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Northern Ireland pals send support to Alex Ferguson after emergency brain op

By Claire McNeilly

Jackie Fullerton has told of his shock after hearing that his old friend Sir Alex Ferguson (76) had undergone emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage at the weekend.

The BBC NI football commentator was just one of Sir Alex's friends in Northern Ireland praying for the Manchester United legend's speedy recovery.

The Premier League's longest-serving and most successful manager is recuperating at the Salford Royal Hospital after the surgery on Saturday. Manchester United said the procedure had gone very well but Sir Alex needs a period of intensive care to optimise his recovery.

News of Fergie's illness unleashed shockwaves across the world of football, not just the club he steered to 38 trophies over 26 years before retiring in 2013.

Jackie Fullerton recalled how Sir Alex - who has been a frequent visitor here over the years - got in touch after the triple heart bypass operation that saved the Ballymena broadcaster's life in 2004.

"I was shocked to hear about the brain haemorrhage because he's always been a fit man," said Mr Fullerton, who is 18 months Sir Alex's junior.

"I know he had a minor heart problem a number of years ago when he had a pacemaker inserted but this has come as a complete shock, and I've been praying for him yesterday and today.

"I was lucky enough to befriend Sir Alex when he was United boss and I did a number of things with him in Northern Ireland over the years in connection with the Milk Cup (now called SuperCupNI).

"He also made sure that I always got good interviews when I went to United to talk to Northern Ireland players like Jonny Evans."

Recalling his own health scare, Jackie said Fergie's words brought great comfort to his wife Linda while he was hospitalised.

"Some 14 years ago, when I was waiting for my triple heart bypass heart surgery, Linda came in all smiles and told me Sir Alex had left me a lovely message," he said.

"The fact that he actually remembered a wee lad from Northern Ireland perked me up a lot and I remember telling her that he'd probably ring back.

"She didn't believe me but sure enough, 10 days later, he did, and that speaks volumes about Alex Ferguson the person.

"That was so kind of him. He's quite something. He's got a lovely nature and I'll always remember what he did for me over the years.

"My thoughts are not only with him but his wife, children, grandchildren and his family circle.

"I believe the operation went very well and I'm hoping - along with thousands of others - that he'll make a full recovery."

United fan and Belfast-born broadcaster Eamonn Holmes also expressed his best wishes to his friend.

He tweeted: "Praying for The Boss that he makes a full recovery from his brain haemorrhage. So much part of my life personally and professionally for over 30 years. An amazing man and friend."

The former Red Devils manager was last night described by SuperCupNI chairman Victor Leonard as "a great friend of Northern Ireland", who added he was both "shocked and devastated" by the news. Sir Alex was always an enthusiastic supporter of the youth football competition and United's youngsters were regular visitors.

Ex-United winger Keith Gillespie tweeted: "Hopes and prayers for Sir Alex #legend." And former champion jockey AP McCoy added: "Thoughts and prayers with Sir Alex Ferguson and his family."

Fergie has family links with Belfast, and revealed in his autobiography that his father Alexander actually played a number of times for Glentoran in the 1930s when he worked at the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

Former world boxing champion Barry McGuigan tweeted: "Thoughts and prayers for Sir Alex Ferguson for a speedy recovery to full health."

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