of the reaction his book has received, and he didn’t elaborate on the most contentious issues such as Beckham, Benitez or Keane. As he said himself he has said everything he wanted to in the book.

In fact the book has been wildly exaggerated, everything he said can be justified – Beckham did court the fame, Keane was out of order criticizing players publicly and Liverpool were wrong to portray Suarez as the victim. The most dubious claim is that Bebe was potentially a 20 goal-a-year player.

Another slight disappointment was the fact he only spoke for an hour, no Fergie time tonight. Whilst I could’ve happily listened for hours, after almost 27 years at the helm, he could’ve spoke for days and still have only scratched the surface.

The whole night was a real case of ‘you had to be there’ in order to appreciate the atmosphere, and the passion that drove him for so long. Alongside the obvious talking points – Aberdeen, start to life at Old Trafford, the class of ’92, the Treble and much more it was almost equally interesting to hear about other less well known aspects – the most influential person he ever met Nelson Mandela, who said the same of Ferguson, or the fact that Gianfranco Zola was his favourite foreign premier league player of all time.

At the end of the talk I was left with overriding sense, admittedly somewhat optimistic that if Sir Alex and Sir Bobby Charlton, two of the key pillars that made Manchester United what it is, that know United better than anyone, think David Moyes is good enough for the job, then who am I to question them? I don’t think a team will ever dominate like United have over the last 20 years, yet that doesn’t mean Moyes can’t be, or won’t be a success. It might take a while; Ferguson was keen to stress that it took him 3 years to win anything, but he’ll get there, given time.

Joe Bookbinder

Image courtesy of The Guardian

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