Did you know Sir Alex managed Scotland?

Wednesday 19 June 2024 11:16

Everybody knows Sir Alex Ferguson's magnificent achievements as manager of Aberdeen and Manchester United.

But some younger fans may not appreciate that the legendary figure also took charge of Scotland at a major tournament.

Sir Alex was photographed in Germany mixing with his fellow countrymen ahead of the opening Euro 2024 encounter with the hosts. As he will be hoping for a more positive result against Switzerland in Cologne this evening (20:00 BST), Ferguson knows what it means to coach a side at such an event.

Sir Alex in a Scotland shirt, with Frank Worthington, Martin Buchan and Martin Ferguson at The Cliff (pic courtesy of Cliff Butler).

While still at Aberdeen, Ferguson was also assistant to Jock Stein, one of his mentors, as the Tartan Army looked to progress to the World Cup finals in Mexico.

Second place in the qualifying group, behind Spain, was very much up for grabs when Scotland took on Wales at Ninian Park in the final fixture. Davie Cooper's late penalty secured a 1-1 draw, which was enough to earn the runners-up slot, but the game was marred by the tragedy of Stein suffering a heart attack in the dugout.

Despite the sad loss of such a huge character and influence, the team had to carry on, with a two-legged play-off against Australia deciding if they would reach the tournament. 

Ferguson took over the reins with a heavy heart as he appreciated the responsibility on his shoulders, after feeling it was a privilege to work alongside one of the best managers of his generation.

"When Jock offered me the job, I jumped at it," he recalled. "It was a boost for me at that time in my career. I was basically learning all the time and keen to do so. It was an honour, first of all. But what an opportunity, the chance to learn from someone like Jock Stein.

"To be honest with you, I bombarded him with a million questions every time I was in his company. It was just football, football, football.

"The difficulty I had after Jock passed away and I got the job full-time was not being able to do training sessions on Thursday with the Aberdeen team," he told the Scottish FA website.

"When it happened, we were top of the league and we ended up third, but we won two cups and we could have won the Treble. Given the importance of Scotland getting to the World Cup, especially after Jock had passed away, I think I was right to spend the time I did with Scotland. 

Sir Alex photographed in last week in Munich (pic courtesy of Andy Lines on X).

“I think they had other options," he admitted. "Ernie Walker [the Scottish FA president at the time] had a decision to make and I think he was a bit concerned that I already had a job.

“I knew I had a good job at Aberdeen and I knew I had a responsibility to do well there but I was hopeful they would invite me.

“I got that opportunity and I passed it over Dick [Donald]’s head and he was fine. Then I started preparing for the games against Australia, which was a two-legged tie.”

Scotland saw off the Socceroos, winning 2-0 in the first game at Hampden Park, courtesy of goals from Davie Cooper and Frank McAvennie, before a goalless draw in Melbourne.

It ensured an emotional appearance in Mexico but the proud nation were drawn in a tough Group E.

A narrow 1-0 defeat to a brilliant Denmark side was followed by an agonising 2-1 loss to West Germany, despite leading through a Gordon Strachan goal. Failure to beat 10-man Uruguay, who had Jose Batista sent off in the first minute, ended the dream but Ferguson must have picked up some invaluable experience to take into the job at Old Trafford later that same year.