Friends from Falkirk and East Stirlingshire remember ‘Fergie time’

Falkirk Football Club. Falkirk F.C. 1971. Players after bath. Back l-r George Miller, Alex Ferguson, Tommy Young and Alex Totten. Front Craig Watson and Alex Scott.
Falkirk Football Club. Falkirk F.C. 1971. Players after bath. Back l-r George Miller, Alex Ferguson, Tommy Young and Alex Totten. Front Craig Watson and Alex Scott.
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Tributes and fullsome praise has been paid to Sir Alex Ferguson since the legendary manager announced his retirement last week.

Though the man himself hasn’t been doing press interviews this week, rival bosses, former players and sports journalists have been forthcoming to discuss the Old Trafford legend and his legacy in the lead up to his final game as manager against West Bromwich Albion.

STIRLING. Stirling University. Falkirk FC training. Sir Alex Ferguson will meet Alex Totten and Steven Pressley and watch training before he gets doctorate.

STIRLING. Stirling University. Falkirk FC training. Sir Alex Ferguson will meet Alex Totten and Steven Pressley and watch training before he gets doctorate.

The Hawthorns will host the farewell event tomorrow, with many figures past and present ready to turn out to honour Sir Alex.

And Heraldsport can add the best wishes of two men who worked with ‘Fergie’ as he took his first tentative steps towards managerial greatness at Brockville and Firs Park.

Robert ‘Hoppy’ Miller was the Bairns’ kitman as the former Scotland striker approached the end of his playing career in the 1970s.

They continued their friendship when Ferguson moved into management, first with the ‘not so noisy’ neighbours East Stirlingshire, where he met Scott Clapperton, and then St Mirren, Aberdeen and the mighty Reds.

Hoppy, former Falkirk kitman and close friend of Sir Alex Ferguson

Hoppy, former Falkirk kitman and close friend of Sir Alex Ferguson

But although they had always kept in touch Hoppy was moved when told by a nurse as he lay in his hospital bed recovering from a serious operation in the 1980s that a “Mr Ferguson from England” was calling and anxious to talk to him.

“He had heard I wasn’t keeping too well and was right on the phone to give me a row for not telling him,” he remembered. “It was a bit of a ‘hairdryer’ moment as he roared down the line saying I was to get myself fit and get down the road to see him.

“I’ve been his guest at Old Trafford and The Cliff training ground many times. He always introduced me to his directors as the only man who could ever get his boots just the way he wanted.

“I spoke to him after the Reading game a few months ago. United won 1-0 but I told him Reading were the better team and that earned me another rollicking. It was typical of him.

“His retirement caught everybody out. He told me at the start of the season he wanted another Champions League but I think the fact he has known for over a year he is facing a hip operation has been a factor.

Another of Fergie’s kitmen, Scott Clapperton, remembers two other hairdryer moments in his first few days as a manager.

“He walked into the boot-room at Firs Park and tore every photograph off the wall, bar one - Eddie McCreadie’s (ex-Scotland and Chelsea player).

“His, he said, was the only one that merited being there. “I had built a little collection of the players and former players, but he said it wasn’t professional. That was him, making his mark.”

Sir Alex has since developed a reputation as a firm, very firm, but oftenfair operator, and Clapperton witnessed that streak in the early days.

“I was handed the team line for a game at Alloa and the captain, Gordon Simpon’s name wasn’t on it. So I didn’t pack his boots.

“I got a very angry call wanting to know where the boots were. I told them they were in Falkirk because I didn’t think he was playing.

“He shouted: ‘I don’t pay you to think’ and I was cheeky and said ‘no, you don’t pay me at all.’ The next week, I had a wage waiting for me.He was that type of man.

“He was destined for big things. For a club like the Shire to be associated with him is great to be able to tell people - we had him first.”

Hear Sir Alex Fergsuon discuss the early years with The Falkirk Herald Sports Editor David Oliver here

Read Chris McCall on the Manchester United manager’s early days in the district here.