Falkirk the foundation for Sir Alex Ferguson’s success

Sir Alex Ferguson playing for Falkirk in a 1971 League Cup tie at Brockville against Aberdeen. He became manager of East Stirlingshire in 1974.
Sir Alex Ferguson playing for Falkirk in a 1971 League Cup tie at Brockville against Aberdeen. He became manager of East Stirlingshire in 1974.

Sir Alex Ferguson has enjoyed spectacular success as Manchester United boss, but his coaching and managerial career began more than 40 years ago in Falkirk.

The 71-year-old confirmed today that he will retire from football management at the end of the season, bringing to a close a 26-year-long career at Old Tafford that has brought unparalleled success to the Red Devils, including two European Cups and no less than 13 Premier League titles.

But Ferguson’s time as a manager began in more modest circumstances in Bainsford.

He was appointed boss of East Stirlingshire in June 1974, aged just 32. It was a part-time position and his wage was £40 per week.

However, it had at one stage looked likely that his first top job in football would be found further up Grahams Road at Brockville Park, home of Falkirk.

Ferguson had joined The Bairns as a player in 1969, and was eventually appointed player-coach, taking charge of first team training sessions.

But when John Prentice was appointed Falkirk boss in 1973, he withdrew those coaching privileges and Ferguson responded by demanding a transfer, soon after signing for Ayr United.

A year later, he was back in Falkirk to take up his first manager’s job - but it was at Firs Park, not Brockville.

Speaking to Falkirk Herald sports editor David Oliver in 2011, he explained why it was the team in black and white - and not navy blue - that offered him his big break.

“It could have been a lot different,” he said. “But you never know fate, it might have been the best thing that ever happened to me, but I went to Ayr United and met a fantastic manager there, Ally McLeod.

“I had enjoyed it at Falkirk though, I had complete control of the training and coaching and it was a good start for me, but it was Ally who told me to take every opportunity and that was when East Stirlingshire came in for me.”

It has since passed into footballing folklore that the Firs Park club had no registered goalkeeper on the books when the man from Govan took charge.

Forfar Athletic’s Station Park was the venue for Shire’s first competitive match of the 1974/75 season, and Ferguson’s first ever as a club boss.

The League Cup tie ended in a 3-3 draw.

Ferguson quickly became known at Firs Park as a strict disciplinarian.

Shire legend Bobby McCulley, a young midfielder in 1974, later recalled that he had “never been afraid of anyone before but Ferguson was a frightening bastard from the start.”

In October of that year, Sir Alex was offered, and accepted, the position of manager at St Mirren - despite the fact that the Paisley club were at the time below Shire in the old Second Division table.

However, the Buddies enjoyed a much larger fanbase and Ferguson accepted the job only after taking advice from Jock Stein.

St Mirren brought Sir Alex his first trophy as manager - the First Division title in 1977.

From there, it was on to Aberdeen, where he enjoyed incredible success.

Ferguson’s last game in charge of Manchester United will be against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on May 19.

He’s come a long way since that August League Cup tie at Station Park.