Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson wondered “how many sunny days I would see again” as he lay in hospital after suffering a brain haemorrhage at home in May 2018.
Ferguson, wife Cathy and sons Jason, Darren and Mark offer a detailed insight into how their lives were brought to a devastating halt in the film ‘Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In’, which premiered at a special screening by the Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday evening.
The film starts with the audio of the 999 call Jason made early on Saturday, 5 May following his dad’s collapse at home and ends with Ferguson’s emotional return to Old Trafford for the first time the following September.
‘My voice stopped’
Neurosurgeon Joshi George, who helped treat Ferguson after he was transported to Salford Royal Hospital with bleeding on the brain, told the film there was “an 80% chance” the Scot would not survive.
“There were five brain haemorrhages that day,” Ferguson says in the film. “Three died. Two survived. You know you are lucky.
“It was a beautiful day, I remember that. I wondered how many sunny days I would ever see again. I found that difficult.”
Ferguson, 79, initially feared he would lose his memory, then, after suffering a setback in his recovery after he had pushed himself and too many visitors had seen him at hospital, his “voice stopped”.
“I was trying to force it out but I couldn’t get it out,” he said. “One of the doctors came in and I was crying because I felt helpless.”
Ferguson worked with a speech therapist and his voice returned after 10 days.
He added: “I would have hated to lose my memory. It would have been a terrible burden on my family, if I was sitting in the house not knowing who I am.
“Two doctors came in and said, ‘write your family’s names, your friends’ names, your football teams’ names, your players’ names’. I just kept writing, writing and writing.”
Ferguson looked at some of the notes again for the purposes of the film and admitted it was “impossible to read”.
He said when he got home “all the things were bottled up inside me”.
“It was all opening up and spilling it all out. What you realise is, ‘what happens when you die?’
“I don’t remember anything. When I collapsed that Saturday morning, I have no idea what went on. People say I was sat up talking in Macclesfield Hospital before I went to Salford but I don’t remember a thing. I am not sure, when the moment comes and you do die, whether it is the best way to go.
“The moments when you are on your own, there is that fear and loneliness that creeps into your mind.
“You don’t want to die. That is where I was at. These things did flash through my mind quite a lot.”
What else did we learn?
Over 550 hours’ worth of material was gathered for the film, directed by son Jason, that tells the story of Ferguson’s life from his childhood in Glasgow, through to the 1999 Champions League final, which he calls “without a doubt, my greatest moment as a manager”.
Ferguson said the victory over Bayern Munich, when United came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 with two goals in stoppage time, “exactly epitomised all my teams. All the qualities that got you there in the first place came out that night – never give in”.
There is previously unseen footage of Ferguson leading an apprentice march in 1960, when the shipyard workers went on strike to demand higher pay.
“There are moments in your life when you say, ‘I did something really worthwhile,'” he says, discussing his role in the strikes.
In a question and answer session after the film’s premiere, Ferguson was asked if he ever doubted he would achieve what he was trying for.
“There were periods when I went through a spell of not winning games but I was brought up in a working-class background,” he said. “Having doubts never surfaced with me. I was always positive about where I was going.
“The doubts came from other people, not from me.”
Ferguson won three Scottish Premier Division titles and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, among other trophies, during eight years with Aberdeen.
He then went on to become the longest-serving manager in Manchester United’s history, winning 38 trophies in 26 and a half years, including 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice.