20131130

Fergie turning on the charm turns back the clock for BBC veteran Peter Slater

Given his reputation for taking no prisoners in his verbal exchanges with members of the press, journalists have been taken aback at how charming and patient Sir Alex Ferguson has become since announcing his retirement, particularly when he has been promoting his autobiography.

Yet it is a side to the former Manchester United manager that media professionals of a certain age remember well from the distant days in which Fergie was still trying to win friends as well as influence people.

In his own new book -- Don't You Know Who I Am? -- BBC broadcaster Peter Slater recalls the old Alex as hospitable, co-operative and as accommodating a manager as any with whom he might wish to seek an audience.

"My first contact came in the autumn of 1981," Slater writes. "I was sports editor of Radio Orwell in Ipswich, and Ipswich Town, the UEFA Cup holders, had been drawn to start their defence against Aberdeen, managed at that time by Alex.

"The first leg was at Portman Road and Ipswich had leant Aberdeen their team bus to take them to the training session on the morning of the game.  I planned to interview Ferguson after the session and arrived just in time to see the bus pulling out of the ground en route to the Belstead Brook Hotel where they were staying. I'd missed him.

"I followed that bus like a policeman tailing a getaway car and arrived at the hotel just in time to miss the staff and players making for their rooms.  What was I to do?  I had to have that interview but the manager had already gone upstairs.  So I asked reception to call him so I could put my request to him directly. He answered the phone in his room, and after I made my apologies for disturbing him I asked him to grant me the two or three minutes I needed to save my skin.  Fergie couldn't have been more polite and after a short while he came downstairs and gave me a perfect interview."

Slater goes on to recount Ferguson's hospitality ahead of the away leg in Aberdeen and their meeting five years later, on his debut as Manchester United manager, when he chatted for so long and so willingly with Slater's colleague Mike Ingham in a recorded interview that he almost had to intervene and wind them up for fear of missing his slot in Sports Report.

Slater admits, though, that he was to encounter the rough edge of Fergie's tongue years later and that United's blanket refusal to talk to the BBC at any level brought him down several notches in his estimation, hilariously recalling one moment when Ferguson, raging over a piece Radio 5Live had run about Ryan Giggs, told him: "It's nothing personal Peter, but you can still f*** off."

Slater, who has been broadcasting for an impressive 35 years now, is not short of a tale or two to tell, as you would imagine. His book, subtitled '35 Years Being Ignored by Sport's Rich and Famous' is packed with them, many from the world of motor racing that was the veteran BBC man's beat for a number of years, and a good deal from football.

Don't You Know Who I am?: 35 Years Being Ignored by Sport's Rich and Famous, by Peter Slater, is published by Vertical Editions.

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