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Fergie at 80: Final Goal and First "Hairdryer"

Sir Alex Ferguson turned 80 on December 31st 2021, but it was the mid 1970s that moulded Fergie the manager. Our Scotland correspondent @AlexHTheMAX saw the genesis of a top manager at close range in two incidents over a two year period.

Man United icon Sir Alex Ferguson cut his managerial teeth north of the border. (Pic)

Sir Alex Ferguson was 80 years of age on (appropriately) Hogmanay and one of the greatest managers of all time also had a distinguished domestic playing career with Queens Park, Dunfermline Athletic, St Johnstone, Rangers, Falkirk and Ayr United.

Alex Horsburgh himself can lay claim to seeing Fergie's last goal as a player, and hearing an early version of "the hairdryer", which would become the nickname for a rollicking from the man who managed East Stirlingshire, St Mirren, Aberdeen, Manchester United and Scotland at a World Cup.

Read on for details important to the moulding of the manager who would etch his name into British football history:

Following a record of 37 goals in 95 appearances for Falkirk (1969-73), where Alex Ferguson would win a Scottish Division Two championship medal in season 1969/70 with the central Scotland side, the future Sir Alex would finish his playing career in season 1973/4. This was with an Ayr Utd side managed by Ally Macleod, three years short of the start of his stint as Scotland national team manager and on the verge of a move to boss Aberdeen.

9 goals in 24 appearances for Ayr would also see the last of Fergie's strikes as a pro. This was during one of the first Sunday matches to be played in post-war Scotland, thanks to the draconian "Three Day Week" which was brought in by Prime Minister Ted Heath from Jan 1st to March 7th 1974. This fo
llowed a miners strike which saw the Conservative government effectively ration power, with TV stations ceasing broadcasting at 10.30pm, and power cuts in homes in the evening for a period of time that saw homework by candle light for the nation's school children.

Football floodlights were part of power rationing too, so early Sunday kick offs replaced 3pm Saturday matches for some clubs in Jan '74, and top division Ayr visited Division 2 Cowdenbeath on Scottish Cup 3rd Round duty as the power crisis gripped the UK.

The programme for the match that day

27th January 1974 saw Fergie and Ayr line up for a match that would end in a decisive victory for the visitors in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000:

Cowdenbeath 0 Ayr United 5

Ayr Team: Ally McLean, Lannon, Murphy, McAnespie, Fleming, Mitchell, Graham, Bert Ferguson, Alex Ferguson, George McLean and McCulloch; substitutes – Bell and Ingram.

Goals: Davy McCulloch and George McLean (first half) : Johnny Graham (58) : Dougie Mitchell (72) : Alex Ferguson (77).

This was Ayr United’s third ever Sunday match, the others were in France in 1973 and Norway in 1928 but more than this, it marked Alex Ferguson's final goal as a professional footballer.

It was actually one of the first football matches I attended and whilst I was alarmed that my home town team took a battering that day, it was maybe worth it looking back for the now vague memory of Fergie sliding in the fifth goal to add insult to injury in a one sided match.

It was a mark of the man that he was still hungry for a goal 13 minutes from time long after the game was out of reach of the opposition.

(Below, STV cameras captured one of Fergie's final league goals that season and the rare footage can be found here if the video does not load

Almost exactly two years later I'd return to see Cowdenbeath v St Mirren in the Scottish Cup 3rd Round. This time it was Fergie the manager, on the way to leading the Paisley side to eventual promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 1976/7, but coming a cropper at Second Division Cowdenbeath in the cup in a rare shock result in the competition at the time.

The 3-0 scoreline in favour of the Fife side came on a rock-hard pitch which the visitors never got to grips with. At the end of the game I walked past the dressing rooms at the back of the old wooden stand at Central Park with my late father, only to hear furious shouting in a west of Scotland accent and the clattering of tea cups as the animated silhouette of a furious Fergie was framed in the frosted glass of the Away dressing room windows.

"He'll never make a manager acting like that." said my father.

Little did he know, little did he know.

Happy 80th Sir Alex.

Fergie in an anti-smoking campaign when St Mirren manager in 1976/77

By Alex Horsburgh, written for @TFHB.

©The Football History Boys, 2022
(All pictures borrowed and not owned in any form by TFHB)

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