He’s one of the most admired and respected managers in football history and with the announcement of his retirement after 26 years as manager of Manchester United the question has to be – just how will Sir Alex fill his time now?
Former Scotland international and football legend, Alexander Chapman Ferguson began his football management career with East Stirlingshire and St. Mirren, going on to successfully manage Aberdeen and for a brief period Scotland’s national squad. He was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1986 and is both United’s and football’s longest serving manager. He holds a number of records including becoming Manager of the Year more times that anyone else and is only the third British manager to win the European Cup more than once. He’s been awarded the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen, has a couple of honorary degrees from a Manchester university and in 1999 was knighted by the queen for his services to football.
On 8May 2013 Sir Alex announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United. In his 26 years at the club he led the team to win 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles. With so much already achieved and a long career in football behind him, will Sir Alex now – at the age of 71 – pull on his slippers and slip permanently into his armchair? Well, anyone who knows even a little about Alex Ferguson will answer a resounding ‘NO’ to that. He has a variety of interests outside of football which should keep him as fully occupied as ever.
His love of vintage wine – he keeps a very fine cellar- will take up some of his free time as will his piano playing. His staunch socialist beliefs, a reminder of a time when he worked in a Glasgow shipbuilding yard, could even lead him into politics. Or maybe Sir Alex will rekindle his culinary ambitions; Paisley council once turned down his application to open a restaurant in the town, so instead, Sir Alex, who had trained as a chef, settled for becoming a football manager. Yes, Sir Alex is a man of many talents and interests, both personal and business, but none he enjoys as much as his other favourite sport – horseracing.
Racing has been a passion for many years; a love passed down by and shared with his shipbuilding father, Alexander. Ironically, on the day of the announcement of Sir Alex’s retirement, he was forced to cancel a day at Chester races to avoid a press invasion of the track and missed seeing his horse, Butterfly Queen, coming home second. Sir Alex has an interest in around 20 racehorses, on both the flat and jumps, including his 2013 Epsom Derby hope Telescope. You’ll often find Sir Alex at the racecourse. He recently commented that one of the reasons he enjoys going to the races so much is that: “Largely, people leave me alone and when they do talk to me, it is likely to be about what is going to win the 3.30 rather than football.”
It was pure luck that led Sir Alex to an alliance with Ged Mason when they met at a Manchester function. The pair spent the night exchanging track stories and a racing partnership was born. At that time Mason favoured jumpers and Sir Alex – who’d already won seven Group Ones in a row, including the 2000 Guineas – had flat horses. After a while, they decided to share their horses, keeping the jumpers with trainer Paul Nicholls and the flat horses with Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding. Ged says that Sir Alex’s knowledge of racing is as good as his knowledge of football. “His knowledge of racing is better than mine but we discuss all aspects of each horse, when they are running, who’ll ride and it’s a three-way conversation usually with Paul (trainer Paul Nicholls)”. He went on to say that if they we have a winner: “We’ll have a good glass of wine to celebrate and we’ve made a pact that when we have big winners we donate part of the winnings to charity as we are both in it for the fun.”
Racing hasn’t always been fun for Sir Alex, although he’s managed to keep his enthusiasm for it despite the way his friendship ended with Irish racing legends John Magnier and JP McManus. Back in 2003 Sir Alex became locked in a bitter dispute with the co-owner of Rock of Gibralter, Irish racing tycoon, John Magnier who was at that time a Manchester United shareholder. Sir Alex and he became friends after they were introduced in 1999. Magnier offered to register Sir Alex as part-owner of Rock of Gibralter; which was worth around £5million having set a world record of seven consecutive Grade/Group 1 wins. Sir Alex believed that with his half share of the horse came automatic ownership of half the horse’s lucrative breeding rights. Magnier did not agree and this was what caused the upset.
The bitter row was finally settled when Magnier offered Sir Alex four stud nominations a year for the rest of the horse’s life. If Sir Alex had agreed to this offer he would have made a fortune – one filly sired by ‘Rocky’ was sold in Ireland for more than £600,000. With those enormous fees Sir Alex would probably have made about £2m a year for ten years at least. Unfortunately Sir Alex declined the stud offer and opted instead for a one-off payout of £2.5m.
Despite all of this, Sir Alex continues to be a major player in the racing game, entering the Grand National with Harry the Viking in 2013. He owns Harry with three others, including Ged Mason, with whom he also shares What a Friend. There’s no doubt that with his football career coming to an end Sir Alex will go continue to enjoy his racing and will spend much of his time at the races. Ownership of racehorses is not only a sign of wealth and status, the thrill of seeing a horse you own win a big race is something that’s hard to beat. As Sir Alex says, he’s in it for ‘the fun’, and long may that fun continue.
Simone Wright-Eddison is the content editor and leading authority on the Grand National Runners. Fans of National Hunt racing can connect with her on Google Plus.