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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK

Sport: Football

Sir Alex: The working class hero

Alex Ferguson has received a knighthood from the queen

The people of Govan will no doubt be raising a glass or two for their most famous export after Alex Ferguson, their archetypal working-class hero, was knighted for his services to football.

United's treble triumph
Indeed, Manchester United's spectacular victory in the European Cup not only sealed an unparalleled treble with the League title and FA Cup, but it secured their Govan born manager, Alex Ferguson, with his fourth honour of the season and a place in soccer sainthood.

As soon as the final whistle was blown on their wonderful season, chants of Sir Alex could be heard reverberating around the streets of Barcelona.

And sure enough Scotland's most famous working class son received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours for guiding them to an unprecedented treble.

[ image: Alex Ferguson holds aloft one of the three trophies which his side won this season]
Alex Ferguson holds aloft one of the three trophies which his side won this season
Tony Banks, who was one of the first to call for Fergie to be knighted, said after witnessing United's victory: "You can't negotiate the honours list over radio or television.

"But let me tell you this, if anyone asked my opinion it would be: Yes, he certainly should."

As he collects his honour, the pattering of Fergie's feet will doubtless be heard by down Sir Matt Busby Way, as the young apprentice finally followed in his masters footsteps by joining him amongst football's few immortals.

Image slip

Even Ferguson himself, famed for his dourness and eyes like a sulking child, let the image slip when United sealed trophy number three.

"You can't top this because this is the pinnacle," he said, in the aftermath of United's historic victory in Barcelona.

"You can equal it and we can try to maintain our high standards."

For once Ferguson was wrong as he added the most prestigious syllable going to his name and yet another page to his blossoming catalogue of smiles.

Queens Birthday Honours
After performing miracles at Aberdeen and Old Trafford, "Fergie" is now a British footballing icon to rank alongside Sir Matt, who established United as a world class outfit in the 1950s, and whose reputation every United manager since has been trying to rival.

In truth, Ferguson, 57, had been a worthy heir to the Busby crown even before the victory against Bayern Munich. Since he broke a 20 year drought to bring the league title home to Old Trafford in 1993, he has delivered on his promises.

The side has topped the Premiership in five of the last seven years.

Born in Glasgow to a Protestant, working class family, his leadership skills first came to the fore as a shop steward in the Clyde shipyards, when Ferguson led an unofficial walk-out over a pay dispute.


His first love had always been football and Ferguson cut a reasonably impressive figure with Rangers. But he was made a scapegoat in the team's humiliating 4-0 defeat against arch rivals Celtic in the 1969 Cup Final.

[ image:  ]
As a rumbustious striker Ferguson never remotely possessed the playing prowess which earned Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Tom Finney and World Cup winner Geoff Hurst similar honours but the day he cut his teeth in management at St Mirren, the medalsbegan to roll off the production line.

His tough-talking, hands-on approach was a winner and Ferguson smashed the Celtic-Rangers "Old Firm" monopoly, winning three championships, four Scottish Cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup in six years.

Known for his fiery temper, he also won the reputation of a fiercely loyal coach who invests time and effort in star players and apprentices alike.

It is this mix-and-match approach which has served him so well at Manchester, where Ferguson has weaved home-gown talent and foreign flair into cohesive, gutsy sides.

Low point

Yet the going has not always been good for him at Old Trafford, where initially his abilities were called into question by the fans. The low point came in 1989 when the team found itself hammered 5-1 by its most bitter rivals, Manchester City.

But chairman Martin Edwards and the board did not waver, a 1990 FA Cup victory bought him valuable time.

The family atmosphere he had worked hard to establish was bearing fruit and three years later the Guv'nor from Govan finally brought home the League title.

His management style has been thoroughly analysed by lovers of the sport. They have attributed his success to factors as diverse as a "working class ability" to asses the qualities of men around him, and "tunnel vision".

Father of three

[ image: Alex Ferguson has guided Manchester United to a unique treble]
Alex Ferguson has guided Manchester United to a unique treble
Whatever his given talents, Ferguson, who is married to Cathy and a father of three grown-up sons, also puts in the hours. He is usually at the ground by 0730 and regularly works 18-hour days. He is loyal to his players although never shy to give them a blast of his temper.

For someone so consumed by football, it may come as a surprise that he has outside interests. He owns a racehorse and has been a high profile campaigner for Tony Blair and the Labour Party.

So now Fergie is at the "pinnacle", has his seemingly insatiable thirst for glory been quenched after a treble win and an honour from the Queen.

Not a bit. Last month, while contemplating the three cups that have since come his way, he commented: "Even if we win all three, I'd want to go out and win it again."

Tonight, Sir Alex, treat yourself to a double - or, more appropriately, a treble.

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