A Big Splash in the Clyde What Does the Man Utd Manager's Success Owe to the Shipyard Socialism of Glasgow? by Pat Kane; Managing My Life by Alex Ferguson, with Hugh McIlvanney Hodder & Stoughton, Pounds 18.99, 478pp
Kane, Pat, The Independent (London, England)
It's not so far from Govan to guv'nor. If Alex Ferguson's fascinatingly incoherent autobiography is about anything, it's how proletarian masculinity will never die. As long as there are football pitches, good lads with two feet, and an audience of men to watch them do their ballet every week, working-class culture will survive into the next century. Whether it will have any connection to working-class reality is another question.
You could blow this book and its author apart by comparing the first and last chapters. The Man Utd manager starts by evoking a Clydeside childhood nobly composed from rivets, lathes, street scrapes, loyal pals, stern-but-loving parents and an unforced socialism. He ends by whining about how he's not getting as enormous a pay packet as George Graham, and moaning that he needs more "communication" with the Chairman of his PLC. Fergie still hankers after "the sense of community that existed in the Govan of my childhood". It's just that his love of French wines and thoroughbred horses gets in the way.
So, before we get to his incontestable football achievements, is Ferguson just another megastar from the labour aristocracy of the Scottish central belt, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Gavin Laird and all? Being a West-of- Scotland Mega-Prole like Alex means that you can reminisce about the good old days - dodging dangerous machinery, organising apprentice strikes, throwing hard men out of your hostelry - while blithely proposing a weekly wage packet of pounds 50,000 for Roy Keane. Just to make him feel "needed", you understand.
There's no denying that Ferguson's upbringing at the tough-but- respectable end of Clydeside working-class life after the war has helped him develop, as he puts it, a "success in handling men" as a football manager. And the book serves up the usual wheezy idolising of the Big Men of Football - as in the chapter on Jock Stein, which bears the lyrical hand of collaborator Hugh McIlvanney. But we should take a less romantic look at how this background really helps you whip a side into championship-winning condition.
It's basically this: starting at the shopfloor end of society gives you an acute sense of what the division of labour actually means. When you decide to move from worker to manager, from Govan to "gaffer" (the more appropriate local term), you know exactly how to keep men in their allotted place - while understanding how both to inspire, and inspect, their behaviour.
This seems to be the crucial Ferguson management trick. He has an acute eye for footballing talent: his criteria are skill, determination to win, and physical resilience. But he also has an iron grip on how that talent should be deployed. Anecdote after anecdote berates the players who haven't done what they've been told to do: Gordon Strachan not marking properly, Paul Ince wanting to be a midfield attacker instead of a defender and thus losing a crucial game. Those who repeatedly buck the system are swiftly booted out: the only socialism Ferguson seems to hold to in his footballing practice is of a distinctly Stalinist variety.
And he also knows how to handle working-class men - still …
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Publication information: Article title: A Big Splash in the Clyde What Does the Man Utd Manager's Success Owe to the Shipyard Socialism of Glasgow? by Pat Kane; Managing My Life by Alex Ferguson, with Hugh McIlvanney Hodder & Stoughton, Pounds 18.99, 478pp. Contributors: Kane, Pat - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 21, 1999. Page number: 11. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.