Yet he has still found time to record a video to help the Jim McLean Tribute Group in their mission to reach the £75,000 sum required to build a statue of the former Dundee United manager at Tannadice.
The film was released earlier this week. Ferguson described McLean as “one of the great coaches in our generation of great coaches”. He mentions Jock Stein and Eddie Turnbull as visionaries of the time.
“Jim McLean stands out as one of the greatest,” he adds, before noting the intended tribute is “long overdue”.
It’s true, all of it. The Scotsman carried a piece last year marking the 25th anniversary of McLean’s last game as manager which helped strike home just how long it’s been since he last sat fuming in the dugout. United lost 4-1 to Aberdeen, their old New Firm rivals in the days when Ferguson was pitched directly against McLean.
McLean was just 55 years old when he stepped aside, five years younger than Alex McLeish is now and the same age as Steve Clarke. “You never actually believed Jim McLean would not be the manager,” said Michael O’Neill, who played that afternoon and still, to this day, employs some of McLean’s methods in his admirable work with Northern Ireland.
But it’s been over quarter of a century. The Jim McLean Tribute Group has been invited to hold an awareness afternoon at today’s Championship clash with Queen of the South. The organisers hope to accelerate the fund-raising efforts via a bucket collection after Ferguson’s intervention and take the sum raised to over £30,000. The total currently stands at £25,000, with £5,000 having been contributed by new chairman Mark Ogren on behalf of the club.
There’s been wider support, too. Archie Knox is a former United player yes, but he was also Dundee manager and grew up a Dundee fan. He was the go-between when getting Ferguson to record his clip drumming up support.
“We’ve had promises of support from Dundee fans. Of course, he played and was a coach with Dundee,” said George Haggarty, chairman of the Tribute Group. “We have tried to take a line that this is an initiative across Dundee though one pushed by our club. But the old rivalry should not play a major role in this one.”
The aim is to unveil the statue at the end of this year, around the time of the 40th anniversary of United winning the League Cup – their first major trophy – up the road against Aberdeen at Dens Park. It will be positioned behind the Eddie Thompson stand – some will see some humour in this, since the pair never saw eye-to-eye – at the allotments end of the ground. The idea is to have the statue lit up in early evening.
Due to ill health, the McLean voice, once stentorian, has been stilled – certainly as far as the public is concerned. Hearing of utterances from the legendary figure therefore seems an extra delight and blessing.
With sculptor Alan Herriot set to begin work on the maquette, which is the preliminary model of the intended statue, it came down to a choice between two images. McLean is clutching the Scottish league title trophy in both of them. As much as he is revered for his achievements in Europe, this remains the club’s outstanding achievement.
“Doris, his wife, showed Jim the drawings,” revealed Haggarty. “He said: ‘Good, keep that one’. We are taking it as a personal endorsement.”
In the image chosen by the great man himself he has one hand on a handle of the trophy, one hand below it. He is holding the cup so the club badge on the blazer he is wearing is visible. There’s something else people might find eye-catching when the time comes to remove the drape: wonderfully, he’s smiling.