It was a grey day in October 1998 when I had my first brush with Sir Alex Ferguson. In those days he was just Alex Ferguson, but to me he was already a man whose presence could illuminate any room.
It was still the relatively early years of the Premier League and names such as Beckham, Giggs and Cole were showing the world how football should be played. I was working for Sky Movies at the time and, somehow, I managed to get invited to sit in the director’s box at Derby County FC for their game against the Red Devils.
Pride Park was a shiny new ground and the boardroom, in which lunch was served after the early kick-off had ended in a scrappy 1-1 draw, was equally impressive. I had already been wowed by the heated seat I was given for the game, but my levels of awe rocketed when “the Boss” came in about an hour after the final whistle.
He mingled with the various footie types, making a particularly respectful fuss of an old gentleman who had been a famed player for Derby in the 40s. But then the moment arrived. He joined the small knot of people I was with.
By this stage in my TV career I had been in the presence of countless “stars”, I had worked on primetime shows and even been to the Oscars not once but twice. Surely I couldn’t be starstruck? But I was a jibbering wreck, laughing too eagerly, staring a little too intently, scrabbling for that pearl of chatty wisdom that would impress this brilliant man.
Suddenly I became aware of the match programme bulging in my jacket pocket. Autograph!
Could I possibly, somehow, against all decorum, ask the great Scot to sign my programme? I began to agonise… I hadn’t asked for an autograph since I had met Brian Jacks at an agricultural show in the 1970s.
Then a middle-aged executive type appeared beside us. “Mr Ferguson would you do me the honour?”
God bless him! He’d broken the ice for me. The Boss obliged, signing his programme and, as he did so, I began to reach inside my jacket, poised to repeat the request. Fergie turned back towards us, leaned in close to me and half-whispered: “I don’t understand that… What the fuck does a grown man want with an autograph anyway?” If I had been a lorry I would have beeped I backed up so much.
In 2009 I met the Boss again, but this time I was not so tongue-tied. I told him about that day at Pride Park. “Was I that rude to you?” he asked. “Yes Boss, you were.”
“We’d better have a photo then…” So we did.