Douglas Alexander: Sir Alex was a true leader

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I WAS in Paisley yesterday morning when word emerged that Sir Alex had announced his retirement.

And it was in Paisley that I first remember him – in the 70s when he managed St Mirren, when he took to the streets with a megaphone to encourage local people to come to Love Street.

That same drive and self-belief have helped to take him to the very top of the game. From Love Street, to Pittodrie, to Old Trafford … where Fergie has led, success has followed.

He announced his retirement when still at the very pinnacle of the profession. What explains his extraordinary success? Every football fan has their own theory. So let me share two offered to me by two men who know him well.

Ten years ago, I had the good fortune to work alongside Gus MacDonald, as together we ran the Cabinet Office. Decades before, Gus had served his apprenticeship in the Govan shipyard. During that time, he participated in the apprentices’ strike alongside both Billy Connolly and Alex Ferguson.

Gus explained Ferguson’s success: “Man management.” The shipyards taught his friend the ability to read people and the confidence to lead them.

A more recent theory was offered to me just last year by the ITV football commentator Clive Tyldesley: “Hard work, and a fascination with talent”.

He described how if he wanted to get hold of Fergie, he knew when to call him… 7:30am, as he would already be behind his desk.

But I believe there is another secret to his strength and success. Alex Ferguson has never forgotten who he is and where he comes from. A family man. A Govan man. A Labour man.

That was clear whenever he spoke about his debt to his family. It was clear when he spoke so movingly at Jimmy Reid’s funeral in Govan. And it was clear in a Manchester hotel room when he took the time to call Gordon Brown ahead of a leaders’ debate to offer words of encouragement.

Alex Ferguson’s a great Scot, and a great Briton. He’s more than a big name in the game. He’s “a big man” in every sense.

Thanks for the memories, Alex.

• Douglas Alexander MP is shadow foreign secretary.