Marking Mancunian mastery
Journalist, United We Stand editor and long-time friend of FFT Andy Mitten recalls the first time he interviewed the Manchester United manager
Alex Ferguson was the first person I ever interviewed one-on-one. He does next to no personal interviews these days apart from United’s in house outlets and his contracted media commitments, but it was different in 1992.
As an a 18-year-old fanzine editor, I wrote to him enclosing a copy of United We Stand. It was an unfortunate issue which had gone to print just as I thought Manchester United were about to win the league for the first time since 1967. In a fit of hubris and euphoria, I sanctioned the strap line ‘Champions At Last’ on the front cover. We printed it and United promptly fell apart and lost the league to Leeds. We rightly got hammered for it and the cover has passed into fanzine legend.
I knew that Ferguson didn’t like fanzines and the dissenting voices within and didn’t expect to hear back, but I still told him that we intended to travel on the pre-season tour of Scandinavia and would like to chat with him if he was up for it.
A few weeks later a letter arrived on Manchester United headed paper. Ferguson explained that while he wasn’t a fan of fanzines, he’d enjoyed United We Stand. He suggested that I make myself known to him in Norway, so after one game in Lillestrom – where I heard a bizarre one-man terrace chant of “Clayton Blackmore, Clayton Blackmore, Ding-dong bell, Ding-dong bell,” - I sought out the United secretary Ken Merrett.
Merrett, who acted as club secretary-cum-press officer (these days the club have a stand alone media department) took me straight to the changing room where the United players were showering. Dion Dublin was injured, so there was no worry about stumbling through the mist into his massive dube...
Ferguson, who I’d met a year earlier on another pre-season tour of Norway, suggested that we met up in Trondheim on the next stage of the tour.
Fergie with Dublin in the summer of '92 - dube and ghetto-blaster not pictured
A few days later, I walked up to reception of the club’s four star hotel and told the receptionist that I’d come to see Mr Alex Ferguson. She called his room and he came down. It was all so simple. We sat down by the entrance and I got my recorder out. Ferguson started laughing. Looking back, I’m not surprised – it was a bright red ghetto blaster as long as his arm which I’d brought to record him speaking.
That machine had played The Stone Roses, Electronic, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets on a loop as we travelled northern Europe on tickets which were not always fully valid, slept under United flags in railways stations and ate cheese and ham sandwiches every day for two weeks. How was I to know what real journalists used?
I also took one of my mates. Why not? I didn’t know the etiquette, he was a fan and I thought he would enjoy meeting Alex Ferguson too. Ferguson sat with us in reception for an hour. We were interrupted when Steve Bruce slid down the banister on the stairs shouting that Linford Christie had won gold in the Barcelona Olympics.
I’ve looked back at the interview and it’s terrible, but one line stands out: “Until you win the league here, you’ll never have full control of United.”
Ferguson also explained how he only had 13 fit players for his first game in charge of Manchester United at Oxford in 1986, before telling a story about how he waited for the season ticket money to come in before he could raise capital to buy players in his early days at Old Trafford.
He also told a story about how youth is the future of the club and how a 15-year-old Ryan Giggs had destroyed Viv Anderson in a practice game, to which Anderson had reacted by saying: “If he goes past me one more time I’m going to boot him.
After the interview, Ferguson introduced me and my mate to his players, including Ryan Giggs. We’d played against Giggs loads of times in junior football so he knew us. We then had an argument about who had the best Sunday League team. Our team - Victoria Boys of Stretford, used to beat Giggsy’s - Deans Sports of Salford, but Giggs was having none of it.
I’ve interviewed Ferguson several times since, but you never forget your first time, especially when you have to keeping checking your ghetto blaster’s batteries haven’t gone flat.
United! United! Old Trafford in the '70s, by Andy Mitten, is out now by Vision Sports Publishing, RRP £17.99. It is the third instalment in Andy's series of books charting the history of Manchester United through stories told to him in exclusive interviews by the players who defined the decades. We're The Famous Man United and Glory! Glory! cover the '80s and '90s respectively. United! United! features Tommy Docherty, Martin Buchan, Jimmy Greenhoff, Gerry Daly, Stuart Pearson, Paddy Roche, Joe Jordan, Lou Macari, Gordon Hill, Sammy McIlroy and Jimmy Nicholl.
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