I'm trying to remember if my mum told me that Manchester United had a new manager back in 1986. I would have been six at the time so it's possible but I can't be sure. I'm more certain about what it was like to support United in the south back then, surrounded by Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, even Everton fans, all of whom could talk without fear of contradiction about being better. It could only be considered “glory supporting” when I was watching my video of the club's history, with its almost exclusive focus on the 1950s and '60s and passing, awkward references to the dog days of the present.
Gradually, my memories start to involve success: watching FA Cup victories, listening to league titles being won, and eventually, the Champions' League. The one constant in all this has been the gum-chewing fury on the sidelines who made United the most thrilling team to support. Even if the football wasn't breathtaking (though it usually has been), they would be doing something else to make your heart beat faster.
“This team never loses, it just runs out of time."
“Can they score? They always score...”
“With United, it's never over until the fat lady's had a heart attack.”My neck still tingles with memories of 1999 in particular, but in recent years, as I've learnt a bit about leadership, how Ferguson works has become almost as enthralling. The ability to know and understand deeply about so many people (700 staff at United, countless other contacts throughout the industry) whilst maintaining a ruthless focus on his vision for the club is extraordinary. Even Harvard Business School felt they could learn from him.
Ultimately, though, he is why I enjoy football so much, having made it so excellent and so exciting for so long. However little football really matters, it can make some of us smile, and he's been the cause of that too many times for me not to say thank you.