Sir Alex Ferguson ... watching Macarthur FC train ... at Campbelltown Stadium?
Do not adjust your sets. Even the A-League team’s players couldn’t quite believe it when, towards the end of their session on Thursday in Sydney’s south-west fringes, the most decorated manager in the history of world football casually strolled out of the tunnel.
His former charge at Manchester United, Dwight Yorke, quickly dashed over to greet him. On the big screen was the message, “Welcome Sir Alex Ferguson”, with a photo of the 80-year-old holding one of the 13 English Premier League titles he masterminded at Old Trafford.
Training continued, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“What the f---?” one player was heard remarking.
It was all a bit surreal. Eventually, star-struck Bulls players found the courage to go and say g’day to Ferguson, a huge horse racing fan and former owner who is in Australia on a holiday that has seemingly been planned around Saturday’s Golden Eagle at Rosehill, as well as the Melbourne Cup next Tuesday.
“He’s here on his own back,” said Yorke, who played up front for Ferguson for four seasons in the Premier League, including United’s unforgettable treble in 1998-99, and still calls him “gaffer”.
“Probably he’s off to the races at some point, maybe. But it’s just good to have him. It’s a wonderful surprise to all of us. He didn’t have to be here.
“In fact, he got in contact with me and said he will be in Sydney, so he didn’t have to do that. And obviously, very gracious for him to be in visiting our stadium here in Campbelltown. I thought it might have been a problem, considering his age. Obviously, he’s in good nick. He was happy to make the journey from the city, which is a long journey.
“We’re looking for a little bit of a pick-us-up – not that we’re in a bad spot – but they don’t come much bigger than Sir Alex being here, and I’m very lucky and privileged that I still have that relationship with him. How often do you have someone of his talent come into this part of the world?”
Only a select few Macarthur staffers had any idea that football royalty would be dropping in on their main training session of the week, ahead of Saturday night’s home clash against Sydney FC – Yorke’s old team.
“Honestly, I just saw the banner on the big screen there. And then I was thinking, ‘What’s all that about?’” midfielder Daniel De Silva said.
“And then obviously, I looked over, and I saw him. It’s obviously a fantastic thing to have him here at the club, probably the greatest manager of all time. Fantastic experience to meet him. We’ll go home and tell family and friends ... it’s something I never thought would happen.”
Ferguson appeared to be in good spirits, and well past the health battles he’s had since stepping down from Manchester United in 2013 after 26 years in the top job, and a grand total of 38 trophies.
He declined to speak with media, although Bulls left-back Ivan Vujica managed to squeeze in one quick question as players and staff assembled for a group photo.
“I wanted to ask how the gaffer [Yorke] was as a player. Did he give you any problems?” Vujica asked.
Ferguson’s response: “When we won the treble, he was the best centre-forward in Europe.” Cue a big round of applause. “Then he got into the good life!”
Yorke, who recently outlined to the Herald and The Age his battles against racial prejudice in seeking his first gig as a senior coach, said Ferguson had been a valuable sounding board in his transition from playing to management.
“I probably look back at some of the things, I think he may have been a little bit harsh towards me. But then when I’m much more older, reflect on things, he only wanted the best for his players,” Yorke said.
“I look back, and I’m very lucky to [have been] under his management skills. Even the [Aston] Villa job, I asked him to actually give me a recommendation [when I applied], which he happily did, although it didn’t work on that occasion. He’s always been very, very helpful, always there as an open book ... [for] my ambition as a young manager, he’s always given me the encouragement to go forward.”
The Bulls have given Ferguson an open invitation to come along to Saturday’s clash with the Sky Blues - if he can find the energy after a long day at the races.
“I try not to impose too much ... he knows he’s welcome here,” Yorke said. “I know that he’s got a big passion for his horse racing.”
SOURCE: Brisbane Times