It is with expectant interest that the footballing community awaits the updated insight into the life of Sir Alex Ferguson. Fear and loathing condense the assorted emotions of those expecting the inevitable reference. Praise from this exulted Caesar will only touch on those whom we already know to be in his favour.
It will be an autobiography that offers the suitable blend of juicy gossip with insightful managerial techniques the like of which urged the Harvard Business School to serialise the incredible ‘Ferguson Formula’ in their Business Review.
Whether you love or despise Ferguson – and I am under the impression that few who know of him can ever remain indifferent – there is a certain point of interest in a book such as this. He is a figure of substance. There is nothing fleeting about his legacy, he is not one of Warhol’s 15 minute fame junkies, his legacy in sport is already the stuff of pure legend; these are the inescapable facts. Of course, in this regard he is not unique. History, both within and without sport is inundated with such figures. This latest memoir however will act as a means of ensuring that he lives on in a slightly more exclusive club; those who still appear singing once the music has stopped.
Although entirely unrelated in their field, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles – his 2004 autobiography – mirrors in intention what Ferguson’s latest release hopes to achieve. Bob Dylan in the 21st Century could pursue any endeavour and remain soundly assured that his legacy established in the century preceding would never be tarnished. He is an essential icon of 1960’s counter-culture and everything he has done since – in the general eye of the public at least – was always going to be the actions of that ‘protest-singer’ who had now stopped protesting.
Given his unquestionable ability to caress the English language and the esteem he was already held in, Dylan’s autobiography was an instant success. However, it was by no means a chronicle of the life we assumed was his. Dylan pursued and presented the events of his life that few but he would have known to exist. There was virtually no gossip, slander or deeply personal revelations, just the composition of a life withheld from the public eye.
In years to come Dylan knew his life would garner the interest of those who had shared no years on earth with him, and although they may pursue the insights of others to establish some views of their own, at least he could offer them the opportunity to understand his life in the words and events he wished to discuss it in. I suspect Ferguson to share similar intentions of not being discussed in terms of what is generally accepted to be the case, but instead to have shared the unique elements of a man who happened to be a football manager.
Earlier this year David Peace of The Damned United fame released a book based on another British footballing icon; the far less entertaining – but who isn’t so when compared to Brian Clough – Bill Shankly. Disregard the occasional indifferent review, Red or Dead was a harrowingly excellent book. On literary style alone it could command reams of considered commentary. However, it is for its portrayal of the protagonist Mr. Shankly – as the briefly featured Brian Clough calls him – that one must lend a wilful thought.
For those not familiar with the work of Bill Shankly at Liverpool F.C, you may consider him the foundation upon which this great club was built. Football was to Shankly one of life’s greatest gifts and as such it should be cherished. Fortunately for Liverpool F. C. it was here that Shankly decided to display his appreciation. Peace unreservedly reveres Shankly but similarly does not negate to mention the crippling effect it often had on his life outside football. This is clearly presented in the fact that he truthfully appears to possess no such alternative life. His deeply supportive wife coupled with his scarcely mentioned children offered a glimpse of what Shankly was forced to neglect at the expense of what he would achieve with Liverpool. Far from being a man that appeared to prefer football to family, Shankly merely comes across as a man whose distinct love for both forced him into uncomfortable choices.
The irony of Shankly’s condition was only felt at its most severe once the football commitments had ceased. Where once he would have had to consider how to stop Don Revie’s Leeds United, his challenges now came in clearing his overgrown back garden. The vacuous nature of life after football may well have been exaggerated by Peace for literary effect, yet one suspects that a void certainly posed itself where once he had purpose. Although the following years chronicled by the book would charter many seeking out Shankly for interviews or advice, the distinct feeling was that once football stopped, Bill Shankly had little left to live for. However, it is to combat the inaccuracy of such limited outlooks that autobiographies are often written.
The fullness of a life outside the realm in which that life can become defined is often something equally worth chartering. Bob Dylan thought so and it is my suspicion that Ferguson thinks so too. As much as people will wish to document the scores Ferguson is appearing to settle, when we consider the revelations of a true footballing giant, let us look at the man as well as the manager. His journey will be of as much interest as the one he led Manchester United through. The depictions of a managerial life at the top level are so often fraught with the grim reality of what it is that you must sacrifice. Peace’s visions of Shankly play on this premise. Ferguson may not have read Red or Dead, but he will certainly know of the complications life after football can unearth. As such, an autobiography like this will hopefully be an insight into the man outside the manager and serve Ferguson with the purpose he desires.
Alex Ferguson My Autobiography will be released on October 24th 2013.