Football

Former Player Details The Madness That Awaited Alex Ferguson At Man United

Former Player Details The Madness That Awaited Alex Ferguson At Man United

To mark the 32nd anniversary of Alex Ferguson's move to Manchester United, we look back at what life was like under his enigmatic predecessor, 'Big' Ron Atkinson. 

Originally published 1 January, 2018

When Terry Gibson left Coventry City for Manchester United in January 1986, he can scarcely have imagined that he would witness the beginnings of such a monumental transformation. Arriving later in the year, Alex Ferguson would have a job cleaning up a club in steep decline.

A scattering of FA Cups and an old Second Division title were all United had to show since Matt Busby led the likes of Charlton, Best and Law to a European Cup eighteen years earlier.

Scoring goals for fun in a side that were defying expectations, Gibson was targeted by Ron Atkinson as a means of reinforcing United's title charge. Top of the league since August, as the half-way point of the season rolled around, United were lagging.

Although injury and the frankly bizarre man-management style of Atkinson would make their eleven-month relationship a fraught one, Gibson, speaking on Graham Hunter's The Big Interview, touched on how unprofessional things had got at United under Atkinson's management:

It was slack, I'd been brought up at Spurs and there were principles there in place. It was only when I went to Manchester United that you could drift out and train when you wanted to, the manager could drift out and train when he wanted to.

During the winter months, the old sun lamp would go on in Ron's office, so we often had to wait until his sun bed finished.

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Describing a club that was lacking in any kind of cohesion whatsoever, a squad containing great players like Paul McGrath, Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan and Norman Whiteside were basically encouraged to do as they wished.

On away days, the full extent of this madness became apparent. Whereas normal protocol even throughout the 1980s would suggest a team should eat together, work on tactics etc, Gibson's recollections of Atkinson's regime are barely believable:

My first trip down to London [with United], I was sharing a room with Mike Duxbury and I said to him, "What time is dinner?"

He looks at me, "What do you mean, what time is dinner? There are four or five different restaurants here, or we can order room service."

We ended up, as you would, totally abusing it. We had a big strawberry gateaux, and big strawberry milkshake, steak and Dover sole.

With the club covering all the costs accrued by the players in the hotel, even more astonishing was what would happen as they were set to leave their rooms en route to the stadium:

At the end, Duxbury empties the entire mini-bar into his bag - and Mike isn't even a drinker.

I said to him, "What are you doing?" And he says, "Oh, it's for the lads, the drinkers, for the bus on the way home."

Operating without structure, it isn't wholly surprising that Atkinson would be gone later that year.

As has been well-documented since, such behaviour was top of Alex Ferguson's hit list when he took over in November that year. Although Gibson would find himself our of favour with the Scot, he did concede that such habits were immediately wiped out upon his arrival.

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Arthur James O'Dea

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