Run-ins with the coach driver and salt in the tea: Sir Alex Ferguson's early Manchester United days

The veteran boss will take charge of his final game in management against West Brom, 26-and-a-half years after an undistinguished debut against Oxford United at the Manor Ground
By Russell Stoddart

Sir Alex Ferguson will take his final bow as Manchester United boss at the Hawthorns on Sunday, accompanied by a triumphant fanfare fit for a king.

It has been 26 years, six months and 11 days since the veteran Scot began his remarkable Reds odyssey in less regal surroundings at the ramshackle Manor Ground in Oxford. Since then he has won 13 league titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions Leagues, a Cup Winners' Cup, a Super Cup and World Club Championship.

So a humbling 2-0 defeat to Maurice Evans's minnows in that first game in charge must seem like a lifetime ago.

The then 44-year-old Scot had been brought in from Aberdeen to replace sacked Ron Atkinson with United fourth bottom of the First Division. Sir Alex had turned down offers to manage Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves in the summer and, after 90 minutes at Oxford, he must have wondered if he had done the right thing.

Sir Alex Ferguson's first ever Manchester United team
Chris Turner
Mike Duxbury
Graeme Hogg
Kevin Moran
Arthur Albiston
Paul McGrath
Clayton Blackmore
Remi Moses
Peter Barnes
Frank Stapleton
Peter Davenport
Jesper Olsen
Former United left-back Arthur Albiston told Goal: "Alex had been introduced to us the day before the game and said he couldn't understand where we were in the league with the squad we had.

"The problem was that half-a-dozen of us, including myself, had picked up injuries in the World Cup in Mexico that summer and had not had time to recover.

"We were without Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan and John Sivebaek at Oxford, while Jesper Olsen was only fit enough for the bench. I only played because we were short of numbers."

Ray Houghton bossed the midfield that day for Oxford. He recalled: "There was a lot of media attention focused on the Manor Ground and I think it took Sir Alex a bit by surprise.

"At the time, United hadn't won the league for 19 years and they were getting a lot of ribbing about it, particularly from Liverpool fans. All those league titles he was to win looked a long way off that day. We deserved to win the game and it was a baptism of fire for him."

While Ferguson's infamous 'hairdryer' temper stayed under lock and key in the dressing room, it was a different story in the dugout, as United's goalkeeper Chris Turner explained.

"Our coach driver Derek was a friend of Ron Atkinson and would sit next to him in the dug-out," said Turner. "Sir Alex wasn't happy to see Derek in the dug-out at Oxford and made it clear that it wasn't going to happen again.

"Derek was also Manchester City's coach driver and when Sir Alex found out he was a City fan, too, he blew his top. He used to make the half-time cuppas but Alex didn't want poor Derek anywhere near the dressing room either."

Club skipper Bryan Robson was recovering from a shoulder operation and missed the Oxford game but he did have an unusual contribution to make that afternoon.

In his team talk, Ferguson had announced that the strike force was going to be "Frank and Nigel". Looking around the dressing room, Robbo enquired: "Nigel who, boss?".

It turned out that he had got striker Peter Davenport mixed up with the veteran actor Nigel Davenport, who was then appearing in the TV drama series 'Howard's Way'. It was not to be the only misunderstanding in those formative days as Ferguson and his new charges got acquainted.

Albiston continued: "As a fellow Scot, I acted as translator from time to time. There were occasions when some of the lads would be running out on the pitch still shaking with fear after a rollocking but not understood what the boss had said to them."

The Ferguson 'hairdryer' was at full throttle when he came face-to-face with Wimbledon's 'Crazy Gang' for the first time a month into his tenure.

"We were 1-0 down at half-time and he was furious," recalled Albiston, who played nearly 500 games for United and was one of the first full-backs to venture forward. "There was no hiding place in the small dressing room and everyone was in his firing line.

"His rant lasted until the bell rung for the second half and that was when he told the kitman, Norman, to pour us all a cup of tea. Fergie took the first one because his throat was dry after his rant but, after taking a big gulp, he spat it out again.

We were 1-0 down at half-time and he was furious. There was no hiding place in the small dressing room and everyone was in his firing line.

"It turned out that Wimbledon had put salt in the tea urn.

"Fergie was having none of it and told Norman to get their kit-man in the dressing room. In walked an 'Arthur Daley' type who blamed the apprentices and promised that he'd sort it out."

Turner, the goalkeeper, lasted 18 months at Old Trafford before making way for Ferguson's shot-stopper at Aberdeen, Jim Leighton, but he left on good terms.

He added: "We didn't win any silverware in my time under Sir Alex but you could tell that he was moving the club in the right direction.

"He was a driven, passionate man. He wanted to win everything he competed in, even head tennis. I used to watch him taking to his assistant, Archie Knox, at the training ground and the two of them would be arguing all the time about whether the ball was in or out.

"The trick was not to get too close to it because you didn't want to be the one having to decide on a line call and upsetting one of them."