The front pages of 6 November, 1986 carried graphic news of the Chinook helicopter crash into the North Sea that claimed the lives of 43 oil rig workers. Understandably, the back pages, dominated by the installation of Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager, paled into insignificance.
Football still has its place as a wonderful irrelevance. But the dynasty that began that dark day endures. It will get quite crowded in the Tardis this week, as football travels back in time to salute arguably the most influential club manager in history. Man Utd will pay their own 25th anniversary tribute on Thursday, when the great and the good convene to sift through the scrapbook.
Even those who glory in his, and Man Utd’s, discomfort, after THAT defeat by City, would struggle to make a case against him. In an age cheapened by celebrity, and scarred by superficiality, Sir Alex stands for something. Resolution, loyalty, discipline and respect for the individual, whatever their status.
They’re qualities seen in the way he has treated Fred O’Donoghue, Kevin Nugent, and John Boreland. Never heard of them? An understandable oversight.
O’Donoghue scouted for Liverpool, Arsenal, Rochdale, Blackburn, Preston and Blackpool over 50 years. He was one of football’s backroom boys who decided to publish his memoirs. Fergie heard of his initiative and, unbidden, wrote the sort of testimony for which PR men would sell their grannies.
Nugent was Swansea’s assistant manager, when they were in League Two. He was shocked when Sir Alex called him personally, confirming that they could train at the Cliff, United’s old training ground, before an away game “provided you give the groundsman a drink”.
Boreland led the Boys Brigade when Sir Alex was a member. The United manager cites him as an inspirational leader, and still keeps in contact with him. He cancelled a UEFA managers’ seminar to attend the Brigade’s 125th anniversary celebrations.
Remember those three football men, and what their stories tell us about the game’s most contentious knight of the realm, when the praise and the red wine flows this week.