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Friday, October 7, 2011
We sat there more in faint hope than expectation – but it soon became clear it was time to pack up and go.
“He doesn’t come down here after games. He doesn’t like journalists,” said the cameraman at the back of the media theatre at Old Trafford.
No, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson would not be sharing his views on the match with the written Press, and to add to the disappointment, there was no visit either from his affable assistant, the former Norwich City skipper Mike Phelan.
At least it explained one thing – why most of the assembled journalists had crept into the room, rather sheepishly, midway through City boss Paul Lambert’s post-match conference.
They had been gathered round the big screen in the next room, busily taking Ferguson’s quotes from MUTV, United’s own channel, before belatedly, and rather apologetically in some cases, seeking out the views of the visiting manager.
Sir Alex gave interviews to Sky Sports and, now that his seven-year boycott of the BBC is over, swapped jokes with Match of the Day commentator John Motson about which of them would carry on in his job the longest.
After 25 years in charge of United, more than 1,400 matches and with 27 major trophies – not counting the FA Community Shield – under his belt, not to mention a reported salary of £3.6m and an estimated fortune of £27m, according to the latest Football Rich List, it is perhaps not surprising that Britain’s most successful manager does not feel the need to chew over the day’s events with the gentlemen of the fourth estate.
One of the highest-profile managers of all time, Brian Clough, showed a similar reluctance to deal with the football writers in his time as Nottingham Forest boss.
Clough was probably football’s biggest TV personality of the 1970s and 80s with his appearances on World Cup panels and his memorable studio sparring with commentator and presenter Brian Moore, where his wit and forthright views made it compulsive viewing. But I covered more than a dozen games between Forest and the Canaries when Clough was manager and not once did he show his face at a post-match conference, either at the City Ground or Carrow Road.
In Ferguson’s case, he was not always so elusive after matches.
He had been United manager just nine days in November 1986 when his second game in charge brought him to Norwich, and he collected his very first point in a goalless draw against a City team reduced to 10 men by injuries.
“This is a rare occasion. I’m not often happy with a draw,” he said afterwards.
There was an added twist in that the man of the match award went to goalkeeper Bryan Gunn, making only his third appearance for the Canaries after his move from Aberdeen, and therefore swiftly reacquainted with his former boss.
“I deserve that, you bandit,” Ferguson told Gunn as his former ’keeper’ and one-time babysitter clutched the champagne. “It was me who sold you to Norwich.”
For several years, the Canaries were very much a bogey side for United’s new boss. They won three times at Old Trafford in four seasons and at one stage inflicted five straight league defeats on Ferguson’s team, before knocking them out of the FA Cup when they were holders in 1991.
Despite finding it hard to disguise the bitter disappointment of that fifth round exit at Carrow Road, Ferguson was gracious in defeat, and indeed was never slow to praise Norwich’s football in the Dave Stringer-David Williams era.
As he heads for his 25th anniversary as United manager next month, there have been countless triumphs and trophies to make up for that long-forgotten disappointment.
But it would have been good to hear first hand what the man himself thought about the current Norwich City renaissance.
Perhaps when he comes to Carrow Road . . .
• BIG RON PUTS HIS FOOT IN IT
The presence of former England international and one-time Bolton and Leeds manager Jimmy Armfield as Five Live co-commentator at Old Trafford last week reminded me of a story I heard – and one dearly hopes it is true – of a post-match exchange he once had with Sir Alex Ferguson’s predecessor as Manchester United manager, Ron Atkinson. United had suffered a bad day and Atkinson was being given a hard time by a room full of reporters when he snapped: “What do you lot know about football anyway?”
Alas, for Big Ron, Armfield was seated among the journalists and back came the answer: “Well, Ron, we’ve got 43 England caps between us. How many did you get?”