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27th May 2023

“Disgrace to the club” – Norman Whiteside story on nightclub “raid” sums up Alex Ferguson’s early years at Man United

Patrick McCarry

Alex Ferguson

“They careered through the doors as if they were raiding a Wild West saloon.”

There was a moment, perfectly described by Gordon Strachan in ‘The United Way’, when Alex Ferguson came in for one of his first training sessions as Manchester United boss.

From the laid-back, fun-loving Ron Atkinson, who delivered a couple of FA Cup successes along the way, in came Ferguson. United’s brass wanted the club to challenge for titles again and saw the Aberdeen boss as the best man for the job.

As soon as Ferguson oversaw his first training get-together at the club, the players knew things had forever changed. “Oh, ho, this is different, lads,” joked Strachan of his immediate reaction to Ferguson’s arrival. “Seriously different!”

By the time the Scot arrived at Old Trafford, Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson had been at the club for five years. United’s two best midfielders, the pair were also two of their best drinkers [or ones with the capacity to take the most booze on-board].

There is a brilliant passage in Whiteside’s autobiography, Determined, that shows what Ferguson was dealing with when he first took over at the club.

Alex FergusonNorman Whiteside is congratulated by teammates Gordon Strachan and Paul McGrath after scoring the winner in the 1995 FA Cup Final, against Everton. (Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images)

Norman Whiteside on Alex Ferguson ‘raid’

Early into what would become the Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United, the club headed to Bahrain for an exhibition match that had been pre-arranged before the Scot took over.

Norman Whiteside scored the winner as the touring side claimed a 1-0 victory. The following day, word went around the squad that Ferguson had headed out for a spot of shopping, meaning the players soon ‘got stuck into a few beers’. Whiteside recalls:

“As the session unwound, the singsongs and loud banter eventually became so rowdy that it must have caught the boos’s attention on his return from his trip, in the early evening. He stormed into the bar, still clutching his bags, and told all of us to get to his room at once.

“With 15 of us crowded into his bedroom, he read us the riot act for the first time, shouting his head off that we were ‘a disgrace to the club and yourselves. You’re an absolute irresponsible bloody nightmare’.”

When Ferguson finally finished with the players, they all silently filed out. Not much was said until they were a safe distance away. Then, laughing ‘beery giggles’, Whiteside observed to Bryan Robson that there had been no order to not go out drinking, that night.

Robson and Whiteside found another bar and, after that, a nightclub. All was going well until they got spotted by United chairman, Martin Edwards, who was out with some friends. The pair knew a call would be made to Ferguson but they chanced it and ordered one more round. Whiteside continues:

“Sure enough, 15 minutes later, the manager and his assistant, Archie Knox, careered through the doors as if they were raiding a Wild West saloon, grabbed the pair of us and let us have it. The boss let us have it – ‘I’ve only been in the job a couple of weeks. I haven’t even signed a contract yet and here we are with my two best players behaving like this. Look at the bloody state of you’.”

As if the situation was not bad enough, Whiteside said his suggestion to get a taxi back to the team’s hotel was ‘the red rag that set Ferguson off again’.

‘Effin’ taxi?’ he cried. ‘Bollocks. You can walk’.”

Ferguson marched Whiteside and Robson back three miles to the hotel and let them have it, the whole way back.

Whiteside was one of Ferguson’s best players in his first two season’s with the club, but injuries continued to plague the Belfast native and he was sold to Everton for £600,000 in 1989. Robson would go on to win another FA Cup, two Premier League titles, a League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup before moving to Middlesbrough in 1994.

Alex Ferguson ended up stating 27 years with United and delivered the club 13 league titles as well as two European Cups, and more.

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