Squeaky Bum Time -- how Fergie's classic line might actually have been misquoted

Squeaky Bum Time -- of all the words to have tumbled from the lips of Sir Alex Ferguson during his 37 years as a football manager, those three have become the most famous. The phrase can be found in a dictionary now, variously defined but taken generally to mean ‘the tense final stages of a sporting competition’.

Yet Daniel Taylor, who has assembled a collection of Ferguson quotes under that title, says that there remains a doubt over whether they really were the words he used one morning in the spring of 2003 as he tried to find a humorous way to describe the state of that year’s Premier League title race.

He should know.  As the man responsible for The Guardian newspaper’s coverage of Manchester United, Taylor was present at the press conference in question with his notebook open and his voice recorder running.  But he admits that none of the reporters present can be 100 per cent certain of exactly what Sir Alex said, even to this day.

“His accent can make him a bit difficult to follow sometimes and we actually weren’t sure whether he’d said ‘squeaky bum time’ or ‘squeeze your bum time’,” Taylor told The Sports Bookshelf.

“Even playing it back didn’t make it absolutely clear.  In the end it almost came down to a vote among the journalists over which version we would go with.  ‘Squeaky bum’ won and so that’s how it was reported.

“He has never corrected us and it is now in the dictionary as a recognized expression -- but there is a 50-50 chance it was actually ‘squeeze your bum time'!”
‘People say mine was a poor upbringing. I don’t know what they mean. It was tough, but it wasn’t bloody poor.  We maybe didn’t have a TV. We didn’t have a car. We didn’t even have a phone.  But I thought I had everything, and I did: I had a football.”  -- On his upbringing in Govan, 1991.

“He was towering over me and the other players were almost covering their eyes. I’m looking up and thinking, ‘If he does hit me, I’m dead.’” -- On a dressing room argument with Peter Schmeichel, 2006.
The book, published by Aurum Press and just in the shops, is subtitled “The Wit & Wisdom (& Hairdryer) of Sir Alex Ferguson” and Taylor says it has provoked a few comments, mostly supposing that the ‘wit’ section must be fairly short.

“I did get a few Tweets along those lines,” he said. “He tends to be seen in the way he showed himself to be the other day, with the reporter who asked him about Ryan Giggs, as this grumpy, horrible bully and there is no doubt that that side of him is there.

“But when he is relaxed -- mainly when he is away from the media -- he does like to have a laugh and he is happy to send himself up.”

Not that Taylor is any kind of apologist for his subject, having been on the wrong end of Ferguson’s unforgiving side over his previous book about Manchester United, published in 2007. This Is The One: The Uncut Story of a Football Genius does not sound like a hatchet job but the headlines it provoked saw Taylor banned from attending the manager’s weekly audience with the media.

“I had written to him in the January prior to publication saying that I was doing this two-year diary which was due out in the May,” he said.  “The reply I got from the press office was that there was no problem.

“But when it came out The Independent carried a review picking out some of the more colourful stories about Sir Alex, which gave the impression that it was a stream of anecdotes about Fergie shouting at people.

“He took that as treachery, refusing to acknowledge that I had told him what the book was going to be about, and banned me from future press conferences.”

“He was certainly full of it, calling me ‘boss’ and ‘big man’ when we had our post-match drink after the first leg.  But it would help if his greetings were accompanied by a decent glass of wine. What he gave me was paint-stripper.” -- On José Mourinho, 2009.

“I get the papers every morning and I have a good laugh about them. I get my cup of tea, I look at what you’ve written. I get an aspirin to make sure I get over it. Then I go about my day’s work…still laughing.” -- On the press, 2006.

Ferguson’s often stormy relationship with the press has a section of its own. Some of his tirades are relatively amusing; others are peppered with four-letter vitriol.

You sense that Taylor wishes Ferguson would show his more appealing side a little more often.  It comes out in much of the material Taylor has pulled together -- his admiration and respect for many of his players, his poignant memories of his tough upbringing in Govan, the self-deprecating asides -- but tends to be hidden from view in the presence of the media.

“He is impossible to read,” Taylor said.  “There are times when United have lost a game in midweek you expect that on a Friday he is going to be in the worst mood ever, but he will take you by surprise by being cheerful and light hearted.  Then on another occasion, when they have won in midweek, he will be completely sour.

“He has so many different faces.  I’ve seen him with other people and been taken aback by how charming and convivial he can be and you can actually detect the surprise in people that he doesn’t appear to be the ogre he was painted as.

“He doesn’t have the same relationship with the press that he used to have.  We’re all a bit too young for him.  Most of his friends in the business are the older guys, the likes of Hugh McIlvanney and Bob Cass.

“The present group in Manchester are mostly in our 30s  and he doesn’t know any of us very well. And he took a decision a few years ago that he doesn’t want to get to know us.”

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