We recall the events of 8 November 1986 when Alex Ferguson, two days into his new job as United manager, took the team to Oxford United’s Manor Ground…
Genius doesn’t always fanfare its arrival from the rooftops. It is often heralded by the most inauspicious of starts. A young Albert Einstein was famously told he would never amount to anything much, similarly Fred Astaire couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, but could dance a little. And while in hindsight Oxford, fabled for its dreaming spires, seems a highly appropriate setting for new Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to have begun his grand design, the reality of a wintry Manor Ground on Saturday 8 November 1986 was rather different.
United, with 44-year-old Ferguson introduced to the troops as Ron Atkinson’s successor just 48 hours earlier, went down 2-0 amid the kind of media scrum that has been part and parcel of life for those connected with Old Trafford since time immemorial. As the new boss said of his decision to leave the stand for the dug-out at half-time that day: “To be honest, I’m glad it’s over. It was a bit of a nightmare trying to concentrate on the match with the cameraman on top of you. All the media attention is not easy to accept.” The more things change the more they stay the same…
A grasp of just how long the boss has been the boss is revealed by the following facts: Oxford United – in those days a mid-table side in the Today League (formerly the First Division, now the Barclays Premier League) are now in League Two (or the old Fourth Division). They left their Manor Ground home in 2001, and the manager who rained on Ferguson’s parade in front of 13,545 that day, urbane ex-RAF man Maurice Evans, passed away in August 2000.
Exact memories of the action at the Manor Ground that afternoon are, perhaps unsurprisingly, sketchy. Though John Aldridge, the first person to breach Ferguson’s defences, cheerily recalls how he “conned me old mucker Kevin Moran,” going down over the Irishman’s trailing leg to win a spot-kick, he remains convinced that the