Students hear of highs and lows dealing with Sir Alex

JON VALE  reports from an evening’s sports journalism lecture that revealed the wide-ranging influence of the longest standing manager in British football

In the week that marked his 25th anniversary in charge at Manchester United, an audience at the University of Brighton was treated to a fascinating insight into Sir Alex Ferguson’s dealings with sports journalists by two men who have had more than their fair share of run-ins with him.

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Patrick Barclay, The Times’ chief football columnist and the author of Ferguson biography Football – Bloody Hell, joined the Daily Telegraph’s Jim White to deliver the talk as part of the university’s guest lecture series.

The lecture particularly recalled Barclay’s dealings with Ferguson throughout the writing of his book, an experience which dramatically changed the journalist’s perception of a man he’d been dealing with since his days covering Aberdeen in 1978.

Barclay said, “The more I wrote about him now, the less I liked him. The soft side of him is no longer evident to the general hoypoloi like us. He is not as nice a chap as he was in the early days.”

Ferguson’s mean streak was particularly evident during one of Barclay’s trips to Italy to interview then Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho. Barclay was initially given VIP treatment by Mourinho and a host of club officials, only to be ejected from the club after Ferguson sent a text to Mourinho’s personal phone labelling Barclay a fraud and an imposter.

Mourinho wasn’t the only one, though; Ferguson had also persuaded a number of other Premier League managers to ignore Barclay’s calls, indicating the massive influence which Ferguson has over the world of football and the sports media.

Barclay also revealed that Ferguson’s influence spread well beyond football. The Manchester United manager was reportedly an advisory figure to Tony Blair, and was even in contact with the Labour leader on the night he won his first general election in 1997.

One thing the two journalists agreed on was that Fergie isn’t going anywhere just yet.

“Ferguson will go on and on and will still control Manchester United from beyond the grave,” White said.

Barclay agreed, “I think he just looks at the end and can’t contemplate it. I just hope that it doesn’t eventually get messy.

“Liverpool were the challenge when he first came down, then came Arsenal and Arsene Wenger then there was Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. Now there is Barcelona and of course Manchester City at home.”

Jed Novick, senior lecturer on the Brighton sports journalism course and the man responsible for organising the lecture, was delighted with the evening’s outcome.

He said, “It’s fantastic to get guys like Patrick and Jim down. For the students it’s really inspiring and energising.

“These people are who they want to be, and hearing their stories about the likes of Ferguson and Mourinho brings it all to life. These talks are an important part of our course and something we’ll continue to do throughout the year.”

  • The next guest lecture will be delivered by the Daily Mail’s Laura Williamson on November 14, with talks from the likes of Jasper Rees, Clive Tyldesley and Owen Slot also planned.

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