Remembering the one and only time Alex Ferguson actually played for Manchester United

Alex Ferguson at Manchester United in 1987
Alex Ferguson at Manchester United in 1987

Alex Ferguson. Two words that still bring David Beckham out in cold sweats. The surly Scot is widely acknowledged as the Premier League’s greatest ever manager having led Manchester United to untold titles in the 1990s.

But did you know that the former striker – who enjoyed a modest career in the Scottish Premiership during the 1970s – actually PLAYED for Manchester United once?

Fergie wasn’t exactly known as brilliant player. Not like any of his previous players; like Mark Hughes who scored shed loads of goals for the Red Devils and then went into management or Paul Ince who tried his best in the dugout, bless him.

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Fergie did score a fair few goals for Dunfermline, Rangers and Falkirk and in fact became the most expensive player transferred between two Scottish clubs in when he moved to Ibrox for £65,000 in 1966.

But south of the border he was practically unknown as a player, way better remembered for his record as a manager where he turned Manchester United from an underperforming giant in the last 1980s into the best club side in the world during the next decade.

But in 1987 he actually turned out for the Red Devils first-team, on a mid-season tour of Bermuda.

A year after joining from Aberdeen things were starting to improve for United under Ferguson but they were nowhere near the peaks they achieved in the 1990s and 2000s, where they won 13 Premier League titles in 20 years and 38 titles in all.

Back in November 1987, during a break in domestic fixtures, Ferguson and his players travelled to Bermuda to play two friendlies against the Bermuda national team and a football club confusingly called Somerset Cricket Club for reasons no-one seems to know. They were also known as the Trojans.

Fergie back in his playing days at Rangers, at Arsenal during a friendly in 1967
Fergie back in his playing days at Rangers, at Arsenal during a friendly in 1967

There doesn’t seem to be any record of the first game but in the second – against the Trojans and in front of about 2,000 fans on 1 December 1987 – Ferguson and his faithful assistant Archie Knox, who followed him from Aberdeen to Old Trafford, were both brought on up front for the final 25 minutes with United already 3-2 up. Ferguson replaced Peter Davenport.

Knox, 40 at the time, scored a 35-yard worldie to make it 4-2 while Ferguson – no spring chicken at 45 by that point – almost scored with a header. The other goals that day came from from David Wilson, Jesper Olsen and Brian McClair while Bryan Robson also played in the game.

It was Ferguson’s first full season as Manchester United boss and only his fifth as a manager, but also a full 10 years since he had hung up his boots. And it sounds like he did alright considering.

“It was humorous because at that time he was in his 40s and we were teasing him about how easy we could get past this old man,” former Trojans and Bermuda keeper Llewellyn Simmons told the Bermuda Sun in 2013.

The programme for the only Man United game Ferguson ever played in
The programme for the only Man United game Ferguson ever played in

“Troy Berkeley had the benefit of being able to get past United players, including Fergie, and we managed to get two goals against him. It was a fun game. A lot of the guys were in awe of the guys they were playing against.

“We didn’t see any of his hairdryer treatment. He may have been 45 but the enthusiasm and fire were evident even then.”

Simmons, who now works for the Bermuda Department of Education, added: “I did speak to [Ferguson] but it was mostly about me being a diehard United fan, which he celebrated. My colleague Reginald Gomes, he was an Arsenal fan so there was plenty of banter going back and forth.

“Ferguson was the oldest player on the field but it was all competitive and in good spirit.

“Of course, there will be a lot of reflection now. We had photos but unfortunately all the memorabilia on the wall at the club was stolen in the late 1990s.”

United were hardly pulling up trees at the time so maybe if Ferguson had stuck Knox up top that first trophy – the FA Cup in 1990 – might have come earlier. Then again maybe not.