There is a picture of Sir Alex Ferguson in his first day in the Old Trafford hotseat, with a ball under one arm and his other arm around the shoulders of his then assistant Archie Knox. So much in the world has changed. Margaret Thatcher was at the helm of British politics, Ronald Reagan was mid-way through his eight years of US presidency and Liverpool had dominated the top flight of British football for more than a decade. This was pre-Hillsborough, pre-Premiership and for those brought up on a diet of continuous live football, seemingly pre-historic. The one enduring feature of the photograph is Ferguson’s grin. Who can blame him after lifting twenty seven trophies in twenty five years?
Of course, it was not always destined to be this way. If rumours are to be believed, Ferguson was a hare’s breadth away from the chop in his early tenure when Manchester United supporters were hungry for success after an extended famine at the hands of their Merseyside rivals. If you discount Arsene Wenger from the equation, it would be interesting to establish whether the rest of the top division’s managers have this length of service at their current clubs between them. Answers on a postcard…
In a media driven society where information is at our finger tips and instant gratification is expected, managers have barely got their feet under a table before the furniture is rearranged and a new man is at the helm. Surely it takes time for a manager to cultivate his own style and to embed his vision throughout a football club? A ready meal might take minutes to prepare – ping, there we go, out it pops from its plastic tray and hey presto, dinner is served. But the end result is usually less satisfying. Keeping in line with the Food Industry analogy, as Guinness would tell you – good things come to those who wait.
How does this apply to non-league football? Perhaps fans even at this level need to be more patient and not expect instant success. There are times when a manager’s time is clearly up. But how often do we move one man on to find that the club is in no better shape a year on? Ferguson has enjoyed 1409 games thus far as Old Trafford supremo – significantly more than my own side Guisborough have even played in the Northern League since their admission in the mid-eighties. How many of the current Northern League managers have been in post for less than two years? New blood and fresh ideas are obviously welcome, but so often the same managers are merely recycled on the football merry go round.
Perhaps I’m just being naïve. Football and sport generally are perhaps just a reflection of modern life. According to government estimates, young people just finishing their education will have done 10-14 different jobs by the time they reach the age of 38 and a week’s worth of New York Times newspapers contains more information than a person was likely to come across in their whole lifetime in the 18th Century. To borrow a phrase – shift happens.
Yet there is Fergie; enduring, entrenched and excelling just as much as ever. Love him or loathe him, there may never be another like him. Next stop, 1500 games.