Sir Alex: The early years at Manchester United

On November 6th, 1986, unknowingly at the time, the future of the club was to drastically change….

6 November 2019

On November 6th, 1986, unknowingly at the time, the future of the club was to drastically change all thanks to the Alex Ferguson. The man to replace Ron Atkinson, the Govan born football manager would go on to become Manchester United’s greatest ever manager and solidify his place as the greatest manager in English football of all time.  When he joined Manchester United he saw a club faltering in 21st (second from bottom) in the league and a club culture rife of drinking and poor diet. It was Ferguson’s mission to overcome these obstacles and make the club a force in English football once again.

However, it wasn’t always plain sailing at Manchester United and his early years at Manchester United were nowhere near the level of success that he would have wanted which led to sections of the media and fans of the club calling for him to be sacked. Let us look at the early years of Sir Alex’s time in charge of Manchester United Football Club.


At one stage in his career, Ron Atkinson looked like the man who was going to bring the league title back to Old Trafford in the 1985/86 campaign, however, a year later, an appalling start to the campaign and squabbles on the training ground were too much for then chairman Martin Edwards to endure and on November 6th, 1986, Edwards sacked Atkinson leaving the Chairman no choice but to look elsewhere for a manager to deliver the Reds their first league title since 1968. Fans had enough and welcomed the change to turn the club’s fortunes around. From Aberdeen to Manchester, Sir Alex was the man trusted to turn things around to try and create a dynasty. Depressed and shocked at the lack of discipline within the club, Ferguson was determined to change the mentality of the players. Although, his start to life at the club was rocky, with a 2-0 loss and a draw to Norwich he did manage to increase discipline to the players and eventually got his first win in a 1-0 home victory to Queens Park Rangers. The season steadied results wise and Ferguson finished 11th. A huge improvement on the 21st from when he joined the club.


The Scotsman’s first full season in charge saw multiple major signings come in including Brian McClair and Steve Bruce who made a brilliant contribution to Manchester United as it saw them finish second to Liverpool. In an era dominated by Liverpool, finishing second was an extraordinary achievement for Ferguson. Although, challenging for the number one spot was still beyond the horizon for the club as a season that saw only say 5 defeats, was accompanied with 12 draws. Work to do still for the Scotsman.


A third season in charge for Ferguson was anything but a success as the team finished 11th in the league along with being knocked out of the FA Cup in the 6th round. A slow start to the season meant United fell behind in the title race and although results did pick up, ultimately the season was a failure. With no success in the league or the cup competitions, the patience of the fans was being tested with some starting to call for his contract to be terminated.


A 4-1 opening day win over champions Arsenal brought hope to the fans. However, humiliatingly, a 5-1 loss to local rivals and a poor run of results led to the banner: “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap, ta-ra Fergie”.  A section of fans and journalists alike banded together to call for the manager to be sacked in a period that Sir Alex called his “darkest period he had ever suffered in the game”.  A 1-0 win with a Mark Robins goal against Nottingham Forest in the FA cup third round allegedly saving his career as United boss as it sparked a cup run resulting in his first major trophy as Manchester United boss at the end of the season.

And the rest, as they say, is history…

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