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How I made peace with Fergie after decades of seeing red

It was a rather weird experience, being invited to applaud someone who had given me so much grief over such a long period.

It's not accurate to say that Alex Ferguson ruined my life, but he's regularly crushed my hopes, consistently inflicting pain and disappointment on me and many thousands of like-minded people.

And there I was on Sunday, surrounded by an entire theatre of hero-worshippers, who were up on their feet giving Sir Alex a standing ovation. I was the only person who remained in his seat.

I can admire his achievements. I'm not so blinkered that I don't recognise his historic supremacy over almost three decades as manager of Manchester United.

It's just that, as a Manchester City supporter, I felt it was an offence against nature to stand up and applaud a man who has been a demonic, gum-chewing, referee-questioning presence in my life for so many years.

How childish, I hear you say, and it's true that it took a 16-year-old to give me a lesson in maturity (of which more later).

The event was to promote the new edition of Sir Alex's autobiography and he was interviewed on stage by the actor James Nesbitt, himself an ardent United fan.

By probing gently, Nesbitt was able to direct Ferguson towards giving a fascinating insight into his philosophy on life.

For 26 years, Ferguson managed United, winning 38 trophies. I tried to think of another figure in sport, or indeed in business, who has enjoyed such success over such a long period.

He talked passionately about winning, of having a winning mentality, of what it takes to be a winner. One of the most remarkable statistics was the fact that, each of the six times that United had finished second in the Premier League under his tenure, they went on the very next season to become champions. In Ferguson's world, second best is nowhere at all.

At the end, even I couldn't help but be a little dazzled by his presence and he was charming at the reception afterwards, telling how he'd once phoned a mutual acquaintance, a Scottish football reporter who died recently, in the middle of the night to settle a bar-room argument about whether Boney M were Dutch, or German.

I turned to Jack, my friend's 16-year-old son, and said I'd been almost won over. Look at it this way, Jack said. If it hadn't been for all that pain and agony Sir Alex handed down over all those years, you wouldn't know what happiness is now. He's made you complete. And, in this way, I made my peace with Alex Ferguson.

Belfast Telegraph


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