خانوادهکتاب: زندگینامه الکس فرگوسن / فصل 25
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TWENTY-THREE - FAMILY
SHE always waited up for me. Even if I came through the door at two or three in the morning, Cathy would be there to greet me. ‘Why don’t you go to bed?’ I would say to her over the phone as we travelled home. ‘No, no,’ she would say, ‘I’ll wait till you get back.’ For 47 years she maintained this line.
I could go about my work in football knowing family life was completely taken care of. Cathy is a remarkable person. David Gill was a genius to persuade her to unveil a statue of me at Old Trafford. There is no way I could have coaxed her into the light like that.
The truth about Cathy is that she has never changed. She’s a mother, a grandmother and a housewife. That is her life. She doesn’t court friendships. It’s not that she discourages them, more that she prefers the company of family and a few close friends. She almost never went to the football. When I married her we would go to dances at weekends, with friends from Glasgow. She was always comfortable in Glaswegian company. But after our move to United, she wasn’t a social animal at all. She displayed no inclination to go out on the circuit and I would go to most functions and dinners on my own.
A house with gates is useful for when Tory politicians come canvassing. Cathy would hear the local Conservatives announce themselves through the Tannoy and say, ‘Sorry, Mrs Ferguson is out, I’m the cleaner.’ In all respects she is faithful to her roots.
When I stopped playing at 32 and had pubs in Glasgow and managed St Mirren, my day started at Love Street, where I would be until 11 o’clock, and then to the pub, until 2.30 p.m. Sometimes I would go home and sometimes directly to Love Street for training. Then it was back to the pub, then home.
So the children seldom saw me at that very early age. Cathy brought them up. By the time they reached manhood, they were closer to me, but have always had the utmost love and respect for their mum.
Going to Aberdeen was a blessing because I didn’t have the pubs and there was more of a family life for the five of us. I was there all the time unless we had a game. Darren was a ball boy and Mark would go to the games with his pals. Cathy would take Jason, who wasn’t hugely interested in football at this stage.
But at 13 or 14 he took up playing and ended up representing Scotland Boys Club against Wales. He wasn’t a bad player. He was a late developer who was interested in books. He’s a very clever boy. When we moved to Old Trafford he stayed in Aberdeen to continue his studies. Then he joined us in Manchester, where he played for our B team a few times.
Darren was always a natural, with a left foot of great quality. Mark was a very good player who appeared for Aberdeen reserves a few times. He went to college and polytechnic in Sheffield for a land economy degree. Mark became a great success in the City. All my sons have done well. They are all driven people, as is Cathy, who is clever and has a determination about her.
People used to say I was like my dad. But people who really knew me said I was more like my mother, who was a very determined woman. My father was too, but was much quieter. My mother, like all good mothers, was the boss. She ran the family. Cathy made all the family decisions in our house, too, which was fine by both of us.
When Darren was 14, Brian Clough called and said he wanted to sign him for Nottingham Forest. Brian was full of contradictions. He would never answer the phone to me. It was always Ron Fenton, Clough’s assistant, who picked up the receiver. At Aberdeen I went south to see Forest play Celtic in the UEFA Cup on rock-hard frosty ground. I knew Ron Fenton reasonably well. As I entered the directors’ lounge, Ron said, ‘Alex, have you met the boss?’ I hadn’t, and was quite looking forward to making his acquaintance.
Ron introduced me and Brian said, ‘What did you think of the game?’
My opinion was that Celtic had deserved to win. I then told him Forest would beat them at Celtic Park. ‘Well young man, I’ve heard enough,’ said Brian. And walked out. Archie Knox burst out laughing.
In the event, Darren stayed with us at United. The problem was keeping him in the first team. Cathy never forgave me for selling him. He started the first 15 games in the year we won the League for the first time. But, in a Scotland U-21s game, he sustained a really bad hamstring tear that kept him on the sidelines for three months. That was him out until February, and by that time Bryan Robson was back fit. Neil Webb, Mick Phelan and Paul Ince were also on the scene. Then Roy Keane became available for £3.75 million. That killed Darren as a first-team player.
He came to see me and said it wasn’t working for him. He said he would need to move. He was also sensitive to the difficulties for me. So we sold him to Wolves, a club in turmoil, with big expectations and a large fan base.
I watched Darren play there a lot. He was easily the best footballer, but they changed manager so many times after Graham Turner was sacked. Graham Taylor, Mark McGhee, Colin Lee. When McGhee came in, his appearances started to dwindle.
He then moved to Sparta Rotterdam and once more did well. They changed the coach while he was away on holiday and the new man didn’t want him. He then came back to Wrexham and became settled there. As his playing career wound down, Barry Fry called from Peterborough and asked what Darren was doing. He ended up as manager there and got them promoted to the Championship, where they punched well above their weight. Tensions crept in with the chairman and he resigned and went to Preston, which was a disaster, before a second stint at Peterborough displayed his qualities again.
Darren’s approach is to play penetrating football with players who pass the ball and move. That’s hard when you’re bottom of the League because teams down there tend to be desperate. It was poignant for me to see Darren face the struggles I encountered in my early years, with budgets and chairmen and players. I reminded him all the time about that motto of ours: ‘Sweeter after difficulties’. My advice to any young coach is to be prepared. Start early. Don’t leave it until you are 40 to acquire your coaching badges.
I was totally opposed to fast-tracking coaches. It is a disgrace. In Holland and Italy it might take four or five years for you to receive your badges. The reason they need to go through that intense, prolonged scrutiny is to protect them from what’s to come in management. It cost Darren £8,000 to earn his badges at the Warwick Business School. By fast-tracking big names, the FA rode roughshod over all the people who scraped together to get their qualifications the proper way.
I didn’t torture myself about being away a lot or consumed with work during the boys’ childhoods. The reason was that we were all very close, regardless, and the boys themselves were very tight-knit. They are in constant contact with us. They are all busy lads. Even I couldn’t always get hold of Mark, who was in a business where you have to keep your eye on the ball. His is a world of tiny fractions, where you could miss a buy or a sell in seconds, the way the markets move.
All my sons are a credit to Cathy, who was always there for them, and for me, whatever time I turned the key in the door.
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