UTD Unscripted: The gaffer and me
My wife Debbie passed away at the start of this year, and I’m not ashamed to admit that being cut off from my family was awful during the coronavirus lockdown.
My missus used to say to me:
“There’s three people in this marriage: you, me and Fergie. He gets on the phone and you jump. Then he gets on the phone again and you jump a bit higher.”She was so understanding, though. For 20 years I was totally committed to the job, which meant I was totally committed to the gaffer, but she was just brilliant with everything. I had the boss calling when I was in bed, the players calling at all hours – even when I was away – but she just took it all in her stride.
I was caring for her for the last few years of her life, so it’s been so hard since she’s been gone, but the gaffer has been unbelievable. There aren’t the words for what he’s done for me. He’s been absolutely wonderful for me, for what I’ve gone through. He was the same for Lyn Laffin, his assistant who tragically passed away this year, he was absolutely wonderful while she was poorly. He’s just top dollar as a man.
That’s why people would walk through flames for him.
That’s why I’m so proud to call him a friend.
“Well done Albert on your first year. I didn’t think you were going to make it.”I’ve still got it upstairs as a memento. That was his way of doing things, giving you a bit of motivation or whatever, but we just gradually hit it off. His man-management was the best. Not just with the players. With everyone. His skills with people are unbelievable. He realised as the club got bigger and bigger that he couldn’t do everything, and very quickly learned and adapted how to delegate and he let you get on with it. He had good people around him, all pulling in the same direction. The likes of Les Kershaw, such a workhorse, with the hours he put in, then Dave Bushell, Tony Whelan, all these people who were dedicated to the cause. That’s your background to success; it starts at the kids’ level and goes all the way through and produces your Class of ’92 and those sorts. It was just commitment all round. The gaffer had a word for everyone, at whatever level. He knew people, had time for them, and if you had a problem then you could go and knock on his door. Inevitably, he’d sort it. That’s whether you were secretary, laundry lady, kitchen worker, whatever. He’d help you.
The same goes for a lot of the players that worked under him too. We’ve been blessed at the club with the players that we’ve had. Fabulous people. The boss used to scrutinise not only how they could play, but also finding out about their characters, their families, their agents, their hangers-on. He went into the background and if there was any doubt at all, he wouldn’t sign them, no matter how good the player was. He wouldn’t take the chance because you don’t want any bad apples. So you end up with the best kind of characters in your club.
If you look at the likes of Gary and Ryan opening their hotel to NHS workers for free, that just shows you the kind of boys they are. They were products of the system that the boss cultivated. I had a fantastic relationship with the Class of ‘92 boys. I wouldn’t have a bad word said against them, any of them. They were all at my wife’s funeral too. It all goes back to that trust that’s been built up over decades. I remember going away to York with those boys when they were kids and I was in my first season at the club. Jim Ryan, me and the A-team and B-team lads had a week in York. At that time I was learning the job and I was so nervous about getting it right.
They could sense that. I took a set of long-sleeve shirts and a set of short-sleeve shirts on the trip with me. No names or any of that. They were all 1-15, I think. Jim Ryan’s there giving them the instructions, picking the team. They all had their shorts on while he’s talking and I’m going along with these bundles of shirts in a polythene bag.
“Here, Scholesy, what number are you?”
“Long or short-sleeved?”
“Er, long-sleeve please.”
“Ryan, what number are you?”
“Long or short-sleeved?”
“I’ll have a short-sleeved please.”
I’m going along the line like this and suddenly you hear Scholesy…
“Oh, Albert, I think I’ll have a short-sleeved shirt.”
Then Giggsy piped up wanting a long-sleeved shirt.
Then somebody shouted from further down the line, telling me they wanted number four, long-sleeved.
Then they’re all shouting different things.
So I just threw the f***** lot at them and they all p***** themselves laughing.
“Right boss, can I have the runners and riders for tomorrow, please?”
“Same team as Saturday.”I, in my inexperience, said:
“You’re not playing the same team, are you?”
“You just get on with the f****** kit,”he said. We won the Double that season. As the years went by and the relationship grew, we started having a bit of a game. I’d go in on a Friday morning, ask the boss for the runners and riders, and he’d say:
“Come on, where’s your money?”Especially when we played City. He knew how much the derby meant to me. He’d always ask me for my team for the derby, and it got to the point where I’d be sat at home on the Thursday night picking my team because I knew what his game would be the next morning. He'd look at my team and sometimes he’d say:
“Not bad, nine out of 11.”Other times, he’d look at me, sigh and say:
“Just go and put the f****** shirts out.”We had some luck here and there, but there was a hell of a lot of hard work from a hell of a lot of people over a hell of a long time. We had many, many, many highs and they outdid the few lows.
That bothers me far more than losing the league to City in 2012. The gaffer put that one to bed before we’d even left Sunderland. He got on the coach after the game, turned round and said to everyone:
“Well, they won’t f****** well win it next year.”
It was around that time that my missus was starting to talk about me finishing at United. I knew the boss was coming towards the end, and I decided that when he finished, I would finish, so I promised her that.
So, like he said, City didn’t win the league again. We won it by 11 points.
I’ll never forget the morning that he announced he was finishing.
He called me in and told me before he’d told anybody else.
I was shocked. I was expecting it, of course, but… one day. Not that day. I knew he wanted to go out on a high and he also had personal reasons for doing it, his wife’s sister had died and he wanted to support the family.
The time was right for him.
So the time was right for me.
Like everything else, all good things have to come to an end.
I went and sat on my own in the canteen at Carrington and I phoned my missus up. I said:
“Just put the TV on, there’s going to be an announcement in a bit.”
“Why’s that? Who are you signing?”
“No, no, no. The boss is going to announce that he’s retiring.”
“What time are you coming home?”
“F****** hell Deb, give me a minute!”
I was deflated and, to be honest, quite fed up for a while, but I stayed true to my word, I finished when I did and I don’t regret that at all. I didn’t want to work for anybody else. It had been that good with the boss.
I could write this piece forever and still not get it across to you how fantastic it was to be a part of United during that time. People always say to me that I should write a book. Almost every day spent knocking about during lockdown, I’d speak to people and get the same line:
“You should write a book. You could do a book.”
Yes I could. I could do 10 books. But you do these things and they get twisted, spun and what would be the point? I want to be able to walk into Old Trafford until the day I die and have people let on and be comfortable chatting to me.
Once you have the trust of people like Sir Alex Ferguson, you don’t betray it. That’s more valuable than anything you could sell.
We are all United as the Reds go marching on! On sale now, get your 2019/20 kit while stocks last.