It was 27 years ago today that Sir Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United – and last night he got two standing ovations from the other city that calls him their own – Aberdeen.
The highlights of his spectacular career were shoehorned into an hour and a half at the Music Hall. My dad, Dougie Donnelly, expertly guided Sir Alex as he discussed his time at Aberdeen FC, the Scottish Effect on football management and the importance of mums.
“Get the mothers,” he told the sold-out crowd, who roared with laughter.
“That’ll be the headline in tomorrow’s P&J!” Dad joked.
He was referring to the scouting process and the expertise of Bob Calder, who knew that courting young players and their dads was only half as important as getting the mums on side.
Later, at the drinks reception, I asked Sir Alex if he stood by that piece of advice in other areas of life.
“Sure!” he laughed.
Of all the words of wisdom (and there were many) he uttered last night, this is the one that has stuck with me. It’s genius when you think about it, both literally and figuratively. Even in the 21st century, mums are the ones who make it all happen in the family. Decisions may be joint, but it’s usually the mum who puts the plan in action – so she’s the one you need to convince.
Then figuratively – in business – it’s not always the CEO or star employee who you need to target. When I was editing OS, a business magazine for Personal Assistants, the managing directors frequently told me their PA was the one who ran the company behind the scenes. Advertisers in the magazine knew that if the PA liked their product or service, the company would use it.
Sir Alex talked a lot about observing. He said he could see a person’s whole personality in a training session. What a gift. He also talked about adapting to change, citing the rise of sports science in the last decade. He told his team that if it improved performance 1% then it was worth it. (He had always wanted two physios at Aberdeen, he said, but the owner Dick Donald had only ever allowed him one “How many legs can you rub?” he had asked him.)
Discussing the fact that four out of the top 20 all time great football managers were west-coast Scots, he said all four had been brought up by a community. Neighbours looked out for each other and fathers worked in mining or ship building, where your safety relied on the man working beside you. That ethos translated well into a football team.
The two other golden nuggets of advice that I’ll always remember from last night were: “When opportunity comes, don’t miss it” and “Defeat is important, it’s what makes you”.
Meeting him was a delight. He was warm and friendly and charmed me completely. Dad said,” You met one of my daughters in London, now I’d like you to meet Kim.”
“Hello Kim – yes, I met your older sister last week…”
“It’s lovely to meet you Sir Alex and you’ve made my day, Laura’s younger than me by three years.”
What a legend, eh?!