phone, Mike told him I would like a word with him and he put me through. We arranged to see him that evening – Bonfire Night - up in Scotland and it was the usual cloak and dagger thing: myself, Mike, Bobby [Charlton] and Maurice [Watkins] met him at a petrol station, he drove us round to his sister-in-law’s house and we all met him. It just confirmed that he was the one that we wanted.
“But really what we wanted to know from him was if his chairman, Dick Donald, would allow him to leave. Alex made it quite plain that he wanted to join us, and he also said that he had an agreement with his chairman that he could leave if United came in. Alex had actually said that he wanted something in his contract that he could join a big team, and Dick Donald had said: ‘you’re only leaving if Manchester United come in’. That wasn’t difficult really. So I rang Dick Donald the next day and he agreed to see me.”
Donald made a last-ditch bid to keep his man, with the staggering gesture of offering Sir Alex ownership of the Dons, but to no avail. Compensation was quickly agreed and permission was granted for talks to begin. They didn’t take long. As Sir Alex later admitted in his autobiography, Managing My Life: “To a great extent I was a captive candidate, and happy to be so.”
Two days after signing on, Ferguson watched on as his new charges were dealt a chastening 2-0 defeat at Oxford United; a result which laid bare the poor fitness levels of the squad he had been bequeathed. Further unsettled by confirmation that a drinking culture had been established within the club, the Scot assembled his players in the gym at The Cliff.
“I made it plain that I meant to put an end to Manchester United’s reputation of being almost as much of a social club as a football club,” he wrote. “I told them that they would have to change their ways because I certainly wasn’t going to change mine.”