Fergie in Boots. The Playing Career of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson at Glasgow Rangers.

So where did it all begin for Alexander Chapman Ferguson, the greatest manager in the history of world football? It started around 1960 in Glasgow, Ferguson’s home city at amateur level for Scotland’s oldest Football club The Spiders, otherwise known as Queen’s Park Football Club. Sir Alex made his debut for The Spiders aged only sixteen years. Even though he only played around thirty games for them, he scored regularly. The young Ferguson scored on his debut for Queen’s Park in a Scottish Division Two match on the 15th November 1958, losing 2 – 1 to Stranraer. At the time Ferguson was working as an apprentice toolmaker at the Remington Rand Typewriter factory, in nearby Hillington. It must have been convenient for Ferguson, as it was only a a ten minute bus journey from his home in Govan.

Govan High School football team photo in 1954, Alex Ferguson is on the second row, far right.

Ferguson would be at the Remington Rand factory for about five years. It was at Remington Rand where Ferguson developed his socialist views, joining the union and becoming shop steward and coming to the aid of fellow employees as and when needed. It was also at Remington Rand where he would meet Cathy Holding, who we know today as Lady Cathy Ferguson. Fellow co – workers have since quoted about just how popular Alex Ferguson was amongst his workmates. Ferguson was also a popular figure in the local community. Govan is known for its ship yards, and all the shipyard workers not surprisingly loved football, Ferguson was a famous and popular face. The emerging Ferguson was often in the local paper, and he was always willing to stop and chat with the locals.

Ferguson walking towards Falkirk manager, Willie Cunningham, after being sent off, February 1972.

Despite performing well for The Spiders, Ferguson had trouble obtaining a regular place in the first team. So in 1960, he moved to St Johnstone in Perth central Scotland. He was just as prolific for The Saints as he was for The Spiders, but again he had problems staying in the first team.  Over the four years he was at Muirton Park (the then home of St Johnstone), Ferguson appeared thirty seven times and scored nineteen goals. This was an interesting time for Scottish football; the next bit is for the pub quizzers…   Of the nine professional clubs to have played in Glasgow, can you name the last one to have gone out of business?  Third Lanark, you say? Correct! Third Lanark were relegated from Scottish Division One during Ferguson’s last season with St. Johnstone. Sadly they went out of business about three years later, although happily they’ve made something of a comeback at amateur level.  

Fans at Muirton Park, St Johnstone, 1962.

Out of interest the other five clubs that have played in Glasgow were Port Glasgow Athletic, Clydesdale, Clyde, Cowlairs and Cambuslang.  Of course the other three, Celtic, Rangers and Partick Thistle are still in business.  I think I can hear you thinking, “What about other teams like St Mirren?”   Well yes, you’re right.   Apart from Clyde, those teams previously mentioned played within the city of Glasgow itself, whilst St. Mirren, Airdrie, Motherwell, Abercorn, Hamilton Academicals and Albion Rovers play within Greater Glasgow.   There can’t be many city area’s that are home to so many clubs.  OK, that’s it for Anorak Corner, back to Ferguson…  

The former toolmaker scores for Ayr United.

In Ferguson’s last season with St. Johnstone, they finished thirteenth in a division of eighteen teams. Had they played Ferguson a bit more often they might of finished higher, like I said he was scoring on average, every other game. It was at St. Johnstone that an interesting little episode in Alex Ferguson’s life took place. Right at the end of his final season with The Saints, Ferguson scored a hat trick against his childhood heroes Glasgow Rangers.   At the time Sir Alex was having serious thoughts about his future, he was having doubts on whether Football was for him. His career wasn’t going as well as he would have liked, he was a proven goal scorer yet still wasn’t commanding a starting position in the team and he had recently been made an offer of a new job elsewhere.   He was a fully trained Toolmaker, and Canada was asking for such skilled trades, Ferguson still loved the trade and Canada was offering better money than he was then earning. But then that hat trick came, like I said against his boyhood heroes. He gained a new sense of belief and decided to persevere with his football career. Indeed, his career in football was about to take a turn for the better.

