THE DAY HARRY MET FERGIE...
THEY have 61 years and more than 2,000 games of managerial experience between them and in London this week, at a dinner organised by the League Managers’ Association to honour their exclusive 1,000 club, Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp shared some of their stories. Here are the best bits . . .
Tell us about that first game in management.
ALEX FERGUSON: 1974. East Stirling against Tranmere and a young Steve Coppell was playing centre forward for Tranmere.
I’d been in the same position as every manager that finishes playing one day and becomes a manager the next. When I took over the job I had eight players, and the chairman, Willie Muirhead, who was a great old man, was a chain smoker and when he had a problem the smoking went quicker.
I said: “Mr Chairman, can I have a list of the players?” and he started coughing, the fag was going at a hundred miles an hour, and the list had eight players and no goalkeeper.
He said they would have a board meeting and raise some money for me. He came back and said he had £2,000, and I started trawling the free list. My first signing is now the manager of Ross County, George Adams. I paid £100 and to this day I think it was too much! But it was great because it taught you how to survive.
HARRY REDKNAPP: Bournemouth against Lincoln. I’d taken over on the Friday and the next day most of the games were called off because it was so cold the pitches were frozen solid. But Lincoln, who were one of the best teams in the division at the time, came down, took one look at the pitch and then re-emerged with pimpled studs. We only had long nylon studs, and we could hardly stand up in the kickabout. Anyway we’re 8-0 down, we’ve just won a corner and the kitman is screaming at the centre half to get up the pitch. “We’re not going to win 9-8,” I said.
We lost 9-0 and I honestly thought that my first game was going to be my last.
What memories of Aberdeen do you most cherish, Sir Alex?
AF: I had a wonderful chairman there, Dick Donald. He became like a father to me after I lost my own. I remember what he said before my last cup final with Aberdeen.
“I wouldn’t mind if we lost this, says the chairman. “Why did you say a thing like that?” I ask him. “Well, I think some of these boys are getting carried away with themselves,” he says. “Give me an example,” I say to him. “Well, take Willie Miller, the captain. I saw his wife the other day wearing a leather coat!”
And what about some players at West Ham? HR: Paolo Di Canio was a favourite. I used to always make sure he was on the winning side in training. I’d make sure Stuart Pearce and Nigel Winterburn were on his team so nobody kicked him. But he was brilliant. I also had Florin Raducioiu, a World Cup star for Romania. One day we went to play Stockport County and he went shopping instead. He took the in-laws.
Then there was Paulo Futre. He was a wonderful player, too, but the first game of the season we went to Arsenal. Paulo walked in, holding up his shirt. He says “Futre not 16, Futre 10. Maradona, Pele, Eusebio, Futre 10.”
I tried to explain about squad numbers and team sheets but he gave me some almighty grief. So I said put your shirt on or kindly leave the dressing room... in so many words. The next thing I know he’s gone. So I went outside to the ref and said look, Frank Lampard Sen has made a mistake. I said he’s put Paulo Futre’s name on the team sheet and he’s not even here! Then Arsene Wenger comes out and says “What is this, tactics?” I said “No, it’s Frank’s cock-up”. He then let me change the names on the team sheet – and they still beat us 3-0.
The matter was resolved when Paulo lent John Moncur his villa on the Algarve for two weeks and got the No 10 shirt in exchange.
What’s the most difficult part of the job today?
AF: It’s a different player character we’ve got today. It’s a player who’s more fragile than players were 25 years ago.
They are maybe more cocooned life, all expecting to win. But we can’t all win. There’s going to be a champion and there’s going to be cup winners. And those who miss out aren’t going to like it.
AF: The new owners are Americans, Chinese, Russians. How do they achieve their money? It’s not what football was used to. Sudden wealth. And there’s a quick reaction to everything that happens on the football pitch.
Tell us about your best and worst signings.
HR: The best signing I ever made was Jim Smith, and we had a great time together at Portsmouth. I remember Chris Kamara coming down with a TV crew and he’s outside our office at about 10 past two, telling the camera how this is the inner sanctum. This is where Harry and Jim are masterminding Portsmouth’s success. And then he knocks, comes in the room and there’s me and Jim reading the Racing Post.
And what about the one that got away?
HR: I was at West Ham and Frank Lampard Sen and I were approached by these two villains who said they were doing some business in the Ukraine, and we were so scared of them we agreed to have a look at a couple of these kids. One of them we played against Barnet Reserves and he scored the winner. They said they wanted a million quid for him, and Frank said it was too much – well I’m blaming Frank – and we let him go. His name was Andriy Shevchenko!
Any turkeys for you, Sir Alex?
AF: I have never been forgiven for signing Ralph Milne. Ralph was a troubled lad. It was a pity. And Eric Djemba-Djemba. So good they named him twice! I was in Denmark recently and he’s doing well for Odense. He was on the short-list for their player of the season.
I often remember players for the talents they had away from football. Peter Schmeichel was a superb pianist, and he would sometimes sit there and play for us blindfolded. And Kieran Richardson. The day he left the club he brought me this wonderful painting he had done. – Daily Mail
LEGENDS: Sir Alex Ferguson, above left, and Harry Redknapp shared a laugh and a few stories.