Desmond Kane

Hell will freeze over before Fergie welcomes free speech

Desmond Kane

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Growing up in the West of Scotland in the 1980s as a kid immersed in football tended to be a simplistic, but always rousing experience. Back then the country had four outstanding teams: Aberdeen, Celtic, Dundee United and Rangers.

For the majority of that decade, the club to be feared were not Rangers or Celtic, but Alex Ferguson's roving Aberdeen unit. Fergie departed Aberdeen for Manchester United in 1986, a time when they were not only the outstanding force in Scottish football, but one of the slickest sides in European club football, champions in every sense of the word. 

Having overrun Real Madrid to lift the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1983, Aberdeen were a sort of mini-me in red of the Manchester United arrangements he has orchestrated over the past 25 years at Old Trafford.

A retired policeman used to take great delight in maintaining a regular correspondence with Ferguson while he was manager of Aberdeen. This was a period in time when clubs such as Bayern Munich, Real and FC Porto were Fergie's natural enemies on the continent, engagements that helped prepare him for similar assignments with United.

In days when adults could talk freely to children without some sort of double meaning being taken out of it, the retired copper would unfurl his latest letter from Fergie with some relish, missives proudly adorned with the badge of Aberdeen FC. Most of the letters were opinions on the state of the game in Scotland, but there was also a sense of Fergie's longing for his side to be portrayed properly in the Scottish media, mainly the traditional print media in those days. 

Ferguson never trusted Scottish newspapers. With the press and TV based in and around his native Glasgow, he was suspicious of their natural leanings towards the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic.

I know of a few reporters in Scotland who fell out with Ferguson over 30 years ago. They have yet to make it up. Hell will freeze over before those relationships are mended. Fergie will go to his grave with those grudges. Ferguson used what he saw as the 'West Coast Mafia' of the Scottish media to inspire his Aberdeen side, a sort of "they're all to get us and we'll show them" philosophy. He has carried that chip on his shoulder to England. Times change, but attitudes remain the same.

The sight of Fergie attempting to ban a reporter from a press conference before this weekend's Champions League final is as predictable as Bobby Charlton's combover. An old dog doesn't learn new tricks, but Ferguson's attitude went out with managers' sheepskin jackets. Apart from the fact that Ferguson is in no position to ban reporters from a press conference organised by UEFA, the journalist asked a perfectly reasonable question regarding how important Ryan Giggs is to United before they confront Barcelona.

The reporter never went far enough. The world's media (yes, this will be the world's media) washing up in Manchester for a press conference, were apparently told they could only ask questions about football. I'm afraid this is not acceptable in a country that prides itself on democracy and freedom of speech.

During the press conference, Ferguson, as he usually does, snarled at one reporter: "Are you going to tell me how to pick my team now?" If that is so, Ferguson should be in no position to tell journalists what they can and cannot ask.

After the week one of his key players has had in relation to allegations of extra-marital activity being brought into the public domain first via Twitter and then via an MP in Parliament, the posse of reporters should have ridden roughshod over United's gagging order.

The question should have been asked: Is Ryan Giggs in a fit state of mind to play in this final? Have the off-field issues taken their toll on the Welshman? These are perfectly reasonable questions that deserve an answer, even if it was a polite "no comment", or some sort of agreeable statement affirming Giggs's wellbeing.

Of course, most reporters do not want to rock the boat, because they know that when UEFA pack up their tent and leave Manchester, all they are left with is a mad Glaswegian. They do not want to incur the wrath of Ferguson, not when there is a need to put food on the table. That is if they are not already banned from attending press conferences for failing to bow to Ferguson's wishes.

I have attended a couple of press conferences when Ferguson has told grown men that what they are writing is rubbish. Astonishing stuff from the front man of such a club. 

As a Scotsman from a working class background similar to Ferguson, I have to say that his behaviour yesterday was embarrassing. Quite frankly it was ridiculous. All it shows is an abuse of money, position, privilege and power. A millionaire manager who is allowed to take leave of his senses. This only goes on because Ferguson is a winning coach, which is a depressing fact of life. 

Ferguson's drive and commitment are admirable, but it is quite amusing that he can continue to be so childish. If this was carried out before a Super Bowl final in America, there would be a serious investigation into such capers. "We'll get him," said Ferguson about the reporter. Who does he think he is? Tony Soprano?

There continues to be some ancient drivel spouted by old hacks about working class values of honesty, fair play and decency shaping the vision of men such as Ferguson. Where were those attributes yesterday? By treating the reporter with utter contempt and trying to ban him, Ferguson abandoned his working class values. The right thing now would be an apology. There is more chance of Eric Cantona returning for United.

Ferguson's ramble reaffirmed a one constant in football that tends to get lost somewhere in the great yawning discussion when sycophants are falling over themselves to heap praise on figures such as Ferguson: just because a manager is great does not make him flawless. 

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