With wife Cathy, and their first son, Mark. 1968.

Sir Alex left St. Johnstone in 1964 when Dunfermline Athletic came in for him, to offer him full time professional terms.   As you can imagine he was quite keen to go.   Perhaps the only disappointment for him at that time, was that he just missed being managed by his idol, Jock Stein. Stein was Dunfermline boss for four years, from 1960 to 1964. Not surprisingly, Stein did well at Dunfermline. The 1960’s is seen as Dunfermline’s purple patch.   In his first season as team manager Stein won the Scottish Cup, beating Celtic after a replay.   In 1962 Jock Stein took unfashionable Dunfermline to the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup, eventually losing to Ujpest Dozsa of Hungary. A year later in the Inter City Fairs Cup, The Pars overcame Everton in the first round, yet went out in the second round to Spain’s Valencia on goal difference. 

St, Johnstone 1962, Alex Ferguson front row, far right.

In 1964 Jock Stein left for Edinburgh club Hibernian, Stein would spend only a year at Hibs before going on to a short spell as Scotland manager before going to manage Glasgow Celtic in 1965. As Jock Stein was leaving Dunfermline, Ferguson was joining the club to be managed by new club boss Willie Cunningham. However, Cunningham was seen as a fitting replacement for Jock Stein and it proved to be the case. Ferguson was at Dunfermline Athletic for three seasons. At the end of his first season with The Pars they reached the final of the Scottish Cup, unfortunately losing to Jock Stein’s Celtic 3 – 2. Alex Ferguson was now playing all the time professionally, and was getting to cup finals. They also did well in the league, finishing in third place. The season after that Dunfermline once again reached the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup, before losing to another Spanish side, Real Zaragoza. So Alex Ferguson was seeing his perseverance pay off. He was playing well and scoring goals.  In the ’65 – ’66 season Ferguson finished joint top scorer top scorer (with Joe McBride of Celtic), in the league with 31 goals. Ferguson’s all competitions tally was impressive to say the least, scoring forty five goals in fifty one games. Eventually, his good form came to the notice of his boyhood team, Glasgow Rangers.

The young Fergie often made the papers.

In 1967 Ferguson moved to Glasgow Rangers for £65,000, a then record for a transfer between two Scottish clubs. That year also saw Ferguson make his full international debut for Scotland. To be honest it wasn’t going to be a particularly happy time for Ferguson, only at Rangers for two years. Alex Ferguson was did his bit as a forward for Rangers scoring twenty five goals over forty one games, his goals per game ratio ever impressive.  Ferguson’s time with Rangers came to a somewhat sour end. In 1969 he was blamed for a goal Rangers conceded in the Scottish Cup Final against fierce cross town rivals Celtic. It was an accusation that left Ferguson feeling hard done by.   He was then made to play for junior team, not the first team.   Quite rightly, Ferguson felt affronted, he was so upset with the whole situation he threw his runners up medal in the bin!  

The young Ferguson family, 1977.

A few months later English side Nottingham Forest came in with a bid for him, Rangers were happy to take it.  However Sir Alex’s wife Cathy made it known she wasn’t keen on a move south of the border, not yet anyway.   Following the unfortunate scenario surrounding his alleged mistake in the cup final versus Celtic, Sir Alex reluctantly left Rangers for Falkirk in 1969, making ninety five appearances yielding over thirty goals. Alex Ferguson finished his playing career playing for Ayr United in 1974, scoring nine goals in twenty four appearances over a single season. Alex Ferguson played three hundred and seventeen league games in his time, netting an impressive one hundred and seventy one times. He played his last game at Somerset Park in 1974, he was about to go into management with East Stirlingshire. The rest as they say, is history…

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